Harvard University

Automaticity – Who is Really in Charge of Your Mind?

To change your life you must change your thoughts. To change your thoughts you must find them and monitor them. If we are not monitoring our own thoughts and we agree that our thoughts stimulate our actions then who is in control of our behavior?

There are basically two ways to modify our thoughts and therefore our behavior:

We do it ourselves intentionally when we are internally motivated towards a goal we have determined is highly desirable, or

Outside influences modify our thinking, especially when we aren’t internally motivated towards any particular goal.

The fact is there are a multitude of entities out there trying to control your behavior. Companies spend billions a year on marketing and advertizing campaigns. What are they designed to do? Political parties spend millions upon millions of dollars on expertly crafted ads and timely press releases to do what? Everybody and everything is by nature trying to promote their own agenda. Even our own friends and families are doing it to us. It’s not all bad though; mentors, parents, and teachers for example are usually trying to act in our best interests.

So out of all of this mess how do we really know whether we are in control of our actions or if others are in control?

Automaticity is a term in modern psychology that refers to a phenomenon in human behavior. Automaticity is the process of the subconscious carrying out a complex set of tasks with little or no interaction from the conscious aware mind. There are now tests to measure this phenomenon. Go to this web address, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/takeatest.html, to take a demo test at Harvard University’s website. The results will surprise you.

Many of our actions are not under our conscious control. And a significant amount of our current thinking was not put there intentionally by us. I took the test mentioned above and found that I scored as biased against some races. I can’t tell you how contrary that is to the image I hold of myself. I have worked with many people around the US (New England, The Midwest, Southern California, and the Deep South), The Persian Gulf area, South Korea, and Japan. I pride myself on the ease with which I am able to relate to and enjoy the company of a person regardless of their ethnicity. Yet, it is there. I didn’t put it there, who did?

There is a whole other world in motion under the hood of our conscious mind. Our job is to access that world and modify it according to our desires and not leave it up to others to determine for us how we will behave and therefore what we will experience. Thee first step in in gaining control over our own thinking is to discard the assumption that we already are. At any given time the majority of our behavior is governed by mental operations that are below the threshold of awareness. This is no surprise to anyone of course. The point is that many of our patterns aren’t what we would choose for ourselves.

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