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Tricks your mind plays causing you to misbehave - Part 2
Semantic Satiation, Zeigarnik Effect, Bandwagon Effect
After reading last week’s blog, I hope that you now feel resilient to the Spotlight, Halo, and Horns Effects and you pay close attention to anchors. After all, you do not want to be a zombie. Halloween is over!
If you missed last week’s installment on the Spotlight, Halo, Horns Effects, and Anchoring, read it HERE.
Sadly, these are not the only tricks your mind plays on you. Have you ever wondered why you no longer enjoy things that used to excite you?
Semantic Satiation is an effect experienced when we rapidly repeat a word until we no longer recognize its meaning. Pick any word and start saying it rapidly. Notice how what you hear starts morphing. While this may be a fun trick to play at a party, it has serious consequences in real life. Our minds stop registering the meaning, importance, and magnitude of words, events, and experiences in a similar fashion.
How many times can you watch “breaking news” before you no longer experience surprise, fear, curiosity, anger, joy, or laugh? Just a few, scientists say. However, if you break these segments up with commercials, and some other bits thrown in between, your sensitivity can be replenished a bit, although, not enough to sustain your attention indefinitely. Eventually, the breaking news story becomes the background to the humdrum of your daily life, no matter how many flames burst out of your TV screen. The media knows that, so in hopes to keep your attention longer, they up the ante, spoon-feeding you more descriptions, interviews with witnesses, and expert interpretations.
Remember how you felt when you first heard about COVID? Does it still evoke the same level of fear, curiosity, uncertainty, and confusion? Probably not. No matter who you are, you’ve probably had enough of it by now. You likely have your beliefs formed, your routines and precautions established, and you are back to living your life. You’ve habituated to the news, case counts, deaths, and restrictions. In the beginning, you kept track of every detail about your community, looked at charts, listened to the news, discussed with neighbors. Now, you probably have no clue where the situation stands.
Think of the day you bought your house, last car, or something else you really wanted. The feelings of joy, excitement, satisfaction, pride, or whatever you felt then, you probably no longer feel. These important acquisitions have become mundane life support. Semantic satiation affects everything except the way you feel about your dog. I get excited about my dog every moment she cons me for a treat, snuggles, and plays. I can’t get enough of that dog! She’s turned me into a goofy abnormality. But I digress.
Do you want your life-spark back? Stay mindful! Pay attention. It helps the colors stay brighter, and the words remain meaningful. Don’t rush through things. Enjoy them. Especially the things you rely on as your daily sanity routines. Fill your life with rituals, not just to-do lists. Rituals require reverent participation.
Find new experiences, learn new words, change the channel on your TV. Giving your mind and senses something new to focus on will help you reawaken your semantic sensitivity by taking it off its groove.
Also, don’t get upset when someone interrupts you in the middle of something good. Guess what? You may remember it better because you got interrupted.
The Zeigarnik effect describes the tendency to better remember uncompleted tasks/activities or interrupted ones. For example, have you ever had to put a really good novel down before you finish a chapter? Got called to do something in the middle of a movie or a project? You know precisely how your mind seems to circle back, wonder, and distract you with thoughts about them until you can resume where you left off.
Cliff-hangers exploit this effect and keep you coming back to the same show, week after week. Movie trailers show you chopped-up bits and pieces of the plot without giving it away, yet just enough to make you want to “finish the task” by watching the movie to resolve the tension created by the teasers and interruptions. News stations generate teaser headlines. Video games rely on multiple and interrelated quests to keep you playing. Click-inducing advertising baits you with a few details and lets your curiosity and desire to complete the picture hook you. Think, online offers for free training or books that lead to skimpy information and overpriced offers for the “full” or “exclusive” experience.
Good news, everyone. You don’t have to follow the breadcrumbs to a wasted time. Just say no. However, you can make good use of this effect and improve your life! For example, when you study for an exam, it will serve you better to chunk up the material and take breaks, purposefully interrupting yourself. It beats repeating the information, again and again, resulting in brain fatigue.
To overcome procrastination, instead of thinking that you must complete a task all at once, start by taking one little step, then take a break or do something else. Building interruptions into the project may be what you need to avoid overwhelm and sustain your attention on the “unfinished” business until you finish. It moves you in the right direction. On the other hand, multitaskers who habitually interrupt themselves may suffer the consequences of cognitive tension overload due to too many unfinished tasks at the same time. You exemplify the proverbial “too much of a good thing” to your detriment. Consider limiting the number of tasks you start, so you can still take advantage of the Zeigarnik effect, tickle your multitasking compulsion, and yet, not kill yourself over it.
While the Zeigarnik effect is a feature of how your memory works, how you make decisions may be influenced by what others do.
When you find yourself compelled to do something just because everyone else is doing it, you may be the victim of the Bandwagon effect. It awakens your FOMO, and before you know it, you’ve bought crypto, adopted a diet, joined the ranks of an MLM company, and dressed in the latest fashion. Studies show that people are more likely to vote for candidates who appear to be winning public sentiment, pay more at auctions when more bidders participate, and join social networks their friends have already joined. Group culture exerts pressure on members to think and act a certain way. Humans need to feel included and right, so naturally, riding the bandwagon with like-minded people fulfills these needs. Be careful as this may lead you to ignore evidence contradicting the group’s beliefs and slowly lead you astray.
Watch out for the many ways media and politicians portray their side to be the more popular and correct way of thinking. Notice how financial gurus trigger your FOMO, religious organizations ignite your desire to belong and feel supported, how your friends try to rope you into a bad idea.
If you plan to jump on the bandwagon, pick one that takes you to a better life, a healthy lifestyle, the company of inspirational individuals, learning, and skill-building. Use your critical thinking capacities to ascertain real gold from a shiny trinket. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. If it offers massive results for a minimum investment in a record amount of time, it’s a pipe dream or a scam. If it silos you and shelters you from the world, it’s also limiting your worldview. Don’t do anything just because everyone is doing it!
Clearly, self-awareness and learning what influences us help prevent bad decisions. The rest is practice.
There was once a guy that walked the same street every day. Every day he tripped and fell in the same pothole. One day, he decided he had enough. He walked the street carefully, looking for the pothole. Unfortunately, his mind got distracted by something, and off he went into the pothole. The next day, he reminded himself to be more careful and focused. This time, he barely stopped at the edge of the pothole, but as he tried to step over it, he fell in it again. The next day, he decided to go around it instead but still couldn’t take his eyes off it, which caused him to trip and fall over something else. Finally, it occurred to him that he could take a totally different street tomorrow.
And this, my friends, is how real change happens!
One pothole at the time!
The psychological effects I’ve discussed in these two posts are common potholes to fall into. Sometimes, nothing bad happens. You get up, dust off, and go on. Other times, you break a leg, lose an eye, or your purse. So look for other streets to take.
Thank you for reading.
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