Sometimes when you come across something new, some of us can have a tendency to compare it to things that you imagine that it is similar to, even though you haven’t decided to spend a lot of time investigating this. Neuro- scientists believe that because of the way the brain categorizes things fairly quickly, sometimes we put things into categories that they don’t really belong to. They tell us that this unconscious behavior is a leftover from evolution, and that while it served us well for hundreds and thousands of years it can give us trouble in modern society.
There is much disagreement on how “blank” of a slate we start out in life. There are the scientists that believe we are completely blank, and everything is culturally programmed into us. Then there are those that believe we start out with some kind of a filing system already in place, but it is completely empty. So that when we grow and move through life and experience new things, this pre-formatted filing system is filled up.
Whether we start completely blank, or start with a pre formatted filing system, most agree that we end up with some kind of system where we have categories our minds that things we experience gets put into. One of the fascinating aspects of this is that most of the time, our pre conscious processor takes the external stimulation, and decides on what category it belongs to (whatever it is!) before we are even consciously aware of what is going on. This is where those uncomfortable emotions come from when they seemingly come out of nowhere. Our brain sees something in the outside world, and decides it belongs in a category of danger or trauma, and that touches of a cascade of emotions. This is what people mean sometimes when they say they are “blindsided.”
For example, lets say you used to be in a relationship with somebody. It was going really well, and then suddenly it ended, to much emotional pain. That was years ago. You’ve completely forgotten about it (or so you think!) and you’re out walking around. You see somebody that doesn’t even remind you of them, so you don’t consciously think of them, but they happen to have the same kind of poodle that your ex had. The important thing to remember is you don’t realize any of this consciously. Your pre conscious processor sees the person, their clothes, and the poodle, and it searches your memory for similar items. It comes up with the poodle, and the corresponding feelings that the poodle unconsciously reminds you of. It’s important to keep in mind that the actual memories don’t necessarily come up, but the transient emotions do. So all of a sudden you’ll be feeling kind of icky for no good reason.
The brain is amazing this way. Sometimes stray thoughts will pop up out of nowhere, thoughts you haven’t had in many years. And although you realize you are thinking those old thoughts, you can’t put your finger on what triggered them. Your brain is always sorting through everything that comes in through your five senses, and comparing it to everything that’s ever happened to you, to decide where to put the information in your brain, and whether or not to bring it to your conscious awareness. It does this in a fraction of a second. So when you have those stray thoughts, something you saw, heard, smelled, or physically felt or tasted somehow reminded of you of some aspect of it. And our incredibly fast and incredibly smart brain has decided that there is some reason it’s given you the memory.
So what do you do? What do you do when you are eating chocolate ice cream and suddenly you have a childhood memory that has nothing whatsoever to do with ice cream? Simply accept the memory, and ask yourself if you have any unfinished business regarding that memory. Do you need to forgive somebody? Do you need to release some emotion so you can get on with your life? Do you need to remember to do something? Sometimes those memories are a warning of something that is coming up that you need to be careful about.
Once I was having a recurring memory of Magic Johnson when he pulled his hamstrings in the NBA finals several years ago. I had no idea why, but it flashed in my mind a few times over the course of several days. Later that week, I was in a situation where running outside was an appropriate behavior. When the time came for me to run, I took off sprinting. Within a few strides, I felt a sharp pull in my hamstring.
Had I been paying attention, I would have realized that my brain was looking into the future (I already knew I would be in the running situation) and warning me to stretch, or be careful, or go slow. Because I ignored the warning, I suffered the consequences.
The brain is a wonderful tool designed by our creator, or millions of years of evolution, or Mother Nature, whichever you choose to believe. Scientists are only beginning to understand how it operates. But that doesnâ€™t mean you can use those seemingly random thoughts you get from time to time. You brain is trying to tell you something. See what happens when you listen to your own wisdom.