Priming. What You Look For Is What You See Is What You Get
One of my favorite movies is Paris, je t’aime. It’s a collection of shorts that take place in, well, Paris. One short is about a man who falls desperately in love with his wife on the day he intends to break up with her. He is having an affair with a cute-young-thing and his wife has just learned that she has terminal cancer. The two meet for lunch and, as he gins up to dump his wife, she reaches across the table and hands him a note and begins to cry.
It’s all about him, of course. ‘How could I have been so stupid?’ he thinks. ‘Of course, she knows. She must have known all along. How could I hide something like this.’
He reads the note. It’s from her doctor. ‘Cancer.’ Instantly, all the loose-ends and things to do in his life come into laser-like focus. He receives a text from his girlfriend and he immediately responds. ‘Forget me.’ Are his initial reactions coming from a sense of duty? We don’t know but he instantly turns and devotes himself to his wife. He falls immeasurably in love with her again. Her quirks that had come to annoy him are endearing again. He reads to her. They cook together. They briefly live the life they had certainly imagined as lovers. She dies and he never loses his love for her. He never forgets the image of her in her favorite red coat. Wherever he goes, he sees women wearing red and he is always startled and brought back to thoughts of his wife.
What Do You Choose To See?
Psychologists would say that he is fully primed to focus on a woman wearing red. All the wonderful feelings and thoughts he has about his wife are wrapped up in a red button-down. Without deciding to, he walks around noticing red coats. Can we use this as a tool to see what we want? To carve out a little more of the life that we want? Wayne Dyer wrote that he wakes up every morning and tells himself that no one is going to ruin his day. He purposefully sets a focus on enjoying the world on his own terms. This is the real essence of You Woke Up Breathing.
What would you like to see?
I guarantee that you will find what you look for.
More kindness? More optimism? Then set your mind for these things. Look for them. You’ll be surprised at how much of it is around you that you might have otherwise missed. Is this pollyannish? Maybe. But you can just as easily find misery and gloom. Is one more real than the other? No. This is just you choosing what you will focus your thoughts on. If you look for gloom, you will find it.
Priming Works In Any Direction
Take care to focus on the right things. Most of our priming is unconscious and we set ourselves up for difficulty or failure. We don’t usually even recognize that we are choosing to see things in a certain way. Even more rarely do we see any downside to our focus.
Here’s a story from my own vault that illustrates this.
I was gaga for Alice Cooper as a kid. I loved the music and the shows and the attitude. I still remember seeing a photo of Alice with a beer in hand. The caption read something like ‘And here’s Cooper with his ever-present beer…’ My sixteen-year-old brain said ‘Wow! How cool. I want people to say that about me! Here’s Mitton who is never far from a gin-and-tonic…’ It’s embarrassing to me now to think about just how stupid this is. I was priming myself to see alcohol abuse as the equivalent of being cool. What I didn’t see was any of the downside of Cooper’s extreme alcoholism. Nothing really came of it for me but Cooper struggled with alcoholism for years.
Priming in Advertising
Interestingly, priming is a primary tool of advertisers. When they show happy, attractive people having a wonderful time drinking beer on the beach they are setting you up to associate that beer with happy and attractive people. Don’t you want to be happy and attractive? Well, you know how to achieve it. Buy our beer! Most of us are aware of this insidiousness but fall prey to it a hundred times a day even so.
Choose Your Battle
Most of our daily life is spent being pulled in directions that we don’t consciously choose. Choosing what to focus on is a worthy and profitable battle. Take time to battle your culture and your upbringing and your education. Be relentless in battling self-talk that is defeatist and wrong. Reorient yourself through the day to focus on what you choose. You just might start seeing the world as a different place.
If you haven’t watched it, then find yourself a copy of Paris, je t’aime. (Here at Amazon). Twenty film makers are given five minutes each with each short woven into the movie. Some are funny. Some (the one with Juliette Binoche – ugh) are simply heartbreaking. It’s a marvelous movie that explores all sides of love and loss.
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Another of my favorite French movies:
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