We are a nation of binge-watchers, tuning into Netflix and letting episode after episode roll through the day, company or inspiration or entertainment. The good news is that we tolerate fewer commercials, avoiding these little slices of propaganda when possible.
But the tricky truth of our new consumption habit is that we feed stories more and more unconsciously into our story-fueled brain. And that changes our perceptions of ourselves and the world in subtle ways. It’s important to keep track of these shifts, so we can stay awake.
In my leadership and spirit blog today, I wrote about three ways our hungry consumption of media can help us set goals and identify our values. Here, I want to share the potential downside of escapism: sleepwalking through life.
Our minds believe our stories, and our bodies react accordingly. Think about the stories you watch over and over, and then ask yourself, “Is it helping me?” Either way, it affects you more deeply than you think.
“We make meaning out of the world with these stories, and we structure these meanings in the psychoneural nets of our brain. For those of us who love science, there’s ample proof that, as human beings, we’re neurochemically wired to master the process of creative self-transformation to help us evolve and grow.
Recent research suggests that even experiencing fictional worlds through books and movies can be profoundly transformational. It’s easy to imagine how the stories that we tell ourselves, over and over, would be even more powerful. Neuroscientists have identified five key processes that are activated as our body reacts to the imaginary experiences stimulated by stories, beliefs, myths, fantasies and favorite fictions:
We feel stories as reality, even though they may only exist in our imagination.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies indicate that stories activate areas associated with all our senses and feelings. Areas of the brain that interpret taste, smell, touch, hearing and emotional reactions are stimulated by experiencing fiction, with neurons vibrating throughout the body creating imperceptible micro-movements to mirror the brain’s perceptions. Stories are registered as experiences, and every time we repeat them, we integrate them more deeply into our neurochemistry. In this imaginary world, we learn and grow in the world of our inner self, feeling emotions that become our own, even though the experiences we are imagining are not “real” like our everyday physical interactions with the world.
Stories resonate through our bodies because or brain function changes our physiology. Thinking creates neuropeptides that send messages to our muscles, glands and organs, which react in feelings, moderated through chemical messages that become physical and emotional habits connected to those thoughts. Every part of our body is being trained by the mind. The stories we tell ourselves have a physical and emotional reality. “Our minds and bodies are one, aligned to a destiny predetermined by our unconscious programs,”and our feelings and thoughts eventually become one psychochemical physical experience, a habit of being, knowing and living.”
(An excerpt from the introduction to the Storyweaving Playbook: Answer the Call to Adventure)
So what are you feeding your mind, and how is it affecting your life? Is it a positive influence, a deadening habit, or does it drive you deeper into negative beliefs?