Survival Smarts, Part 2: Processing Change
Change triggers your survival mechanisms for both attraction and protection. How does it work? To determine whether a situation is danger or opportunity requires you to check it out. When nothing in your environment changes because there’s nothing going on, you need neither to assess nor to take action. Everything is fine. But the moment that something changes, you have to identify the change and respond or react. The way life made you is marvelously interesting, in that change in your surroundings draws your awareness outward through your senses to focus on the change. You see something move, its color or shape change, hear it, feel it, smell it or even taste it.
You assess the change. It may turn out to be nothing out of the ordinary (boring), in which case you relax and forget about it. It might be attractive (love), in which case you take notice, perhaps smile and find a way to move closer to it. It could be dangerous (threat), in which case you shift into ‘fight or flight’ mode. All of it happens automatically, mostly on a subconscious ‘autonomic’ level below your normal awareness. But there’s a foundation to your reaction and our task here is to become aware of and examine that foundation.
Let me say it another way. Life directs your awareness out through your senses to any change in your environment. It’s important for survival to rapidly find out whether the change is friendly or unfriendly. You ignore it if it’s not important to survival, approach it if it enhances survival and go into protective mode if it endangers survival. You use anger to fight it if you deem it’s weaker than you, and flee if you fear that it’s stronger.
You don’t need this mechanism in the womb, where it is safe and all your needs are met without any effort on your part. The moment you’re born, however, you need to learn about the world in which your body will live and survive, using the process of noticing and attending to change in your environment. The way you process change begins to develop soon after birth.
In nature, this survival mechanism proved to be good for enhancing the chance of, well, surviving. Human beings however, have also invented many ways to take advantage of others by targeting this basic survival mechanism. Knowing that change draws your attention, I can move your focus wherever I want by deliberately creating changes. It works every time. To get your attention, I change sounds, colors and movements.
Most of us are not aware or disciplined enough to ignore the changes around us, even though today, virtually none of them threaten our survival. It’s why harmless TV images that consist of moving pictures and changing sounds are so attractive and addictive. They pull us in by our built-in biological survival mechanism.
To keep your attention, those who produce shows put changes in front of your range of senses, or get your attention with powerful emotions like uncertainty, love and fear. Sellers and marketers do it, too. So do autocrats in government and religion, who sometimes make laws just to keep you on edge, and use threats of jail or hellfire to control your attention and behavior.
Some create crisis after crisis and spin after spin to keep you busy with them. They use fear, love and confusion, your most basic survival response triggers, as tools to attract and direct your sensory awareness to what they want you to think and do. Effective con artists and manipulators know how to use such methods to get you to think, say and do almost anything.
Skilled attention seekers know how to keep us busy with them. Be the news. Be outrageous. Be controversial. Contradict yourself. Confuse them. Create variety. Make faces. Threaten them. Use words that trigger survival responses. Inspire fear and anger with pictures of pain, loss and destruction. Embrace. Paint pretty, changing images. Associate fads with energy and enthusiasm. Tell them you love them. Say that you will save them. Hire people to embody and promote the facade. If you don’t do it, people create their own situations and forget you; then you lose power over them. You know that it works and how it does. Every day it works on you, and every day you work it on others.
Try this exercise: For one day, notice the ways in which individuals and social groups use change to focus your attention on what they want to get from or unload on you. Have fun with it. See if and how you can stop being distracted by changes designed to pull you out to what they want you to notice, away from the wonder of your own life. For bonus points, watch yourself doing the same thing to others.