What the Olympics can teach us about how our brains work

Olympics_Five_Senses_Tastings

If you’ve ever watched the Olympics, you probably recognize a couple faces – the “Stars” – but the rest of the faces blend into the background, unknown to us, unknown to most of the world, usually.

So why, then, by the end of the few weeks of competition, are we rooting for someone in particular? We feel like we know them, telling our friends, “oh, that’s the young woman (please note I didn’t say “girl”) from Idaho who is a lifelong vegan, remember? They had such an interesting story about her on the Today show this morning.” Or, “wasn’t that the athlete they said was the oldest guy on the slopes? Yeah, he said this would be his last Olympics ever! Remember we saw that segment on him the other day?”

And there you have it. The reason we remember things, people, events. Because of the story. It’s simple really, but if we take a moment to think about it, this can really be applied to all parts of life. 

(Please note that I cannot take full credit for the above idea. My good friend and partner in crime for Song & Tonic, Prairie Rose of Bit by a Fox, was talking about this the other day. I thought she was so spot-on, and so I started writing about it... so this article is basically in existence because of her ideas :)

The_Influential_Mind_Wine_Tasting

I’ve been reading a fascinating book recently called “The Influential Mind” by Tali Sharot in which she argues, many times against her instincts as a neuroscientist, that numbers, facts, and data do next to nothing to change our minds. We live with our prior beliefs and naturally succumb to confirmation bias to support only the arguments we are predisposed to believe. This means we remain ensconced in our cocoon of a certain belief system surrounded by individuals who typically also subscribe to that belief system. We are very rarely encouraged or required to step out of it.

My incredibly brilliant and no-nonsense college career at Barnard College, one of the seven sisters, was instrumental in allowing me to identify and see past my biases and question my own perceptions. Yet this book has helped me re-realize that I certainly find myself falling into this trap, especially in today’s political and social climate.

But why am I even talking about all this? Because if you’re asking someone to shift their thinking and begin to incorporate your belief system, your product, your company, even just you as a person, telling them this with facts, numbers, and data may likely have a minimal impact. Turning those facts, numbers, and data into a story that the observer can take with them past the moment in which this information is shared will yield much more meaningful results, however.