Have you noticed how two people can experience the same or similar circumstances, yet they often come away with very different viewpoints regarding what happened? Most of us experience this sort of puzzling discrepancy when we were children and our caretakers described a different view of the world than what we felt had transpired. Before we learned any language, we humans automatically construct narratives by which to make sense of the world. These narratives help us develop social cognitive functioning from infancy, where we differentiate between those who are possibly helpful or harmful.
I’ve been enjoying reading Emotions Revealed by Dr. Paul Ekman, in which he describes some fascinating research including how our emotional responses to various situations can change based on our interpretation of what is going on. We humans have muscles that move in synchronization with various emotions, and the resulting facial expressions have been proven to be recognized and understood across all cultures and countries in the world. Additionally, when we make various expressions by moving particular muscles associated with various emotions, we feel the very emotions that are associated with moving those muscle groups. Part of the reason that humans depend upon accurately reading and understanding facial expressions (including micro-expressions and suppressed expressions) is that our safety and wellbeing requires us to constantly be aware of potential dangers in our environment–so we must be able to know in a microsecond whether a nearby human is showing an expression of fear or surprise, in order that we may respond quickly enough to potentially dangerous situations. Despite the fact that there is a clear relationship between globally recognizable emotions in the form of facial expressions, surprisingly, most people do not receive training in accurately interpreting facial expressions with their variety of associated emotional meanings. Thanks to Dr. Paul Ekman’s work as he describes in Emotions Revealed, we can see photographs of how people look when they are moving precise muscle groups on their faces and feeling various blends of emotions–including when they are masking or concealing deeper underlying emotions with others.
Since our emotions are primary motivating forces for most everything we do, learning how they establish a subconscious narrative for what we believe to be occurring provides us with a foundational basis for what we can do to better understand–and perhaps change–that story line. In this way, we can, for example, recognize that what we initially took to be an overly critical boss might actually care a great deal about us, and the criticisms might have more to do with our boss being afraid we might quit and leave than feeling we aren’t doing our job well enough. We can thus better appreciate the underlying subconscious narratives going on in all the people around us as well as in our own lives, allowing us to rise above the “little stuff” as we expand our sense of self and begin to appreciate the Big Questions, such as, “Who am I?” and “What am I doing here?” and rise above the day-to-day practical matters required for survival.
Reframing Narratives and the Placebo Effect
Excellent examples of benefits we can experience from reframing our subconscious narratives can be found in the Placebo Effect. Recent placebo studies are reporting that people can experience improvements in a wide variety of areas, including: reduction of pain, improvement in vision, improved test scores, increased levels of confidence, increased mobility in people with knee problems, reduction of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and much more–from such things as supportive remarks, ‘power postures,’ sham surgeries, sugar pills and other placebos with no known curative powers. Researchers have even found that we cognitively benefit from placebo sleep, by telling ourselves we’ve slept well.
Some exciting news this year is that placebos are helping people relieve suffering from IBS and migraines in studies that are showing amazingly promising results–even when those receiving placebo treatment are told, “the treatment you are getting is a placebo.” While scientists in research centers such as at Harvard’s Program in Placebo Studies still seek the underlying mechanism responsible for people experiencing statistically significant improvements in a multitude of different ways, it’s becoming clear that the Placebo Effect is real, substantial, and somehow involves our subconscious beliefs–and narratives–about what we feel is happening in our lives.
And if it weren’t amazing enough that placebos can be effective even when people know they are “just receiving a placebo,” and not an actual surgery or medical intervention of some sort–in America, the Placebo Effect is increasing in efficacy over time. The percentage of people in placebo groups experiencing noticeable changes is going up decade by decade–possibly due to longer clinical trial periods, and perhaps also thanks to the requirement in such placebo studies that researchers tell study participants the truth regarding the remarkable efficacy of placebo treatments.
When film director Steven Spielberg gave his 2016 commencement speech at Harvard, he said, “We have to tell our own stories.” Spielberg went on to point out the importance of how each of us reaches character-defining moments in our lives in which we can hear our internalized voices of authority from our parents, teachers, bosses, and spouses indicating what we “should” do–as well as the quieter intuitive whispers and internal voices indicating what we “could” do.
In the course of working with clients as an intuitive life coach, I frequently delve into “what if” possibilities, encouraging my clients to heed the call of their hearts’ desires and feel the pull of their possible selves having the times of their lives. Simply imagining there may be another possible me and another possible you who are standing up for what we believe in, facing our fears, and pursuing our dreams is the first step in recognizing that it’s never too late to live a happy life.
No matter what situation we may find ourselves in, it is always possible to step back and observe ourselves and all others from a more expansive point of view from which we can reframe the narrative and ourselves. This kind of reframing provides us with an opportunity by which we can review memories of what we recall from past events as well as envisioned possibilities in the future–and this reframing is hardly the passive activity it might at first seem, but indeed quite possibly the most revolutionary and powerful action any one of us can ever make.
How Good Can it Get?
When we recognize the growing body of evidence supporting these ideas of the power of changing our subconscious narrative, we can better appreciate the power of asking my favorite question, “How good can it get?” in every situation, every day. Together, we can re-frame the global narratives of the world, enjoying getting the answers to a question we would all actually really enjoy getting the answer to.
You can see the YouTube summary of this blog post here: https://youtu.be/Yvs2cjTqeV0