“The brain is a prediction machine. Prior learning prompts us to see the world as we expect it to be, not as it really is…we automatically process information as we expect it to appear, without investing any mental effort.” – Samuel Veissiere, Psychology Today.
I did that while waiting for the light to turn green last week. I predicted that first the little green arrow pointing left would light up, and AFTER that the green light would come on, allowing traffic (me) to drive straight forward.
Wrong! The little green arrow AND the round green light came on at the same time. Except I didn’t see it! Literally, did not see it. When the car behind me honked it’s horn, I woke up and saw the light.
That sounds like quite the epiphany. I started thinking about the whole idea of how expectations define our individual worlds, each one of us. We tell ourselves stories about how things are, and this defines our expectations of others, ourselves, of our lives.
Just a little exercise: ask yourself “who am I?” Sit quietly and listen for an answer. Then ask again “who am I?” Listen again. Do it once more. Who we think we are is a mixture of conditioning and creativity. We all have a life story rooted in our childhoods. That’s the “prior learning.” Relationships create their own history too, and often what has happened in the beginning of the relationship predicts what we continue to expect from eachother 30 years later.
Can you imagine dropping all expectations, even for a moment? What would you see?
Just like me at the traffic light, expectations of all kinds keep us in boxed in, limited by past experiences.
What if we could be truly present? It takes effort. The brain wants to conserve energy by relying on familiar cues and then generates an assumption about what these mean. What if our story about the past isn’t the truth? It was just one way of experiencing life. There are so many others. By staying stuck in our expectations, we miss other possibilities.
When I drove away from that traffic light, I wondered what, in my expectations- mindset, I was missing. What would I see if I could drop it, and risked staying curious, open, not-knowing what was next? Because that’s the only way to see what’s really here, right in front of us. We are guaranteed a surprise.
-Kersti Abawi MA RYT