Tin foil hats (or my journey towards mindfulness)

I recall having a lightbulb moment when sitting in my Buyer Behaviour 101 class back in my undergraduate uni days. My marketing lecturer began talking about the coincidences that occur during the decision making phase before a customer makes a purchase.  After listening to her explain, I remember thinking – OMG, this happens to me ALL. THE. TIME.  Here I was thinking I was some kind of sage or that I was so in-tune with the universe but as it turned out pretty much everyone has experienced this at some point in their lives.

Let me explain…

Imagine you’ve made the decision to purchase a car, say a Toyota Prado (or whatever particular make or brand you like if you don’t know the Prado).  All of a sudden, once you’ve consciously made the decision to purchase a Toyota Prado, you suddenly find that they are EVERYWHERE!  You drive down the street and pass three on the way to work.  You park your car next to one in the car park. You have lunch with a girlfriend only to discover that she bought one four months ago and as you drive home realise that your neighbour, whom you wave to everyday also owns one and you wonder why you’ve never noticed it before.  And then you start to see the ads.  Everywhere.  Ads on TV promoting the latest sale, ads in the newspaper next to the latest review in the cars section of the current Prado model… and all the while you’re wondering – how do they know?!

Don’t stress! You can put away your tin foil hats because I can assure you that companies aren’t using secret mind-reading techniques so they can bombard you with their sales pitch! In actual fact it hasn’t got anything to do with marketing at all.  The phenomenon is actually a cognitive bias that pretty much everyone experiences and isn’t exclusive to things that you can buy.  For example, perhaps you’ve been trying to get pregnant and out of no where every second person you see is in various stages of pregnancy.  Or maybe you see a random word, phrase or topic in the newspaper that you never knew about before and all of a sudden that word crops up frequently in the most bizarre places.

Well, up until about 10mins into writing this post, I didn’t know that this phenomenon actually has a title! But as it turns out it does and it’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  Basically the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is the illusion in which a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards (source: a million internet articles but for ease of reference here is the wikipedia link).  In layman’s terms it pretty much means that because our brains are hardwired to see things as patterns, when we consciously take a piece of information – i.e. either see it, learn about it, or actively think about it – our brain shines a spotlight on it and all of a sudden we see it everywhere.

Anyway, I never intended for this post to be a psychology lecture so now that I’ve set the scene let’s get on with it because I bet you’re wondering how mindfulness fit into all of this. Well, the reason for that convoluted introductory set up is that I’ve been experiencing this ‘Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon’ of late around the topic of mindfulness.

I suppose that there is something about a New Year and the notion of resolutions, goal setting or simply starting afresh that perhaps opens one’s consciousness to the possibility of new things.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of being mindful is a good concept in theory but I have never invested much energy to learn about what it really is or how it could apply to me.

However lately, and yesterday’s post is probably testament to that, I have been experiencing little signs and information overload about mindfulness everywhere!  Through seeing articles, hearing conversations and reading blog posts over the first few days of the new year it seems to me that I’m not the only one considering the benefits of the concept.  There are bits and pieces of information that are starting to resonate with me and seem to gel with a number of my own goals and aspirations for this year.  Being more present and connected, living more purposefully and with less fear and even slowing down my mind and distilling my thoughts more proactively and with intent seem to be recurring themes.

So what does it take to be more mindful? How does one even start? I had one of the morning TV shows on as background noise earlier this week and they were talking about a mindfulness app called Headspace*.  I didn’t immediately tune in as I initially heard the word ‘meditation’ and like many people who have tried meditation before, I found that it just simply does not work for me as I can not still my mind.  However they addressed that very issue by explaining how it focuses more on mindfulness in smaller chunks rather than the long ‘Ohmmmmm’ stereotype of meditation that I’d tried once before.  And so my ears began to prick.  Of course, with little kids in the house, that was all I saw of the segment but I caught the name of the app and filed it away in my mind.  The next day, I was reading a post by Mrs Woog which was all about controlling her extremely random thoughts through training herself to practice the art of mindfulness.  Ding, another incident of Baader-Meinhof occurring! So I downloaded the app.

Now, I’ve registered and checked out the app but have yet to begin my first 10min session.  But I’m keen to use the last two months of my maternity leave as a trial to see if I notice any difference.  My manager at work meditates daily and I have seen the benefits it’s given him, but I’ve always written it off as an option for me and it’s now made me wonder if I was dismissing it too easily.  So whilst I’m in the midst of living fearlessly this year, let’s throw in this little experiment and see what occurs!

And in reading a little about some of the benefits, this one immediately appealed. A US study claims that just four days of 20 minutes per day mindfulness training improved working memory and the ability to sustain attention (source: Headspace app).  Surely if nothing else, that would be a massive benefit after losing most of my ability to even remember where I put my car keys let alone anything more complex!!!

So stay tuned… in a non radio frequency, no tin foil hat required kind of way of course!


Are you currently practising the art of mindfulness? Any tips you’d like to share? How many times do you think the words Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or frequency illusion might crop up for you over the next week?

*I could only dream about being compensated for promoting anything on this blog… including the Headspace app which I have mentioned.  I happened upon it by chance and have mentioned it completely independently of any association or relationship with them.  I don’t know why I’m telling you this but it seems pretty common out there in blog land to have to put a disclaimer on just about everything.  Of course it goes without saying that all the other words on this blog are my own thoughts and opinions too…


2 thoughts on “Tin foil hats (or my journey towards mindfulness)

  1. Pingback: Passionately curious | A life like ours

  2. Pingback: False starts and forgiveness | A life like ours

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