Our Brains are Association Making Machines

and they are very good at it!

If I touch this hot burner…

From the day we are born we begin to learn to make associations. Some of these associations are learned from well meaning people trying to teach us how to survive in this world. The down side? We also learn associations from people with less than friendly intentions and from people with harmful and hurtful beliefs and biases. Add to this all the associations we learn and create on our own from our varied life experiences.

It would be impossible to list even a fraction of the associations that we make or learn in a lifetime. You can think of your brain as an association making machine, that is what it does, and it is really good at it! Some associations that we learn are really helpful, such as “If I touch this hot burner, then I will burn my hand.” But so many more are nothing more than invented beliefs that don’t have to be truths for us.

Some associations keep us from serious harm, so they are quite useful or even necessary, but many others are created to protect our egos or to protect us from made up fears. Ask yourself this question, are our accumulated associations ultimately anything more than expressions of fear? They are either an expression of something bad happening if you do or do not do a certain thing or an expression that you have to do a certain thing in order for something good to happen.

Let’s call these associations “if this then that” statements, or IFTTT, meaning, if I do this, then that will happen.

Some IFTTT associations are overtly fearful:

If I fail this test, I will never succeed in my career…

If I am nice, people will take advantage of me…

If I go running, I will have trouble with my knees…

Some IFTTT statements are covertly fearful:

If I can make people laugh, they will like me…

If I take these vitamins, I won’t get sick…

If I have a drink, I’ll loosen up and have more fun…

Let me tell you, literally every association that your brain has learned or has invented is man made! Infants are born with zero associations. Infants are also born with almost no fears (the only two fears present at birth are the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling.) This is great news, because it means that you have the ability to examine just about any association and decide if you want it to be true for you or not! Here’s a short mental exercise:

Picture that you have a closet full of IFTTT associations hanging in it. You want to clean out your closet, so you start to go through them one by one. When you find an association that is beneficial for you or for society, you might want to keep it, so you let it stay in your closet. When you see an association that you’ve outgrown or that you don’t want to be true for you, you can remove it from the closet the way you would remove an old, outdated jacket. You don’t have to have any more emotional attachment to that IFTTT association than you would to that old jacket. If you catch yourself trying to put that jacket on again in the future, just gently remind yourself that you don’t wear that jacket any longer and set it aside. During this process, as associations become known to you in a conscious way, be kind to yourself because you ultimately created these associations as a protective mechanism to shield yourself from pain, or they formed when you were too young to know any differently or to have the skills to refute them. When you make even a small amount of new space in your closet, it will make room for new and exciting opportunities that were previously blocked. Let me know how it goes!

If you enjoyed this article, please hit those little clapping hands below (you can clap as much as you like)! I also invite you to follow me on Medium so you never miss an article. You can learn more about life enrichment coaching at www.christinebradstreet.com or email me at christine@christinebradstreet.com.