Association is a powerful, yet involuntary, process that happens in my brain and yours.
When I hear the word “red," the images of a fire, a sports car, lipstick and an apple immediately rush to the front of my brain. What do fire, a sports car, lipstick and an apple have to do with one another? Very little, except that they are all associated with the colour red in my brain.
The associations in my brain with colours and objects are fairly benign and mostly harmless. Other associations may not be as harmless though.
In my early years roaming this planet, as my brain was rapidly developing, many foundational associations were made. Some intentional, most circumstantial. As a child, I absorbed like a sponge everything that I could from my environment. This included my sister, my friends, my teachers, my culture and most of all, my parents. Parents are the first meaningful relationships that I developed as a child. It is a relationship that I depended on literally to survive. I would have been helpless without the care of my parents when I first entered this world.
Naturally, their influence on me cannot be understated. At a time in my life when my brain was developing and discovering how to be in the world, I turned to my parents for more insight and information than they likely realized. Last year, when I unexpectedly got the chance to live with my parents during the pandemic, I began to understand and see a lot of the associations of my brain reflected back to me. It was like living with mirrors everywhere, showing me just how much I had been shaped by them.
As I got older, the associations I formed in my brain were primarily influenced by the education I received. Through grade school, secondary school and into university, I was heavily influenced by the teachers and textbooks. It is also a time in life when I began to form associations with other people of my own choosing, not only based on circumstance growing up under my parents roof. Friends began to influence me, and me them, in ways that none of us were likely aware of. It’s like we were trading values and beliefs with each other, as if they were baseball cards that we were collecting.
As I began to build my career, in particular in a knowledge based role and industry, I began to form associations with my business, including my team, my clients, my investors and more. I began to identify with what I did, and was influenced by the leaders, formal and informal, around me.
My taste in media began to become more refined. I started to feel more conviction in my beliefs. I began to associate with other people based on these beliefs, likely to the unconscious exclusion of others with different beliefs.
Regardless of where I have been on my journey through life, I have always been influenced by the associations that I have collected along the way.
There is a quality of impermanence that is a core ingredient of reality. Everything changes, and when I recognize this, then I begin to see how my associations change over time and how my associations change me over time.
The moments of struggle for me have been when I mistakenly believe my associations to be solid and fixed, like concrete. Unmoveable, unmoldable, unchangeable. It is in these moments that I stopped living and was ignorant to reality.
I must continue to ask myself, am I causing harm to others? To myself? If I am, then I must look deeper to understand which associations are leading me to take these actions, say these words or have these thoughts.
Notice What You Notice is an intentional act to bring awareness to the associations that are present for me. It is an acknowledgement that they are not permanent and will continue to change. That includes the people that I associate with, the ideas that I associate with and most of all, the beliefs that I associate with. It is an understanding that my associations have shaped and influenced my choices through life and will continue to.
As I have begun to notice what I notice, I have seen my curiosity for understanding why I believe what I do grow. I have also seen my openness to new possibilities grow. And most of all, I can better see and understand myself. From this place of self-awareness, I feel more alive than I have ever before.
Notice What You Notice.