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Mind Programming: For Better or Worse

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Many years ago, when I was a younger nurse and my littles were still quite young, I was quite active in the world of #breastfeeding. This was before we had laws that protected us to #nurse our little ones out in public, or laws that prevented our employers from discriminating us if we needed to pump while at work. Even as a nurse I struggled to allot myself time, although smokers were always permitted time to leave so they could smoke during their shifts. It was a different culture back then.

Interestingly, if you're near my age, you certainly remember the White Lies Campaign specific to cigarette smoking. Everyone smoked when we were young, and they smoked everywhere, all the time. Restaurants. Grocery stores. Movie theatres. Even in medical clinics. Obstetricians encouraged pregnant women to smoke which allowed for smaller babies which was thought to decrease birth trauma, and we didn't want to stress the baby into weaning during this early development anyway. One in three physicians recommended smoking as part of a healthy lifestyle, right?

The White Lies Campaign changed our culture though, dramatically; so much so, we forget at times how prevalent smoking was part of our childhood. Soon after this campaign, and the class action lawsuits that followed, the National Ad Campaign took on breastfeeding. You probably don't know this because the government shut it down in three days.

After loads of market research, the National Ad Council learned that women knew breastfeeding was superior to artificial breastmilk or bottle-feeding, but they hadn't interest in being supermom. You see, it wasn't that they felt choosing between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding was similar to choosing between Coke and Pepsi, either way didn't really matter; rather, it was that our society had full awareness of the benefits available in mother's milk and that they could not be achieved from infant formula, they just didn't think being the best was necessary.

Educating people on the benefits of breastfeeding, the National Ad Council recognized, was not the approach they needed to take in their effort to improve breastfeeding rates and ultimately, improve health outcomes for both mothers and their children (we have the worst rating of all industrialized countries). What the Council realized was that they needed to change what people perceived as the standard.

Society had become so familiar with artificial breastmilks that they were now the new normal, fully accepted into society. The reality was though, that their use worsened health outcomes for women and their babies. Mortality and morbidity for both increased because of it. This wasn't a matter of choosing your preferred feeding option, but more a matter of our nation's children needing their mother's milk for optimal health.

The Campaign then decided, after loads of research, to educate the public about the known risks to not breastfeeding your child. It wasn't that children have fewer ear infections if they are breastfed, but that they have more when they are not. It wasn't that they are smarter if they are breastfed, but IQs are lower. Cancer too, is more frequent in those children who are not breastfed. Diabetes is more frequent. The list goes on and on and the National Ad Council crafted another legendary campaign to assure these messages were received by the public.

These television ads were accompanied by mass amounts of print material for providers, and I was privy to a stack of them - posters of bottles full of insulin syringes as if feeding from a bottle would lead to diabetes and otoscope heads photographed to resemble breasts with the message that not breastfeeding increases incidence of otitis media... the list really went on and on and they were all quite brilliant. It was a clever marketing campaign, creating significant emotional response and inciting fear, which has become the mode that best achieves results in marketing, right?

When this campaign was nearing completion, baby formula lobbyists panicked and hit the ground running to their closest elected official's office, demanding this campaign be shut down before class action lawsuits resulted. Our government leaders censored the campaign's efforts, only allowing their broadcast during the lowest traffic times, 3am in the morning for example.

After just three days, with the most minimal of exposure, the entire campaign was squashed because the government feared - as the largest purchaser of artificial breastmilks for the WIC program - that class action lawsuits would raise the prices of infant formula so greatly that it would impact the nation's ability to serve the poor. It was never revived.

No one knows better though, that inciting fear and dramatic emotion is how we change culture. Once they have captured our attention and changed how we feel, we become more open and suggestible to information. We are more prone to accept, believe, and surrender to this information (without analyzing it) when we feel fearful, victimized, worried, shocked, weak, tired, or in pain. Suggesting we may harm our children is a significantly different message, than sharing that another, better option may be available... whatever you want, either way, no big deal.

These facts that appear at the end of the commercial offer us "facts" and serves to reinforce the marketing campaign. Admittedly, I was and remain in full support of the breastfeeding campaign; however, this strategy has been used in a number of ways through our history. Communicable disease is a rather common scenario, such as showing us horrifying blisters, weeping and inflamed, covering the backs of elderly while they lay in agony and family members looking on, crying and helpless with how to help... then "facts" to support the effort to immunize our society.

Another approach here in Indiana, which I won't link to because it is so triggering and egregious, was a true life scenario in which a father walked in to wake his wife and young child, both sleeping on the couch, and he incidentally videotaped his daughter having suffocated between his wife and the couch. This home video was used to strongly discourage #bedsharing, which is an entirely different circumstance that sleeping with your child on the couch. Again, the emotions and fear created in us cause us not to critically think and for our minds to be automatically programmed with the message the television is attempting to persuade.

This type of programming makes me wonder if we really have free will or if we're all making choices based on what we have been conditioned to believe is the answer. It is really disheartening to me for example, that as a professor in a graduate Family Nurse Practitioner program in which I teach Advanced Pathology which includes the underlying principles of immunity and immunizations that many easily admit how complex this science is, yet allow absolutely no room for critically thinking our vaccine recommendations. Even when healthcare practitioners recognize their knowledge is shaky and that they have not read a single research study on any one particular immunization, they are adamant of their position and what their client needs to do, also without question. This opposes scientific inquiry and all that we know to be true about advancing the profession. Either way, if we can disorient people with information, even our most educated healthcare professionals, or shock them and confuse them, the door is then open to program their subconscious mind.

I share this not simply to make you aware so you can guard against this mind programming, as I always seek to empower my clients to think for themselves, but also because if we can program ourselves with information in the ways mentioned above, can we not do the same for reasons that might offer us significant advantage and benefit?

The more we expose ourselves to these sorts of stimulating scenarios, the more automatic the programming response becomes. Eventually, when we've unconsciously memorized the stimulus and the response is automatic, the conscious mind no longer needs to think about or analyze the incoming information. Meanwhile, the subconscious mind maps the information, recording and storing it like a voice or video recording. The same neural networks are fired repeatedly, reinforcing the same thought process and now belief.

If we can create illness by repeatedly using these elevated emotions and repeated thoughts which get past our analytical mind, can't we do the same to change our habits and beliefs about ourselves? Can we do the same and remind ourselves that we are strong, resilient, smart, beautiful, save and loved? Can we create a movie ourselves or repeat affirmations or chant messages we want our bodies and minds to believe to be true about our future so we can manifest what we desire?

Many of us are stuck in the mindset that we need something outside of ourselves to change how we feel inside, which is exactly what advertising is all about - the never-ending dependence on, and consumption of, external sources to make us feel happy or better. This belief is ingrained in us through the media, television shows, commercials, the news, video games, websites, and sometimes even music. What if though, we reverse this programming in the same way?

Meditation can do this to some degree, but what if we kept our eyes open, watched a self-made movie with a message we want to acquire as a subconscious thought - I have compassion for myself and so make healthy choices for myself, in my foods, movement, habits, and relationships - and intentionally expose ourselves to this information, relevant to our life's dreams and goals, and reprogram ourselves into our best selves? Consider creating a movie of your own - the 21st century version of a vision board. Add music.

You can use these to create relationships, wealth, health, careers, and other material items. They are used with teens to create a future vision so they feel as if they have some control over their lives. Corporations are now doing this to set the tone for team meetings, and overall vision. Integrative health providers are also starting to use this technology to help their clients envision the healthiest version of themselves, assist them in their healing process, and keep them on task with a new lifestyle that must be maintained daily. Addiction treatment is one approach, even.

Who is programming your mind? Is this a message you want to live into the future?

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