Sey Young: Don't judge a book by its cover

Change perspective, change experience

"I believe in an open mind. But not so open your brains fall out." -- Arthur Hays Suizberger

Aug. 19, 2019: 7:33 p.m.: I'm at the gym for my workout. Feeling tired from the day's labor but realizing that my softening belly isn't going to shrink by itself, I bravely press forward. Walking to the Smith machine I cross paths with a graying guy close to my age who I have seen fairly regularly working out in the gym before. We lock eyes, at which I give him a smile and slight nod of my head. He stares at me without any emotion while we pass. "What's with that?" I think and record that data for later use.

Aug. 24, 2019: 2:02 p.m.: Coming in the gym I encounter said graying guy on his way out. This time as he glances at me, I shut down the smile but do give the slight head nod move as before. As before, he fixes me with a deadpan face. No nod. No smile. Nothing as we pass. "What a jerk," I think and record that data for later use.

Aug. 29, 2019: 7:58 p.m.: I'm at the gym, and the struggle is on. My back feels tight, my belly still is soft, and my earbuds have stopped working. Ugh. Deciding a drink of water will at least delay doing squats with the free bar, I walk over the water fountain. Drinking there as I wait (impatiently) is the gray-headed jerk. Glancing up at me, as before, just a cold dark look of indifference in his face. "Is this jerk jealous of me for some reason?" I think and record that data for later use.

Aug. 29, 2019: 9:36 p.m.: I'm in the car with my wife leaving the gym. "Hey, you know that gray-haired fellow that's always in the gym when we are?" I ask. She nods. "Well, what a jerk he is. He won't even nod his head at me in the gym! What do you think his problem is?" I conclude without really wanting a response. I already got this one all figured out. Some people we cross paths with on our annual trip around the sun are just jerks. Case closed.

Sept. 4, 2019: 8:18 p.m.: It's a good evening at the gym. I'm feeling stronger, more confident. I look up and see the gray-haired guy, but this time he is smiling. He is saying goodbye to what looks to be a family member. I'm shocked by his friendly, human expression. Later in the evening, emboldened by my fresh observation, I approach him. "Hey, how often do you work out every week?" I ask. In no time, I discover his name is Leslie, that he is a civil engineer who works out five days a week, and indeed that was his daughter paying him a visit. I also have a new friend. So how could my former impressions have been so off?

According to Lisa Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern, our mood has a lot to do with it. She says that our mood is a simple accounting of how we are doing as interpreted by the brain. It's to cope with what she calls the "body budgeting," because we are not always conscious of the things we need to do to keep the body functioning well. Our brain, based on past experiences, tries to guess what is going on in any given situation to help us survive. Sometimes it is very accurate; sometimes it just dead wrong. For instance, someone cuts you off in traffic: a jerk right? But perhaps it's someone late to pick up their child at school. We don't know, but our brain will venture a guess that most of us will accept as fact. Feeling then becomes believing, which is called affective realism. Our brain, says Dr. Barrett, is wired to see the world through affect-colored glasses. In simple words, had a bad day? Then most likely your brain will run with that concept, especially perhaps, at the gym.

What to do? When you feel the affect of realism disrupting your feelings, be curious, take a deep breathe, step back and be suspicious of whatever hit your senses. Well, that's how I feel about it anyway.

NAN Our Town on 09/19/2019

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