VIRUS OF THE MIND: How Elite Athletes Find the ANTIDOTE
Richard Brodie’s 2011 book, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme, is devoted to the study of memetics. A meme is sometimes called a ‘thought contagion’ or a virus of the mind. In this blog, we’ll take a long look at these mind viruses through the lens of sports. We’ll consider concepts like:
- MOTIVATION OR MANIPULATION
- INCITEMENT OR INSPIRATION
- COMPORTMENT OF A CHAMPION
- MIND VIRUS SNARES
- THE ANTIDOTE
The difference between pain and power is whether we choose it or not. It’s how we interpret and react to any given situation. This is our choice. We choose whether to mentally frame events as painful or powerful learning experiences.
MOTIVATION OR MANIPULATION
Memetics sees ideas as a virus, sometimes propagated instead of truth or logic. Memes can be phrases, behaviors, or ideas transferred from person to person. As people share these cultural memes, data is replicated and further distributed until ultimately becoming a cultural phenomenon – accuracy being irrelevant.
Brodie’s book was my first serious understanding of how the digital world influences us. I recognized the societal impact of T.V. shows, news, advertising, the Internet, etc. Regrettably, I didn’t realize the full scope of the ubiquitous manipulation of our culture – in fact, I probably still can’t fully comprehend the vastness and the rapidity of its impact. I’m not sure there exists a complete account of the digital matrix into which we’re all plugged. And worse, due to the beguiling nature of this mind virus, it’s frequently hard to discern if we’re being motivated or manipulated.
Knowing that influences and influencers are all around me, I attempt to navigate my world like playing a chess match. I hope to make intelligent, strategic moves closer to my long-term goals. For example, I prefer goods and services that are of high quality and good for the planet. I choose to have a consistent exercise plan that affects my longevity. I want good nutrition to stay strong and mentally alert.
Yet, in this digital age, with information at my fingertips, I find with each ensuing decade, these efforts are becoming more and more challenging. Why? Because of the mounting sophistication and openly deceptive nature of Big Food and Big media – whose agendas differ significantly from how I want to assert my purchasing power.
It’s scary to admit that crowd-pleasing, mindless memes are systematically playing humanity. My attempt to tackle life like a chess match feels like I’ve been pitted against “Alpha Zero” (A.I.’s self-teaching chess master). Our matrix is indeed a labyrinth of algorithms that manipulate us. We’re swept along and forced to play the game. Big food, Big pharma, and Big media (pick any giant behemoth) keep the population misinformed, confused, and gullible.
This is occurring with such speed it’s mind-boggling. As our culture swims upstream against the deluge, we have no time to ponder, reflect, or even question. I’m sure we could regain some of our power if we did. Alas, most of our population has (blindly) given up their personal power. The lemmings keep following.
For today, I’m suggesting, sports fans, that we collectively stop, take a deep breath, and ponder the virus of the mind.
In moments of darkness, we can see all. In moments of silence, we can hear all.
INCITEMENT OR INSPIRATION
I recently watched the press conference interview at Wimbledon when Rafa Nadal announced that he was pulling out of the tournament due to an injury. How difficult it must have been for him to sit there and announce this to the world! Those who follow tennis know that Nadal was deeply emotionally hurt to pull out of the tournament. We know Nadal wouldn’t do that unless unequivocally necessary. We know Nadal’s warrior mentality – we’ve seen it for decades. He is one of the most impressive competitors across all sports.
During that press conference, a mind virus raised its ugly head. An inane reporter asked Rafa Nadal, “Are you pulling out of the tournament because you are afraid to lose to Nick Kyrgios?” What kind of inflammatory contagion is this? Could the reporter not ask a more thoughtful question of a sports legend? As our media is accustomed to doing, the reporter was trying to propagate a twisted headline.
The question was intentionally meant to goad an impulsive reaction. In my opinion, this was highly disrespectful to a proven champion. The question was meant to stir debate and argument. And it’s another media disgrace that our country witnesses all too often. This kind of distorted thinking is a virus of the mind – now considered acceptable in society.
See the previous blog titled “Breaking News Is Broken” https://bodyhelix.com/breaking-news-is-broken-athletes-media-burden-money/
In today’s media swirl, the headlines are more about inciting upheaval rather than inspiring humanity. The reporter (whose livelihood apparently stems from sportscasting) chose not to edify the sport nor inspire future players. I implore the media, whether reporting on a sport or other life event, to find ways to encourage rather than provoke. Rather than trying to derail or antagonize, wouldn’t it have been fabulous to hear more about how Nadal overcomes challenges or his behind-the-scenes training, nutrition, and hydration? Well-intentioned and meaningful interviews rather than the typical bombast could reveal insights into a champion’s mindset.
When reporters try to sabotage players, the great ones, fortunately, see through the ploys and gambits. It’s a shame that players must compete on and off the court. It’s sad that the media intentionally undermines our path to greatness. They do it through mind viruses using emotions and conflict. They do it by baiting poor nutrition and risky lifestyles. They do it for the money (ratings and profit). It has nothing to do with what would benefit you or me.
COMPORTMENT OF A CHAMPION
Coach’s Sidebar: Rafa Nadal is a true professional and comports himself as such. Nadal understands that to become great, one must face defeat, losses, injuries, and ridicule in front of the entire world. Yet he remains humble and hungry. He loves his sport and the fans. Has Nadal ever been unsure, confused, or embarrassed? Of course, he has! Those feelings are part of the road to greatness. He has endured much and continues to face challenges head-on. Challenges faced by champions are amplified and always on display.
Players who persistently excel-like Rafa Nadal, are in a very small league. Nadal is a gentleman. In addition to his incredible talent, he is incapable of disrespecting his sport, the fans, or a tournament. He gives superhuman effort with no excuses. When he loses, he is humble. Nadal has navigated well over the years through the press conference minefields. He is one of the ‘greatest of all time.’ Nadal has earned this celebrity through talent and sportsmanship.
See the previous blog titled “This Is the Way.” https://bodyhelix.com/this-is-the-way-the-elusive-chasm-that-sets-athletes/
MIND VIRUS SNARES
There are a couple more mind virus snares I’d like to warn you about. These are becoming more prevalent. So much so that I believe we are reshaping human communication methods, losing our ability to think profoundly and ultimately eroding our skills to engage others at a deep level.
Text Brain Syndrome. We are living in a world of what I’ve coined “text brains.” Our society is so all-consumed with texting that even speech is now abbreviated. Also, I am hearing more people talking faster. Yes, it’s a thing. Fast-talking causes people to trip over their words and speak in fragments. Disjointed thoughts turn into incoherent sentences that are blurted out without filters. Thought processes seem to be truncated.
Ideas never quite get finished before they are bounced to the next meme. I refer to this communication phenomenon as ‘live-streaming non-sequiturs’ or spasmodic consciousness. People’s lifestyles keep them in a constant state of hurry. When stressed, pushed, or confused, people talk faster or not at all. Slow down to think and converse – who has time for that?
Inability to Reflect. It’s disturbing but true.Our citizenry is on a speeding train to “Shallow Town.” We are losing our innate mental abilities of reflection and self-awareness, which separate us from the monkeys. Stop and consider that last time you sat alone quietly, patiently, and eagerly thought deeply about a profound subject. Can you be alone with yourself and reflect? Time alone is necessary for our brains to unwind and recharge. Constantly being ‘on’ doesn’t give our brains a chance to rest and replenish. Our consumerist society is killing deep thinking and is cultivating ignorance. Ignorant people who don’t question themselves and the world are the easiest targets for manipulation and mind control.
When was the last time you had a philosophical conversation with someone? Deep discussions can lead to greater feelings of connectedness and enjoyment. Substantive, intimate conversations strengthen bonds between people and make them happier. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more challenging to make friends with genuine and deep people who don’t have hidden motives. Sadly, the digital mindset has changed much more than just how we see material objects. It has also altered the way we see each other.
If you have someone happy to have a deeply meaningful dialogue with you, keep this person among your close confidants. These conversations are quickly vanishing, and the world is becoming full of T.V. news mimicking monkey chatterers. It’s small talk – on the smallest level.
Tangled Brain. As I am still reflecting on Wimbledon 2022, I can’t miss the opportunity to add a comment about Nick Kyrgios. I feel that he has a tangled brain. He admits to mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. His antics, profanity, outbursts, unprofessionalism, and other atrocious behaviors are unacceptable. His misconduct results in fines. Is this his gimmick, his shtick? He’s played the victim, the petulant child, the bad boy.
Obviously, mind viruses have infected and infested this talented tennis player. Yes, he is talented but not professional and does not help his sport. His memes are bad for sports. And, of course, the media can’t wait to exploit his tantrums. Trying to watch Kyrgios play gives me a nervous tick!
There are a few things you can easily do if you wish to develop your cognitive abilities and avoid the virus of the mind. These techniques are not just for sports or athletes. It’s for life. Some of these things might sound crazy, but they’ll help you bring back the potent skills of thinking and reflecting – a sure antidote to the virus of the mind.
- Try pulling away from digital information. Unplug from social media and mindless scrolling – even if only for a few minutes. Gradually decrease your phone obsession.
- Get an excellent book, relax, and read. Reading consistently strengthens connections in the brain, improves memory and concentration, and may even help you live longer. Reading can also reduce stress levels and prevent age-related cognitive decline.
- Sit outside in the quiet and listen to the birds and the sound of the wind in the trees. The sounds of birds have consistently shown to improve mood and mental alertness. New data finds that listening to nature recordings can boost outlook, decrease stress, and even lessen pain.
- Learn to meditate. If you want to challenge yourself, sign up for a local Buddhist class on meditation. In my experience learning from Buddhist monks, I have observed incredible intellect. Their minds resonate with a degree of deep focus that is rare and refreshing. You don’t have to become a Buddhist to experience how they control their minds, study, and rationalize their thought processes. It’s fascinating. Meditation can improve your ability to dial in and focus for long periods.
- Find some friends that enjoy sharing thoughts that explore depth. When was the last time you had an extremely meaningful conversation? Reveal personally intimate information about what you’re thinking, what your feeling, what you’re experiencing or what your beliefs are.
- Regain your abilities to think and reflect. Reflective thinking (slow and deliberative) and reactive thinking (fast and instinctual) effectively exist at opposite ends of a switch. When one is “on,” the other is “off.” Set aside time to think. Put it on your schedule. Curate a list of questions that will help prompt you to think reflectively. For example: “Am I living true to myself?” “Am I taking care of myself physically?” “What am I really scared of?” “Have I done anything lately that’s worth remembering?” “Is it more important to love or be loved?” “Make a list of everything that inspires you.”
Ponder this for a while. The science of memetics asks not how people accumulate ideas but how ideas accumulate people. It has a central place in the paradigm shift that is currently taking place.
Learn. Share. Inspire.