If you haven’t done this little experiment before, I hope it will make you smile and give you a little ‘a-ha’ moment for the day. That’s what it does for most of the participants in my workshops.
Start by watching this video.
Now watch this video.
If you’re like the participants I work with in my training courses, it’s likely your experience went something like this:
Whilst watching the first video, you looked at the water, noticed the beauty of the setting and then focused mainly on the people. You watched the two people on the bridge walking down to meet the others and you anticipated some sort of gathering or party as you noticed the group walking up towards the path. You weren’t sure whether these people knew each other or had just come together for some sort of fun event and you might have been reminded of holidays in the sun and good friends. You might even have anticipated the next scene, imagining people dancing together on the beach or playing volleyball or something.
As soon as the second clip started, you felt the instant gear change in your mind and probably realised the point of this little demonstration. Lots of people smile or laugh at that moment. In this clip, your attention was likely drawn to the water and your brain naturally scanned for danger. You focused less on the people and more on what was about to happen to them. The shadows on the water, the ‘strange’ way the waves lapped on the rocks and the zooming action of the camera could all be interpreted as confirmation that, indeed, something bad was about to happen.
Your thoughts provide your soundtrack
Movie makers use music in provocative ways all the time. They create mood and play with our attention and our emotions in fascinating ways through the use of music. Indeed, the really great move scores win awards and help us conjure iconic characters and images any time we hear them.
At drama school, I had a friend who was obsessed with movie scores. We’d watch films together and he’d comment afterwards about how the music made certain scenes feel. Before watching movies with him, I hadn’t paid the blindest bit of attention to the music and that’s how most of us are with our thoughts. We notice them colouring our perception, changing where we focus our attention and rewriting the stories we tell ourselves. Left unchecked, our thoughts can make us feel that we’re living in a horror when a change of soundtrack could reveal the makings of a romantic comedy.**
“Turn down the shark music”
I first encountered this fantastic piece of advice in a parenting book – “No-Drama Discipline” by Daniel J. Siegel and Tine Payne Bryson. (As a side note, this is one of the best parenting books I’ve read. It really helped me and I’d highly recommend it!)
In the book, the authors talk you through an experience much like the one I’ve just taken you through with the video demonstration. It was such a powerful explanation that I instantly went onto YouTube in search of an actual video demonstration but there wasn’t one so I made one. Of course, the shark music they referred to was the theme from Jaws but I couldn’t use that here without breaking copyright laws.
Specifics of the shark music aside, the point is clear – when you think there’s something horrible up ahead, you skew your perception of the present moment so everything seems threatening. Your behaviour shifts accordingly and even though it isn’t “the best version of you”, it feels like the right thing to do in light of the threat. Of course, for most of us, the threat was never real to begin with.
In the book, they talked about simple situations like helping your kids with homework or getting them to brush their teeth. These were certainly situations where shark music played for me…She’s never going to get it. She doesn’t listen. She’s zoned out again. What am I doing wrong? What’s going to happen when the work gets more difficult? Dear God, how many more years of this… He’s almost 6 and he still won’t brush his own teeth. It’s my fault. I’m a bad parent. I did it wrong. Other parents don’t stand for this. His friends are all brushing their own teeth already. Actually, he’s behind in almost everything. Maybe something else is wrong. What if I’m missing something?…
The parent I am with the shark music on is very different from the parent I become when the soundtrack is more light-hearted and joyful…It’s nice that we get to spend this time together. I love the sense of pride she feels when she grasps new ideas. Cool! She figured out what to ask Google. Great! She just used a word she’s never used before. She persevered with that calculation even though she was struggling…I really like how it feels to have him cuddled up with me while I brush his teeth. Soon, he’ll be doing all these things by himself and I won’t get to do this.
Seeing the effect of the shark music on these everyday situations had a profound effect on my relationship with my thoughts – and my relationships with my kids!
Where I used to see my thoughts as reality, I now realise ‘reality’ isn’t really a thing. It is shaped by our thoughts, so if we want it to feel different, we have to be intentional about the music we play in the background.
When does your shark music play?
We’ve become so accustomed to accepting the constant stream of thought that we don’t stop to assess the quality, usefulness or validity of our incessant mind chatter. Nor do we recognise the option to change the soundtrack, but it is just that – a soundtrack. It can be changed.
Of course, this is easier said than done but the best place I have found to start is just to notice the shark music in the first place. The next steps unfold differently from person to person and I’ll share more about that in future blogs.
For now though, I’d love to know more about when the shark music plays for you.
Please comment below to share your thoughts and experiences.
Video, Image and Music Credits
Happy by MBB https://soundcloud.com/mbbofficial
Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0 Free Download / Stream: https://bit.ly/Happy-MBB
Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/g6swHZbWtRc
Suspenseful Music Credit:
Vivek Abhishek on YOUTUBE : https://www.youtube.com/user/VivEKhsihbA
**Please note, I am not referring to situations where people are in danger, suffering abuse, neglect or other violations. I am referring to situations where our thoughts lead us to turn relatively benign events into something more sinister.