Little World / Big World

Your mind on Imagination

Researchers at the University of Boulder, Colorado recently taught 68 people to fear a harmless bell. They did this by repeatedly pairing the sound of the bell with an electric shock(!). They then placed these people into a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine which maps brain activity. They then played the bell to some of these people and asked others to imagine the sound of the bell in their heads. Both the people who heard the sound and those who imagined the sound showed activity in the brain areas associated with fear. Your mind on imagination feels the same as your mind interacting with the Big World.

Big World

Big World is the world of objects. The objective world – out there. It’s the world where your friends, family, pets, workmates and others actually reside. If you say, “I’m going on holidays to Thailand”, you are planning to move your physical body somewhere in the Big World. The Big World is the world of External Enemies and External Allies. Things that threaten to harm your body, or your reputation, or your relationships are located in the Big World.

Little World

The Little World is the world of ideas. The subjective world- in your mind. This is the world of your memories, hopes, fears, fantasies and insecurities. If you say, “I’m not going on holiday to Thailand, it will be too crowded” you have already made a mental trip there in the Little World and decided that the Big World Trip is not for you. The Little World is the world of Internal Enemies and Internal Allies. Things that threaten to harm your body, or your reputation, or your relationships are not really in the Little World.

So, Your Mind on Imagination

When you imagine yourself being attacked by a dangerous animal you are giving your mind a small dose of the fear that you would feel if you were being actually attacked. Your body will release stress hormones, your body (in a mild way) enter the fight or flight mode.  If you imagine your spouse leaving you, you will give yourself a microdose of the feelings of sadness and fear.  If you imagine your boss chastising you, you will give yourself more of the same. If you tell yourself, “you’re useless”, or “what an idiot”, you will feel some of the same emotions that you’d feel if someone with authority in the Big World said these things.

An example of the Little World causing fear happened to me recently. I was watching a video of a man standing on the edge of a tall dam dropping a bowling ball onto a trampoline far below (don’t ask!). While watching the man standing at such great heights my hands became clammy. On some level I placed myself in his shoes. Even writing this now, remembering the heights, feel some of the anxiety return.

Learning to be attentive to the events of the Little World can help reduce their effect on your wellbeing. The first step is to become aware. Many people don’t even notice the way they talk to themselves, or the images that their minds produce. Once you notice, something can be done. Just remembering that “I am safe right now, this is just the Little World making me scared/sad/ashamed” can make a huge difference.

2 thoughts on “Little World / Big World”

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