How Our Mind Works

One of the ways our Mind Works is to automatically apply meaning to words and other symbols.  This is a function of our learned belief system.

I am having my book, MindWorks translated to Spanish.  This presents some interesting challenges.  For starters, I don’t speak or read Spanish. So I am relying on the kindness of strangers and deciding to trust.  That part is somewhat easy. Getting the meaning correct is a different thing. Just translating one word in the title, MindWorks, is a challenge by itself.

MindWorks is a made up word.  You won’t find it in Webster’s dictionary. Although I did check, and it seems there is an urban dictionary definition. It is “the art of creating intellectual value.”  That is not what I had in mind when I gave that title to my book. That’s as equally inaccurate as the definition I learned in engineering school. The physics definition of “Work” is  “Applying a Force to an object and moving it over a Distance. Good thing that there are other definitions for the word “Work” that make it work.

I thought my book conveyed a good understanding of “HOW” our mind WORKS.  By that I mean the way our mind functions.  I also thought that it conveyed that our mind is constantly producing things, like thoughts, emotions, ideas, images. In that way it is a processing plant, like a foundry or metal works.  MindWorks is also a reference to the work we can do on our mind to improve it and make it operate (work) better.  It is also indicative of the final goal of making our mind work in a high functioning way.

So because the word can have multiple meanings, and all of them can work, I thought it would be a clever title.

As I work at changing thoughts, beliefs, clearing up drama from misunderstandings in relationships, and just trying to communicate a message clearly this word-smithing becomes relevant. All of it involves language and meaning and a lot of it involves words.  Often I think about how confusing it is and easy it is to be misunderstood.  I also ponder how we can assume we understand something clearly even though it is not what the speaker or writer intended.

So the editor on the Spanish translation of my book informs me that there is no direct translation for the “Works” part of my title to Spanish.  This isn’t surprising. I can google translate, and it gives me “funciona la mente”. Which refers to the functioning of the mind.  My editor thinks I should go more with the “trabajo” verb which translates more as “to labor”.  This would work better than “construcion” which means construction or building of something.  There are other words that are close but don’t give the same effect as Mindworks.  They are more often used to mean things like “Tricks of the Mind” or “Resetting your Mind”.  I think these are meanings that I would like to include because that is part of what the book is about.  There just isn’t one word that includes all of them the way it does in English.

All of this leads me to some interesting questions.  It is pretty clear that we can easily mis-translate something from another language.  But closer to home I think this can happen even when two people are using a common language.

If someone asks you, “Why did you do that?” you can respond in different ways depending on what you think they are asking.  If our boss asks us we might feel we need to justify or defend our choice. This may be somewhat due to the relative position of authority of the person asking us. When we were children we most likely felt a need to defend and explain when adults asked us.  However if we are the adult, or the boss who is asked, we feel more power and authority and aren’t as likely to interpret that we are being challenged.  We are more likely to see the question as a curious inquiry. Thinking someone is challenging us or doubting us is a meaning we can mis-apply easily. It can also go the other way as we ask someone out of curiosity. They hear a challenge, or a doubt in your voice from their own beliefs and might feel the need to defend their actions.

What if your boss asks you if you finished something before it is due?  Do you feel they are pushing you? Do you feel they are expecting it or wanting it done early? Do you think they forgot about the agreed deadline?  Do you feel they aren’t holding up their end of the agreement?  Or do you feel she just wants a progress update and you are happy to give it?  You can apply a lot of meanings that are never spoken and produce emotions from your implied meanings that aren’t necessarily part of the question asked. It all depends on what your mind interprets the meaning to be. These interpretations happen instantly and unconsciously. They are part of how our belief system applies and can distort our understanding.  It can even cause huge emotional reactions unnecessarily. What the belief system is doing can be difficult to perceive because it operates in the same invisible space of how we automatically translate meaning.

At this point it can help to do some WORK on your communication and notice how we automatically apply different meanings.  The kind of work that might seem like labor.  First you apply a force and will a distance between you and your emotions so you can consider a different interpretation. You make the work effort to deconstruct what was said and misunderstood.  You search and consider alternate meanings. You then work to reconstruct a new meaning that is clear, or at least clearer.  There are some tricks to this, ones that aren’t employed automatically by the way a mind translates words into meaning. The mind works very quickly and automatically to translate what we hear into meanings. It takes into account context, tone, circumstance, emotions, facial and body language, and derives the meaning that works (“functions”) the best. Once it has a conclusion of meaning it rarely considers alternates. We fixate on what our mind has worked up and assume that what it worked to provide us was correct.  Our mind can produce a lot of meanings and often they can be misunderstandings.  It requires a bit of mindfulness to observe your mind translating words into meanings and to recognize that there may be different, or more accurate meaning, than the one we first apply. Asking for clearer understanding may seem laborious at times, but it is far less work than assuming the incorrect understanding.

I’m pretty sure that different people who read this will interpret different meanings from what I wrote. There seem to be multiple meanings for the word “Work.”  I wonder how we can expect to always translate that meaning correctly, just in one language.  I wonder if we might be misunderstanding other more complex communication, such as phrases, whole sentences, or paragraphs correctly?

We can use the same words and come away with different meanings. It is work (effort) to understand each other. Of course if you don’t make the effort, it makes your relationships a lot more labor intensive work. The important question to ask yourself is, “Are you willing to do the work (perform the tasks) that will make your relationships work (function) better.

I hope that helps you to be aware of just how quickly our mind applies meaning to words we hear and read without you noticing. And hopefully question your thoughts and beliefs a bit more.

More insights available from the Self Mastery Course and my book MindWorks.