In Cognitive Hypnotherapy we teach that the brain uses what we call The Algorithms of the Mind (TAOTM) to deduce meaning from information our senses harvest from the environment. It sounds fancy but actually it’s very straightforward. Our brain is constantly looking for patterns, trying to figure out what things mean – we recognise a dog because it fits a previously stored pattern, but our response to it depends on the nature of the experiences we’ve had with them. So we don’t all experience the same dog, because our idea of dog is unique to us.
So our brain seeks causal links – if this pattern in front of me matches something from the past, this is what is likely to happen so this is the best thing to do; our brain is constantly shuffling between the present, the past, the future and then the present again (and usually in that order and all within half a second).
I’m describing the nature of cause and effect as we teach it on in our hypnotherapy training, so our students can learn to identify causal patterns that lead to the problems clients bring, often because of the classic ‘brain computing error’ of mistaking correlation for causation. Our brain is so intent on looking for patterns that sometimes it sees them where they don’t exist. As a child, if your Mum rewards you for being good by giving you chocolate your brain might well create the relationship of chocolate = love. This equivalence can lead to a causal relationship that when someone feels unloved they reach for the sweets because their brain has learnt the connection that “if I eat chocolate it means I’m loved.” No wonder the lure of it proves irresistible to so many. And there is a huge number of variations on this causal theme that clients have brought to the therapists I’ve trained.
What does this have to do with tennis players? This excellent article talks about the superstitions many of them have, and superstitions are just great examples of correlation being mistaken for causation.