During the last election cycle, I received a lot of ads in the mail telling me how awful an opposing candidate was. For research purposes, I threw them into a pile so I could count how many I received in the month leading up to the election. The final count? 124. How many did I read? Zero.
Here is the weird thing - I don’t recall making a decision not to read them, I just didn’t. My brain subconsciously made that decision for me. It knew the information was not necessary for my survival and filtered it automatically.
Our brains are wired that way. Thinking and processing information burns calories. Our minds are designed to conserve calories. In more primitive times, we might need those calories to run away from a saber-toothed tiger. Want to lose some extra pounds? Think more - it will burn calories!
The way God designed our brains is exceptionally useful for survival purposes. This design stinks if you are trying to get your message heard by people who are bombarded with hundreds of thousands of messages in a week.
The average newspaper contains more information than an 18th century American was exposed to in a lifetime. Same with the average daily social media consumption. Think about that. Information used to be rare. Getting information took effort. Information is now plentiful. Just 25 years ago, writing a research paper for school involved hours at the library looking for information. Now, it takes a few keystrokes in a search engine.
Our brains are having a hard time dealing with the amount of information and stimuli that we are experiencing. It is creating stress. It is burning more brain calories. But we are learning. Our brains know we can’t process large amounts of information, so we are getting better at filtering stuff out that doesn’t really matter.
This is not good news if you want to communicate a message to people. Chances are it will be filtered out. Our natural response is to try to deliver more. It makes logical sense.
- If you are hungry, what is the logical response? Eat MORE.
- If you don’t have enough money, what is the logical response? Work MORE.
- If your car is going too slow, what is the logical response? Step on the pedal and give it MORE gas.
- If you can’t hit a straight drive on the golf course, what is the logical thing to do? MORE practice.
More doesn’t work when trying to communicate a message. More increases the clutter. More increases the likelihood that our brains will filter out the message.
More on a printed page or website means the less valuable each item is.
More announcements from the stage mean less is heard.
More posts on social media means people will become accustomed to scrolling past all of your posts.
More just means more, not more effective.
More is not better. Better is better.
There is good news about the way that our brains are designed to process and filter information. Our minds are effective at flagging information that fits into a context - something that we already know or have experienced. That’s why companies are spending millions of dollars to have access to our personal information; our web search history, social media feeds, and shopping history. They need that information so they can communicate things to you that your brain will put into a familiar context and will not filter out.
That is the one thing communicators can do to get their message through. Put the message into context. Relate it to things that people know and have experienced.
What could that look like?
Intended Message: Come to Church This Sunday!
Message in Context: Stressed? Me too. I’m going to church this Sunday to hear Pastor Rob talk about how Christians should be the most relaxed people on earth! P.S. I got a sneak peek at the songs that we are singing - If they don’t encourage you, you might want to see a doctor :)
Intended Message: Sign Up For Our Wednesday Night Parenting Class!
Message in Context: My kids just wouldn’t listen to me. I didn’t know how to tell my kids no without them not liking me. I took our parenting class last year, and it helped me a lot! It was so good, I’ve signed up to retake it this year. If you stress as a parent, you might want to check to see if there are still open seats.
By the way, the whole idea of using context is right there in the Bible - Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables?