Pavlov’s Bell

Some times it is the littlest thing.

Technology is wonderful – it keeps us connected. And I loved being connected to my ex. I adored the random check-in’s, the texted love notes, the rambling conversation we would have when we were apart – the sound of an incoming text made my hour.

All that is gone now, but text messages keep coming in.

Not from him – from family and friends. But each time I find my heart in my throat hoping, remembering the joy, and then crashing back to Earth with a thud when I realized it wasn’t him.

It was cruel. 

A constant reminder of what I had lost.

It’s been over a month since he left, and yet I found myself still reacting to the sound of an incoming text message. Once I realized what was happening I told myself I just needed to change to tones. Select something else. It was as simple as that – change the stimulus and the reaction would go away.

I must have been holding on to something.

I couldn’t do it. I kept putting it off and then feeling the pain when a new text message would come in. Relief came in an unexpected form.

Last week I got a new phone. Nothing fancy, I’m poor at the moment so I went for “free is a very good price”. It is still a Samsung – but all of the tones and sounds are completely unlike anything I had before. Finally I can get a text and not think of him. It is a relief. I had no idea how I was holding on to him by holding on to that sound.

I’m not sure how many of you had Psychology in school (or remember it) but Pavlov was the researcher who discovered that you could link an autonomic response – something that you don’t consciously control – like salivating to a simple stimulus – like a bell. Pavlov trained a dog to salivate when the bell rang buy first associating the bell with food and then simply ringing the bell.

My experience with my phone made me wonder how many other things in my life am I associating with a stimulus that has nothing to do with the thing itself? The sound of a text message coming in made me joyful and then depressed. What else is there? And is there value in finding out what they are so that we can change them?

I spent the weekend wondering and looking for stimulus that prompted responses from me that are related to something else. The only thing I could come up with is my alarm. My alarm used to get me up to go to work – to the job that was killing me. I’m thinking of changing the gong like tone in for the radio. It’s been over a decade since I woke to Morning Edition.

I wonder how many more of these are hiding in my home and my behavors? Can you think of any in your life?

~ Tess Anderson


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