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 Where We Were: And Where We are Going 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series

It's January, 2000.

The world's communication channels did not cease, commerce did not crumble, the transportation industry did not collapse, energy sources were not turned off, the food supply did not go to waste and the world did not come to a grinding halt. To top it all off, your PC still works and there's some money left in your bank account.

The millennium bug will soon be forgotten; life goes on I suppose.

In years to come Y2K will be no more than game show trivia. So why did this threat of catastrophe trigger such extraordinary measures and spending from so many Americans?

I'm not referring to computer fixes for the double digit date error. Extraordinary measures were taken by people who were literally scared into a survival mode. The following excerpt from a Y2K website tells the real story.

"They have 18 cans of Spam and two jumbo slabs of Velveeta," the Washington Post said about us on the front page. "I never eat Velveeta and Spam is only good for carving contests at science fiction conventions. But I really did buy the Spam and Velveeta. Why? Because I'm scared. The Year 2000 problem is real and might cause disruptions in our food supply."

Personally I hope they chalk their mistake up to temporary insanity and dump the Spam and Velveeta, thereby avoiding a heart attack triggered by an extraordinary cholesterol load.

Actually what might seem somewhat humorous isn't funny at all. Yet the rationale behind the panic can provide valuable insights and lessons for all of us. Let's take a few moment to explore why this occurred.

Essentially people are motivated by two principle forces; pleasure and pain. Most will do whatever possible to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

One might argue that the threat of cancer from cigarette smoking or cardiovascular disease from a high fat diet are both perceived as painful. I certainly agree. Yet for most people, both threats are unlikely to be transformed into reality tomorrow, next month or even next year.

Yet the threat of the Y2K catastrophe was different, it signaled an "impending" painful experience. Far more than just inconvenience was predicted in the not too distant future. The key elements here are timing and expectation.

Simply take the threat of pain, link it to heightened expectation, add a sense of immediacy and one winds up with an unhealthy dose of panic. This critical and effective combination is certainly easy to create these days.

How is it possible? you might ask.

Simple! Hire some consultants whose livelihood depend entirely on the predicted issue, generate some media hype (that's easy these days for just about anything that seems to cause panic), and scare the heck out of unsuspecting people who are unlikely to challenge the veracity of impending doom. Sprinkle in a semblance of fact, especially from government agencies concerned with different, yet somehow loosely related issues, add a countdown the number of days 'til Y2K, and simply watch the panic spread.

That's essentially what happened, even though the earlier trigger dates passed uneventfully. Despite the warnings, chaos did not ensue one day after 9/9/99.

So as intelligent people, what can we learn from this fiasco?

If we put into practice the lessons so masterfully demonstrated by Y2K, we just might have a realistic shot at a number of mundane goals like preventing cancer, heart and lung disease, and many of the chronic illnesses that are potentially avoidable with practical lifestyle changes.

Perhaps you're not fully understanding the threat, or the potential suffering, or the immediacy of preventing these conditions now. Investing your hard-earned dollars in prevention will produce longstanding benefits for generations to come.

The moneys wasted on Y2K might have funded the discovery of a vaccine for AIDS. The time spent preparing for the millennium bug might have been spent in health promoting activities that could save your life or the that of a loved-one in the future. The intensity of your quest to avoid this disaster could have been applied to ensuring that no adolescent would ever pick up a cigarette again.

The commitments you make now have the potential to halt the real catastrophes that do not have to occur. The choice is yours. Mind Over Matter!

© 1998,1999 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved


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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
 
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