“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel
is by becoming aware of our inner experience
and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.”
In 2014, due to a convergence of painful emotional and psychological realities, I took the educational and emotional journey of a lifetime: I enrolled in a certificate program with The Allender Center at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. The weight of my life was documented through story, it was facilitated through group therapy sessions and it was intellectually revealed through 100 CEU hours of lecture and chair time during four, four-day weekends in downtown Seattle. In the process I tightened my bonds with the counseling community, leaned into my foodie ways of self-care in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, and importantly began to learn about my protective habit of dissociation. By learning about my habit of going dissociative, and relating how my inner motivations and thought-life became manifest in a bodily expression, I began to take on a deeper understanding of the day-to-day world I inhabited as a real estate broker.
Dan Allender, who founded the aforementioned Seattle School, is fond of the phrase “realms of madness.” The psychotherapeutic practice is a “realm of madness.” Thanksgiving and other family get-togethers facilitate “realms of madness”. I’ve adopted his language for the real estate profession, and determined that home-buying in particular qualifies for the phrase “realm of madness”. The data supports that title. According to Kroll Factual Data, the average consumer who electively decides to move (opposed to a forced move, like a divorce or job relocation) has an 8 to 17 month gestation period before they actively begin the home-buying process. They ping around with the idea of maybe buying or not buying for nearly a year and a half, maybe changing their settings on Zillow, lingering in front of a kiosk of real estate flyers, but doing nothing really actionable. But the activity that is most likely to tip them from not-even-casually-looking to full-bore-real-estate-madness is an event or activity at another person’s house. A sunset on a deck. A lingering dinner party in a spacious dining room. Maybe that second glass of wine. The corpus collosum in their brain triggers the reticular activating system and their on-board Google Search Engine lights up to anything real estate. Who that person decides to work with often happens in the next week. Overwhelmingly, buyers say that they will happily work with the agent that sold them their last house. However, this is not borne out in actions. Buyers largely choose who they work with next out of their daily flow of life. That may be the face who paid for a space next to someone else’s listing on Zillow, the sign in a yard of a house with a front porch that reminds them of the feeling they get when they watch that movie, it could be the dude from spin class, the neighborhood expert, or a guy who writes really long blog posts and they appreciate long-tail knowledge. In summary, home-buying is activated by a series of random, unaffiliated emotions, motivations and experiences that are not tethered together. If it sounds like it is an embodied hornet’s nest, it’s because it largely is. The buyer is largely unconscious of the multiple contradictions that may be afoot.
This is normal human behavior. A large amount of our lives are spent in an unconscious stupor. There is no criticism from me to buyers of their inabilities to rationalize or logically construct a plan for themselves. Afterall, such lack of awareness keeps me employed. But further, I know from my own experience via The Seattle School, of how much of my critical emotional life and motivations lay hidden from my own awareness for decades.
Today, my knowledge of how I carried my dissociative experiences physically can bear fruit. When stressed, I go flat. What I just described as the buyer’s realm of madness, is that stressful? Unbelievably. The body under stress does not access logic. It accesses other functions. Functions designed for survival. My survival function was to try and disappear into the wallpaper, a la Buster Bluth. As I have journeyed deeper into the world of trauma and the brain, I’ve also learned that with me, and my particular form of ADHD, that “flat” is actually an increase in alpha wave activity in my brain. Alpha wave activity happens commonly during sleep and encourages idleness; yet for me, my alpha waves happened in the middle of the day, in the middle of a conversation sometimes, when an emotional pain pocket was entered, or when I was asked to take pleasure and accept joy. To speak Ph.D talk, “when aroused, I go flat.” Under stress, I didn’t step up to the plate to brawl. I didn’t run away, either. I simply froze. So buyer’s “paralysis of analysis”… yeah, that’s pretty familiar to me, personally. It’s a Type A description of frustration towards a person (me) who experienced some particular harm or trauma in their life, and in order to survive the return to that place, that person (me) instinctively deploys a complex array of non-actions.
My journey the last four years has been overcoming my hardwired “instincts”. Often what we call instincts in fact, aren’t instincts. They’re environmentally-based. They’re learned behavior. Exposure to that mold makes you cough, kinda stuff. The cough is termed “an instinct” but if the mold wasn’t present, repeatedly, there’d be no reason to cough. So too, the brain, under stress. My brain doesn’t want to go flat. It’s just been disregulated by environmental experiences to “believe” that the stress must instead be survived, and my brain has adapted survival behaviors. When Yoda tells Luke in the swamp “You must Learn to Unlearn” that’s Jungian Joseph Campbell talk that is a critical component of modern-day psychology. My last four years have been spent on Dagobah. I have learend to unlearn the pattern my brain wants to follow. It’s not easy. I’ve made the elective and conscious decision to do it. I fault no one that is operating without that awareness. I can’t fault anyone operating without that awareness. I encounter it dozens of times a day, professionally.
My own experience has involved:
- a number of different therapists
- exercising six-times a week
- a Friday morning story group with three other individuals
- a year with a life coach and a correlating intensive
- occasional massage and acupuncture
- a radical change in diet and elimination of most alcohol consumption
- reading 30 books a year
- and 40 sessions of neurofeedback in the last year.
It was in the neurofeedback that I learned about my alpha waves. I have been a living experiment with more data and dots-connected than most human beings that have ever walked this earth. I’ve gone from being dissociative to one of the most fully-self-aware individuals imaginable. And even then… I can’t control my face. Controlling my posture or the droop of my shoulders is a highly-forced, voluntary action. I’m more emotionally-engaged, yet even with this engagement, I don’t know what my face is revealing to the outside world eight times out of ten.
That same thing is true of home buyers.
Where the emotional rubber meets the economic road is that a seller MUST channel and guide the emotional resonance of a confused, likely dissociative, and often random-acting buyer, who sets foot inside their house. Hook up all those electrodes from Chris Edwards‘ little downtown brain lab, unpack all those stories I shared with Jon deWaal, invite the courageous blessing of ready ears found in the extravag
ant Sam Jolman, and align all of those neural pathway powers at the threshold of a half million dollar listing on XYZ Street and go… to… town. As I write this, I just received an alert on my email that the Sentrilock has been accessed on a listing of mine and entering that home at this moment are buyers. Are they hopeful? Are they desperate? Is their marriage on the rocks and they’re buying a house hoping for a diversion? Are they expecting a baby? Triplets? Has a job relocated them to the Pikes Peak Region? Was it a far less expensive neighborhood before? Was is Manhattan? Manhattan Beach? Is this a move of want? Is this a move of need? Is this visit based on pleasure? Is it based on pain? And oh my goodness, does the buyer(s) or their agent(s) have any clue how to care for these people?
To participate in the sale of a home is to invite the participation of another person, family, community’s story, history, future and possible insanity inside your doors. At every listing presentation, I will get up out of my chair and walk to the very best part of the house, the point where the home seller wants the home buyer to be when they make a decision to buy the home. The buyer needs to be contained as if on the rails of a train and brought to that destination within 30 seconds of their entry into the home (and preferably within 15 to 20 seconds). The seller has to care for the unconscious storm that is about to make landfall at a critical geography of their home. Is it any wonder that homes with 9′ main level ceilings, generously open floor plans from the family room through to the living room, a choice visual anchor like a sizable fireplace and a picture window… that all of those elements guide a buyers’ process? Why do homes like this win, more often than not? They win because they guide the buyer’s emotions to a place that they can act.
Buyers buy with emotion. Feelings come from emotion. Motivations come from emotion. Emotion is not logical. Thank goodness. And how awful.
Without emotion, a buyer won’t commit with fervency. With emotion, a buyer will play for keeps. There’s any number of reasons “why” a buyer might be buying a house. Respecting the process, respecting that a buyer has little voluntary control over their own body and indeed, decision-making, is knowledge a seller should keep front and center in their own neocortex. Kindly containing the patient, giving care to their limbic needs, this sets apart the winning seller from the also ran. Great images drive people to the door, but getting commitment from a buyer to feel at peace and at ease with making a decision to buy is real triumph. By “real triumph” the emphasis in the statement has to do with allowing another individual to form a lasting attachment with a place.
Real estate is a realm of madness. A seller can choose to let it play out it’s dance in their dining room, untethered, like a balloon loosened of it’s knot. Or a seller can build a strategy of kindness towards this unconscious, but cash-laden consumer. Sellers that are willing to enter the space of the buyer, to speak buyer, to build a sequential package of emotionally-responsive deliverables, and to see their own residence as the habitation of another person’s future attachments… that seller wins.