Your 15 Minute Window to Fix Something Smelling Fishy

Published on June 8th, 2018
Fish carcasses hanging on poles.

A lightbulb went off during last week’s trip to the Denver Museum with my 4-year old. Ev and I explored Expedition Health Exhibit and eventually made our way to a kiosk that had an overview of how our bodies send signals from our five senses to our brain. It was during the video on our sense of smell that I learned something that I’ve been aware of in my day to day experience, but I had not realized that it was a feature of our biology. Specifically, when exposed to an odor for more than 15 minutes, our bodies have a feedback mechanism that will dampen or eliminate our perception of it. It’s as if our body knows that we should have got the message and it, therefore, stops sending the signal. Suddenly, I had clarity on why leaving and coming back to a room results in such a potent expression of the smell signal whereas those who are sitting there barely recognize it anymore.

This was a profound insight to me because I could instantly see it’s applications to so many aspects of life. When we first sense something different, unique, or off-putting, the signal can be strong. However, as we get more familiar with it the signal moves from on conscious perception in the foreground to a subtle, silent message in the background.

Carrying this further, it highlights the importance of making fast decisions or taking immediate actions if the signal warrants it. How often did something feel off in a relationship and yet you ignored it or let it slide? How often did that result in a recurring issue that eventually was happening without you perceiving it until it got so bad or so intense that you finally noticed it again?

I’ve had many experiences in life where something felt off, and yet it wasn’t until years later that I recognized things like deception or addiction were as plain as day, and again I had become blind to the signals.

On the positive side, the complete opposite is true. Opportunities for growth, change, or happiness may be staring you in the face, and yet you don’t even see them. The idea comes to you in a flash of inspiration and then it fades from your memory like a dream that was not journaled.

The point is that we have hardwiring to eventually (15 minutes in the case of our sense of smell) dampen the signals that we face. Therefore, if we want to make the most of the data that we’re getting, we need to move swiftly lest we lose awareness of the opportunity to do something about it!

Photo by Steve Parfitt on Unsplash

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.