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What Is Value Tagging?

Its logical and emotional elements

As part of selective attention, value tagging is the importance your brain assigns to every piece of information it is exposed to – people, places, smells, memories … you name it. It is an unconscious activity that precedes every action in response to a stimulus and therefore directing your ensuing response.

One person will note an old red Mini parked on their street and recall fond memories of their (similar-looking) first car and smile at the thought. Their subconscious value-tagging system is tapping into a very old memory that may have been long forgotten on the surface but still triggers a warm feeling deep down by retracing the association that was laid down in adolescence. They may take particular notice of the person they see parking the car and start a conversation they otherwise wouldn’t. Somebody else, who doesn’t have a ‘red Mini tag’ in their brain (thalamus and limbic system) may not notice the car at all, even if it is parked outside their house for a few days.

There are logical and emotional elements to value tagging. The logical element is literally about tagging all the data our brains are bombarded with in order of value to us and our survival. The emotional element has more to do with assigning value to our levels of ‘social safety’, which is our sense of belonging in our community, family, etc., and the meaning and purpose that build up our personal and work identities.

Because of this process, it’s easy to assign a disproportionate value to things we care about or a negative value (aversion) to things we fear or where we feel uncertain. For example, if someone has been through a painful break-up or simply been single for a long time and their biological clock has been ticking, then their value-tagging system may, paradoxically, become biased against looking for a companion or having children (aversion). This is where the little voice in the head starts saying they’ve lived alone too long to share their space with anyone or that their career or social life is too important. Henceforth, they won’t be alert to the opportunity of a likely candidate for a relationship but would be primed to see a promotion possibility in the workplace. Can you see how the brain is steering them down a path not of their choosing, and further from their dreams?

Self-esteem issues resulting from a childhood where we were criticized at home or school or labeled as a non-achiever may mean we sabotage career opportunities because, at a deep level, we fear that we are not deserving of them. Similarly, if we start a healthy eating plan but believe that we won’t be able to keep it up, we can find ourselves easily giving in to temptation and making bad choices. This is because strongly emotional experiences that have shaped our brain pathways can derail our value-tagging system, skewing it towards what we think keeps us safe even if this is not conducive to thriving in our current life. Our selective filtering will prioritize avoiding shame or criticism over potential career success or romantic fulfillment.

Quite simply, when you do allow your brain to be conscious of and focus on what you want in life, the raised awareness that results will work in your favor to automatically bring opportunities into your life. It’s not magic – it’s just that you are able to see the possibilities to move forward with your dreams in a way that your brain was hiding from you previously.


From The Source: The Secrets of the Universe, the Science of the Brain by Dr. Tara Swart, copyright 2019. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

[i]Ronaldson, A., Molloy, G.J., Wikman, A., Poole, L., Kaski, J.C. and Steptoe, A., 2015. Optimism and recovery after acute coronary syndrome: a clinical cohort study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 77(3), p.311.

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