Your Brain is NOT Your Friend

You've probably never spent much time thinking about the brain you cart around inside your skull. 

Click the graphic to access additional awesome.

Click the graphic to access additional awesome.

For most people it’s just there, working out problems, planning the day, trying to find the keys, remembering Rick Astley songs (“Never gonna give youuuuuuuuuuuuuu up!”) and so on. 

Most of us relate to our brain like it is not just a voice in our head, or how we think, but who we ARE.  And Rick Astley songs aside, we think our brain is on our side. 

If you want to perform at a high level however, there are two really important things to know:

  1. You are NOT your brain.
  2. Your brain is NOT your friend.

You know you're not your brain if you've ever gotten into a fight with yourself about doing your taxes or not eating another piece of cake.  

And now, three important ways your brain is not your friend:

First, your brain weighs negative information more heavily than positive.  Evolutionarily speaking this is good.  It’s better to remember longer and more clearly and easily the tiger that almost ate you than the pretty sunset. 

This trait is less helpful in the modern world and why, hypothetically speaking,  you can still clearly remember the absolute horror and sick embarrassment you felt in the 10th grade when you asked out cute Ryan from Geometry class and he politely told you he was busy...every night until the end of time. 

A friendly brain would not replay every embarrassing moment every time you did something stupid.  A friendly brain would let a few things go.  It would let you focus on how awesome your life is.  It would never hyper-focus on, say, traffic until you were sick with rage at a whopping extra 7 minutes required to complete the drive home.

Hypothetically speaking.

Your brain keeps your attention on bad stuff to long and forgets good stuff too easily.  This impacts your confidence, your energy, and your happiness and not in a good way.

Second, you think of your brain as a logical, competent, rational mechanism.  But in truth, your brain is about as reliable and competent as a drunk tourist during Mardi Gras. 

The Ikea Effect is my personal favorite of all the cognitive biases.

The Ikea Effect is my personal favorite of all the cognitive biases.

  • Research show that our memories are notoriously unreliable and easily influenced.  
  • We consistently overestimate how knowledgeable they are. 
  • We make wacky decisions based on faulty logic but believe we are rational actors.
  • We are HIGHLY influenced by biases we are not even aware of. 

So we don’t remember accurately, overestimate what we know, and don’t make good decisions based on logic and facts even when we have them. 

Drunk. Tourist. Mardi Gras.

A brain you could count on would be more logical, more consistent, and realistic about it’s own limitations and weaknesses.  

Third, your brain has stupid responses to the work you need to do, typically alternating between the Harsh Commander and the Comforting Hippie.

When your brain is in Harsh Commander mode the messages are usually, well, harsh.

  • “How could you be so stupid?!?”
  • “I’m never gonna figure this out.”
  • “I am SO fat.”
  • “HURRY UP!”
  • “I suck.”

The idea is that pressure, fear, and shame will get you into action.  Some people even pay expensive coaches to BE their Harsh Commander when the one in their head isn't mean enough.

While this approach can get you moving and help you get some stuff done in the short-term, in the long run it usually makes it HARDER to get good work done and gets you a heart attack before 60. 

Alternately, the Comforting Hippie sometimes takes over.  This voice thinks everything is fine and there is always more time.  It relies heavily on hope, tomorrow, and magic.  It’s an expert at justification but also distraction.  (Which is why clipping your toenails, doing laundry, or cleaning up email can become SO URGENT when you have other work to do.)  

If you spend too much time listening to the Comforting Hippie you end up with a good tan, a great Madden record, and a lot of debt.

Neither of them actually works long-term and neither of them IS you. 

Those voices are not your friend.  They're not the truth and they're the way most people get themselves to do work and get themselves out of work.  High performers work hard to train their brain to be both more kind and more disciplined.  

don't trust sm.png

The bottom line is that your brain is capable of great things. 

Trained well it can be a great ally. 

But for most people, most of the time, your brain is irrational, inconsistent, and sometimes just plain mean.  The voice in your head says more to you than any living human being but it isn't necessarily your friend.

If you want to live a great life, kick some butt, and generally be happy, don’t trust your brain too much and don’t train it too little. 


Wondering how to build processes that make it easier for your people to win? 

Check out Part II.  It includes detailed instructions for how to think through the different parts of your organization, figure out what you need and where to start.  Get the download HERE.

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About the Author:  Alecia Huck is a hard person to find and a good person to know.  She specializes in working with fast-growing companies run by leaders that hate the idea of "going corporate" but need help handling the growth.  She's an expert at human behavior, understands systems and process science, and is kind of a ninja. 

Find out more HERE.

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