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Nature, to Be Commanded, Must Be Obeyed

September 21, 2011

Our Fear of Success, Reptilian Brain and Principles

I have been reading whatever I can find about game theory1 for some time. I am trying to understand the fundamental rules behind how we make our decisions. One thing that fascinated me all my life is human beings’ unwillingness to walk the path, that which has been demonstrated to yield better results with not significantly more requirements than the alternatives. One instance is very well described in this article. I will not go into the details and try to analyze it.

I have learned to recognize this behaviour and walk away. There are better ways to waste your time than trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to help himself, to do something fruitful. This education cost me a lot of time. But I think I have finally learned.

While I was reading Ray Dalio’s Principles, I found these two paragraphs below. They simply explain the whole issue:

Unlike any other species, man is capable of reflecting on himself and the things around him to learn and adapt in order to improve. He has this capability because, in the evolution of species man’s brain developed a part that no other species has—the prefrontal cortex. It is the part of the human brain that gives us the ability to reflect and conduct other cognitive thinking. Because of this, people who can objectively reflect on themselves and others —most importantly on their weaknesses are—can figure out how to get around these weaknesses, can evolve fastest and come closer to realizing their potentials than those who can’t.

However, typically defensive, emotional reactions—i.e., ego barriers—stand way of this progress. These reactions take place in the part of the brain called the amygdala. As a result of them, most people don’t like reflecting on their weaknesses even though recognizing them is an essential step toward preventing them from causing them problems. Most people especially dislike others exploring their weaknesses because it makes them feel attacked, which produces fight or flight reactions; however, having others help one find one’s weaknesses is essential because it’s very difficult to identify one’s own. Most people don’t like helping others explore their weaknesses, even though they are willing to talk about behind their backs, For these reasons most people don’t do a good job of understanding themselves and adapting in order to get what they want most out of life. In my opinion, that is the biggest single problem of mankind because it, more than anything else, impedes people’s abilities to address all other problems and it is probably the greatest source of pain for most people.

If we can successfully classify people into these two groups, I think we can do more meaningful things. Of course, it’s OK to become friends with the people who fall into the second category. As long as you don’t forget about their limitations and pick suitable activities.

Now, the second group of people are quite a different story. They would not only accept your help for their personal development, they would welcome it. But, why should we care? It’s their personal development, their problem. Shouldn’t we be worried about our own personal development? These people would have a momentum in their life that will affect your own pace. Moreover they will probably try to engage you and try to help you overcome your weaknesses. You should be worried about your own growth primarily. This is why surrounding yourself with these people is a great idea.

I have been very fortunate to meet people who are not afraid to review and renew themselves. I have managed to understand myself and others better, thanks to their mentoring. You don’t need to wait for a mentor to appear out of nowhere2 and give you all the answers and keys though. You can start with Seth Godin’s Quieting the Lizard Brain talk (below) and hopefully begin learning and changing things. After all noone can adapt for you, you will eventually need to exert some effort. Great effort.

1: Also I have been reading about game design but it is not really related to this post.

2: I consider myself really, really lucky, what kind of person would I be if those fantastic people hadn’t appear out of nowhere. I don’t think I would have ever dared to challenge myself.

If you have any questions, suggestions or corrections feel free to drop me a line.