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10 Ways Your Brain Makes you Dumb

10 Ways Your Brain Makes you Dumb

The human brain is an impressive yet bewildering thing. Although it only weighs about three pounds, this organ processes information amazingly fast. The slowest speed is 260 mph. That’s the same speed as the fastest car on Earth! Our highly evolved brains are what differentiate us from other animals. However, as much as our brains help us function, we’re still susceptible to being tricked.

Here are 10 ways our brains make us surprisingly “dumb.”

1. You Filter Out More Information Than You Realize

We all want to think that we are aware of everything, all the time. However, the truth of the matter is that we are not. Our brains use about 20-25% of our body’s energy, so it’s important that our brains act as efficiently as possible. In order to do this, the brain filters out a lot of “noise” in our environment, focusing our attention on the things we deem important by using the reticular activating system (RAS).

Have you ever considered buying a particular car and then noticed it everywhere? It’s not that everyone bought that same exact car the same day, your RAS was in action and was focusing your attention on that specific car. Since your brain was focused on the new car purchase, your RAS took note of it, making you even more aware of that car in your environment.

The RAS is an essential network in the brain that helps us parse through the massive amount of information we are exposed to everyday. Since it’s such a great tool, it’s surprising to realize that you’re filtering out a lot of information.

2. Your Brain Can Be Primed

Do you ever go shopping, flip over a tag, and find a great deal you can’t resist? The shirt you’re considering buying used to be $200, now it’s only $20 — it’s a no brainer! Is it really a good deal, or is your mind primed to think so because you saw the giant “x” over the original price? This shows how an initial stimuli can have huge affects on our subsequent decisions or behaviors.

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In an interesting study, subjects were primed with words related to elderly people. After hearing those words, the subjects were found to walk slower when leaving the experiment compared to the control group who wasn’t primed. The same study showed that when subjects were primed with words related to rudeness, they were more likely to interrupt the experimenter.

3. Too Many Options Lead To Indecision

You may think that having a variety of options is a great thing — it’s not. Although it may seem advantageous to have a variety of options to make the best decision, your mind actually gets overwhelmed, thus decreasing your odds of actually making a choice.

Have you ever been browsing Netflix at night and just felt totally paralyzed? We’ve all been there, flipping through the endless choices presented to you. That’s the paradox of choice in action.

A fascinating experiment in a grocery store examined a stand with 24 different varieties of jams for shoppers to test and buy. Those who sampled got a $1 coupon towards any purchase. The 24 jam display got a lot of interest as people wanted to taste-test different flavors. A similar table was set up the next day, but this time it only had six jams to try. Although the smaller table wasn’t as popular, when it came to buying the jam, people who saw the smaller display were ten times more likely to purchase.

Why is that? Having too many options can lead to indecision or inaction. Even worse, when we face too many options we feel even less satisfied with the choice we made.

4.  You View Your “Future Self” As A Stranger

Do you ever pig out on a Friday, then justify eating your way through your weekend because on Monday you’re going to start that new diet? We tend to think of our future selves as totally different people, causing us to weaken the connection of the pain or sacrifice that our “future self” will have to go through just to burn off those weekend calories.

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Numerous studies have shown that our brain thinks of our future selves as entirely different people. So much so, we may as well be thinking of a celebrity! In a study conducted by Hershfield and his colleagues, when imagining their future selves a subject’s neural activity was similar to when they described celebrities like Matt Damon! The experimenters took this a step further, asking their subjects to either look at themselves in the mirror or look at a photo of their future selves (by way of digitally making their face look older). Afterwards, they were asked how they’d spend $1,000, those exposed to their “older self” said they’d put twice as much money into a retirement account compared to those who saw their current self in the mirror.

5. You Grow Attached To Objects You Touch More Often

Every try spring cleaning but get stuck holding onto things with sentimental value because you just can’t fathom throwing them away? Research has shown that the more often you touch something or spend time with it, the more value you place on it.

This study shows that the more time someone spends with an object the more “pre-ownership attachment” they will associate with it. They figured this out by allowing subjects to examine and touch basic coffee cups prior to being auctioned. When they were auctioned off, those who spent more time examining the cup were more likely to overbid on the coffee cup. That’s why retailers want you to try clothes on, take a test drive, and eat taste-testers.

6. Lack Of Willpower Leads To Bad Decisions

Willpower is like a gas tank. It starts off full but gets depleted throughout the day, by either making decisions or exercising self control. What happens when that gas tank is running low? Well, you probably guessed it, it’s way harder to exercise self-control and make good decisions.

In a remarkable study, researchers studied over 1,000 court rulings regarding whether or not the judge granted a criminal parole. They found that the number one factor in whether the criminal would get parole or not was based on the time of day… not their crime or their record — the time of day!

They figured out that the earlier in the day the trial took place, the better chances the criminal had at getting parole. It turns out that the judges suffered from “decision fatigue” towards the end of the day. The easy decision to make after being fatigued was to simply say “no.”

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7. You Don’t Panic When You Should

Have you ever felt a minor earthquake in the middle of the night? You may wake up alarmed for a few seconds, but then you roll over and fall back asleep. That’s the normalcy bias at play. This bias occurs when there’s a disaster going on and instead of getting into “fight or flight” mode you convince yourself that everything is totally normal, leading to inaction.

This bias leads to a lot of unnecessary deaths and injuries such as Hurricane Katrina where residents never thought the levees would break. When they actually did, they were stuck at home, faring the worst.

Scientific hypotheses suggest this occurs because it takes our brains 8-10 seconds to process information. Adding stress to the equation slows this down even more.

8. You Make Bad Assumptions

The “availability heuristic” is a mental shortcut we take. It’s when we believe something is common place if we have an example to reference or are already familiar with it. For example, if we have a lot of friends with iPhones, we assume that everyone has iPhones!

An experiment from the University of Zurich showed that people who had been affected by flooding (or knew someone who was) were more likely to perceive higher risk about flooding probabilities in their neighborhood compared to those who never had such experiences. Those affected by flooding had memories “available” to them to reference, causing them to perceive a much higher risk than those who never experienced it, even though the probabilities were exactly the same.

9. You Use Emotions In Making Decisions

Even though we’d all like to trick ourselves into thinking we make decisions based on black and white logic, research shows otherwise.

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Thomas Damasio, a University of Iowa neurologist, has shown that decision-making happens in more than one part of your brain. Prior to his research, most neuroscientists believed that decision-making only occurred in the rational and most highly evolved part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex.

Although that is the case, there’s another interesting part of the brain at work: the limbic system. This area is a much older part of our brain responsible for emotions. It’s the part of our brain where we make value judgments regarding experiences and memories. These various parts of the brain work together to make decisions.

10. Your Memories Are Wrong

Do you and a friend ever recall a memory you shared, but argue over the details? When you guys first heard about 9/11 it was at your house… or was it at school… or the gym?

You’re 100% sure he was at your house, but he’s saying it was at school, and you are both sure of it. It turns out that the more emotional a memory is, the more confident we are around recalling that story accurately.

In 1986, the Challenger space shuttle exploded. It was a memorable day for many Americans. The next day, Ulric Neisser, a Professor at Emory, handed out a questionnaire to his students asking them to reflect on where they were and who they were with, as well as other details at the time of hearing about the Challenger explosion.

Two and a half years later, Professor Neisser handed out the same questionnaire to the same group of students. The average accuracy of these memories was a measly three out of seven. However, what was even more fascinating is that when asked about how “confident” they were in recollecting their memory the average rating was a whopping 4.17 out of five!

We tend to be confident about an event and the details surrounding it even though we are actually way off. This is because we tend to have “tunnel vision” on the major event and the minor details associated with the memory tend to be forgotten.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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