Seth’s Blog: Quieting the lizard brain

Quieting the lizard brain

Lizard image linchpin istock How can I explain the never-ending irrationality of human behavior?

We say we want one thing, then we do another. We say we want to be successful but we sabotage the job interview. We say we want a product to come to market, but we sandbag the shipping schedule. We say we want to be thin but we eat too much. We say we want to be smart but we skip class or don’t read that book the boss lent us.

The contradictions never end. When someone shows up and acts without contradiction, we’re amazed. When an athlete just does the sport, or when a writer just writes the words, we can’t help but watch, astonished at the purity of their actions. Why is it so difficult to do what we say we’re going to do?

Last year – I found myself sometimes calling meetings because I was scared of what would happen if I just went ahead and didn’t something, and sometimes I found myself berated because I did things (which turned out great) without calling those meetings.

I think in the end – my impression is that if you believe in it, it’s better to just do it, and then deal with what happens as it goes on. As long as it’s not contradictory to what you’re there to do, and it’s consistent with what you stand for / want it’s going to be good (even if it’s not successful).

So… just do it! 🙂

Ask yourself: why am I doing what I am doing?

"In a world where we all have too many paths to choose from, we sometimes choose the path that has the most urgency (extrinsic motivation) rather than the path that is the most meaningful (intrinsic motivation)."

It is quite easy to get caught by urgency – what we're expected to do, what others want us to do, what is calling our attention. 

It's quite a bit harder to really decide what it is that is our goals to do, what we truly value and what brings.  

Sometimes we need to challenge our spontaneous and intuitive choices and see where they really come from and maybe ask ourselves the simple question – why am I doing this?

Dare to have an opinion

As usual Seth Godin has a great point. One thing that I have truly seen that I value in people are that they dare to have opinions about things, real topics where difference of opinion matters and where being wrong carry weight – being willing to put yourself on the line, stand out and have a unique opinion.

Having the pain of too much choice

In my previous post about choice I wrote that many people like me have the luxury of choice in an amazing amount of areas. However, the flipside is that we get too much choice and we get to experience the pains of having all these choices!

The result is that we get completely paralyzed facing all these choices – choices that sometimes are so complex that we don’t have the knowledge, skill or time to be able to figure them out.

In my generation you can clearly see this when it comes to careers, all this choice – instead of making people choose radically different things from each other – leads many young people to resorting to simple templates when thinking about their careers. Instead of using the fact that we in essence have the choice of choosing what we’re going to devote our lives to freely, opting for the choices that most resonate with our goals allowing us to have the most impact, we make low-impact “easy” choices based on what others do.

I recently came across some interesting thinking in this area that I wanted to share. The first is a book called Nudge and it deals with ways of relieving the burden for paralyzed choosers and ensuring that by simple methods we can be nudged into taking better choices. Nudges makes the “best” option a little bit easier to make (while not prohibiting you to make any other choice you might like) through for example providing intelligent defaults or making long-term results clearly visible (think about how many people are potentially susceptible to diabetes, but still chooses high sugary foods, thus increasing their risks…).

The book mostly looks at things like choosing your health care insurance, saving for your retirement and so on, but the pattern they describe holds very true also for what we do with our lives and how we work towards our goals. In this area, just as when it comes to choosing the right pension plan, we could use a little bit of a nudge. I think if we implemented more nudges in our everyday life focused around working towards our goals & aspirations or taking up impacting experiences, we’d probably live better lives.

The other source of inspired thinking in this area is TED-speaker Barry Schwartz (if you haven’t checked out TED, do so now!) who talks about this topic and on how the idea in our (western) society we can maximize happiness by maximizing choice is deeply flawed. His speech is well-invested 20 minutes. Overall I think that his points, combined with the approaches of the book Nudge makes sense – and I am certainly going to spend more time thinking of how I could “nudge” myself and others around me into making better (as viewed by myself & them) choices about sustainability, personal goals and personal development.

My message vs. My medium

I have on and off over several months been reading “Personal development for smart people” by Steve Pavlina. It’s a great book, and it contains some profound insights, so if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do.

I wanted to share with you something he writes about in the book, and also on his blog, which is about your message vs. your medium. Your message is essentially your life’s purpose where as your medium is the way you (currently) express this message.


What many of us do mistakenly, according to Steve, is that we identify ourselves with our medium rather than our message. We identify ourselves as “programmers”, “doctors” or “sales people”. However, such an identification means that we limit ourselves in the opportunities we seek and the solutions we find – we only look within the limited domain set by our message. Rather, if we’re clear about our message we can be open to find new, better, more enjoyable, effective ways of expressing it.


For me, I had an aha moment regarding my purpose at an AIESEC conference about two years ago. I realized that I wanted to work with stimulating sustainable entrepreneurship to support economic development in the places that needed it most. When I think about this I fill with passion and energy.

However, when I was reading about Pavlina’s discussion of message vs. medium I realized that entrepreneurship, starting businesses, for me was just one medium, albeit one medium that seems to suit me very well. The core of my message (as far as I have discovered it so far) is really that want to create is sustainable prosperity – sustainable not only environmentally but in every aspect – meaning inclusive, adaptable to change, dynamic and growing.

Blogging, starting businesses, stimulating investments, running NGOs, hosting conversation, attending conferences, and so on are all mediums through which I can express this message. This is something that I need to be aware of and choose my mediums differently at different points in time.

What is your medium & message right now?

Read more at Steve Pavlina’s blog, or order his book.

Photos by Martin Le Roy and Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio).