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Tame the Primitive Brain: 28 Ways in 28 Days to Manage the Most Impulsive Behaviors at Work by Mark Bowden

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Day 3

Default to the Negative

Optimism Is for the Extinct

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

—Joseph Heller

Today you’ll tame:

  • The primordial pessimist inside us all
Imagine this: An e-mail arrives for you tonight around 10:00 PM. It’s from the boss. And it says the following:
Subject: see me at 3:30 tomorrow
That’s all—nothing in the body of the e-mail.
What are you thinking?
What are you feeling?
What do you immediately start to do?

Let’s review what we know so far: Our primitive reptilian brain is making many, many decisions per second. It is capable of doing so because it takes a thin slice of data from our external and internal worlds and looks for some minimum specifications within it all upon which to base fail-safe, risk-averse judgments to either “approach” or “avoid,” and trigger reflexive or instinctive responses like leaning in, grabbing, fighting, or fleeing.

The reptilian brain’s primary goal is to sustain a stable internal and external environment for optimizing survival—and to do it via the least possible effort. Therefore, the reptilian brain is evaluating data that is specific only to achieving that outcome.

But what does our reptilian brain do if it does not detect anything either inside or outside of an environment that it can quickly identify as safe or unsafe? What if there is insufficient data, too much data, doubt, or confusion? What happens then?

If you actively imagined the e-mail scenario set out at the start of this ...

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