Search on Amazon under 'self-help' and you get 216,280 titles. How can there be so many books on one topic? Are authors lazy plagiarists, or is there something else going on here?
I have often wondered about this question as I go to conferences around the world, seeing the same ideas in slightly different guises. It used to drive me a little crazy, until I uncovered several insights about the nature of the brain.
It's not that authors are plagiarists, it's that there are a small set of quirks about the brain that require a lot of attention, if you want to succeed in the modern world. The reason these quirks require attention is that they are not insights we might learn automatically, like how to breathe: they require learning, like a language. And these quirks are often hard to remember because in many cases they go against what seems logical.
So what are some of these quirks? Here are five of the bigger ones.
- The brain is built to firstly minimize danger, before maximizing rewards. This means people tend to naturally err on the side of cautious, even when the opposite would be better. This is an overarching organizing principle of the brain.
- Too much uncertainty feels dangerous. It feels like possible pain so we avoid it.
- Our conscious processing capacity is small, which makes us terrible at a lot of things, including predicting what might make us happy.
- Our capacity to regulate emotions is limited, depletes fast and needs to be used quickly to be effective.
- Our intentions and goals alter the information that the brain pays attention to.
One reason there's so many books on these themes is that we need constant reminders, in different forms, of these ideas. The brain is highly dynamic, constantly changing, affected by your thoughts and environment, the people around you.