I'm Grateful for Dopamine

Dopamine makes you want. Without dopamine, no temptation plagues you, but you don't feel joy either. As we enter the season of temptation, it's good to know why dopamine turns on. You have power over that dopamine feeling when you understand it.

The Split-Second that Changes You Forever

Change often happens in a split second. It’s exciting to watch these moments in the movies because you’re available to fully notice the character having a shift, an insight, a change of heart.

Are You Addicted to Empathy?

Empathy feels good because it stimulates your oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. But empathy is not always good in the long run. Automatic empathy can reinforce other people's negativity and your own negativity. It's hard to see an alternative because empathy has become synonymous with good. Here are suggestions for dealing with "the unreasonable empathy request."

Getting Past the Stress of Feeling Slighted

Social disappointment feels like a survival threat to the mammal brain. Cortisol surges and your brain zooms in on "evidence" that you've been slighted, wronged, neglected, disrespected, undervalued, and misjudged. You can escape this loop by diverting your attention if you do it long enough to build a new pathway.

Animals Compete and It's Not Always Pretty

Competition triggers strong feelings because it has life-or-death consequences in the state of nature. We've inherited a brain that cares about social rivalry. Instead of getting upset about it, I like to learn from hummingbirds. They live in a perpetual arms race with flowers, but they don't waste energy getting mad at flowers. They just keep strengthening their wings.

Confidence: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right

Too little confidence hurts you, but too much confidence may get you a bad reaction from others. Just-right can be found by looking within instead of at "them."

Every Day Is Independence Day, and Interdependence Day

The mammal brain evolved to meet individual needs while living in a group. Juggling both is not easy, but we're better at it than we realize.

Self-Harm in Animals: What We Can Learn From It

Some apes pull their own hair out and many animals have self-destructive habits. Stress doesn't explain it. The mammal brain evolved to manage stress by focusing on behaviors that get rewards. When self-destructive behaviors get rewarded, the mammal brain repeats them. We can help reshape behavior with closer attention to the behaviors we reward.

Four Common Obstacles That Interfere with Goal Setting

The first step to getting things done is to set goals carefully. Yet people often fail to do that. Here are four common obstacles that interfere with goal setting and ways to overcome them. Link your goals to your survival needs and you will achieve them.

Every Break-up Has a Lesson

Primates are incredibly picky about who they mate with. The fieldnotes of a primatologist sound weirdly similar to the lyrics to a country-western song. Our common neurochemistry helps make sense of our frustrating romantic ups and downs.

Excitement and Calm In Just the Right Mix

With sincere gratitude to my readers, I wish you just the right blend of excitement and calm in the holiday season and the new year.

Five Ways to Boost Your Natural Happy Chemicals

You can stimulate more happy chemicals with fewer side effects when you understand the job your happy chemicals evolved to do. Here's a natural way to stimulate each of your happy chemicals, and avoid more unhappy chemicals.

Clear the Decks For a Fresh Start

It's hard to learn with a cluttered desk. You can win the battle with clutter and help your family and coworkers do it too. It starts with self-acceptance, since your desk is full of reminders of past frustrations and disappointments. You can re-wire yourself to feel caught up and let go of feeling behind.

How Baboons Choose Their Leaders

Baboons have curiously familiar ways of winning support. They share meat after a hunt. They groom the fur of influential troop-mates. They fight lions while their troop-mates climb a tree and watch. Patronage works. Baboon put their trust in leaders they expect to win conflicts.

Partisan "Science"

Most social scientists are liberal. Their research on the “conservative world view” sifts for evidence of fear and greed while ignoring these human weaknesses in liberals. They produce "data" on liberal empathy and tolerance and ignore those virtues in conservatives.

How Psychologists Promote Greed

When laboratory subjects exhibit spiteful behavior, psychologists call it an "urge for fairness." They imply that feeling deprived justifies vengeful behavior. Instead of rationalizing our mammalian urge for the one-up position, we need to understand the reality of it.

How to End the Distraction That Saps Your Productivity

An un-distracted mind is the key to productivity. Distractions are easy to avoid when you have a habit, and hard to avoid when you have to think about it. Here's a strategy for building anti-clutter habits.

Why It’s Always High School In Your Brain

The traits linked to “popularity” in high school are eerily similar to the traits that promote reproductive success in mammals. Life often feels like a high school cafeteria because the brain builds its mental model of the world in adolescence.

Why I’m a Registered “None”

I lived in a liberal bubble where the only Republicans were played by liberal comedians on Saturday Night Live. But when my kids were damaged by "non-judgemental" low expectations, I transcended partisan orthodoxies. Surviving without a herd is hard for a mammal, but I think it's worth it.

Superheroes Exercise to Maintain Their Superpowers

Superheroes: don’t you hate the droop that comes when you’re not rescuing the galaxy? Maybe you restore your superpowers with a secret potion, but that erodes your batteries. Instead, you can learn from ancient baboon superheroes. Their force generator (adrenaline) is in you. It will always be there if you replenish it with sleep, exercise and nutrition.

Cave-Man Approach to Stress-Management

Humans have used the same basic stress relievers since we first walked the earth: Put something in your mouth. Follw a leader. Distract your mind. This cave-man guide to anxiety shows how to put new stress-relief tools in your tool kit.

Win, Lose or Quit?

Losing feels bad, but if you avoid all risk of loss, you never win. How can you stay in the game, in school, in love, at work, when your animal brain wants to run? You can build a new neural pathway that focuses on skill-building rather than score-keeping. Here's how.

Good Habits Make You Feel Like You're Gonna Die

When you give up a bad habit, your mammal brain feels like your survival is threatened. Even though you're doing what's good for you, your brain tells you it's bad. Live with that threatened feeling for 45 days and you will be able to replace a bad habit with a good habit.

Valuing your own culture as well as others

I learned in school to glorify other cultures and critique my own. But my ancestors came from a place full of cruelty and hunger. Learning about it taught me acknowledge the good in my world.

Control the World or Control Yourself?

You may think the world is flawed, so the world should change, not you. But if you focus your efforts on controlling the world, you get bad results. It's easy to control yourself instead when you know how the brain works.

Social Comparison: Taming the Beast

Our social radar is inherited from earlier mammals. Animals compare themselves to others because it promotes their survival. Social comparisons trigger threatened feelings that are easier to manage when you know they're a blast from the past.

Don’t Reduce Everything to Nature and Nurture

You were not born with a circuit chip in your brain, and you were not programmed by your culture. You built your neural circuits one connection at a time. So before you blame everything on genes and culture, consider these unique individual experiences with depression, psychosis and obesity.

Independence v. Belonging: Riding the Seesaw

When you succeed at belonging to a group, you may yearn for independence. But when you make it on your own, you may wonder if you're missing out on social bonds. Why do we focus on what we don't have?

Why Love Is a Roller Coaster

Don't blame yourself or your partner if you're not on a happy-chemical high all the time. Happy chemicals evolved to spurt when opportunity knocks, and then sag. How can we manage our mammalian motives?

Good Distraction/ Bad Distraction

Your brain has been deciding where to focus your attention since the moment you were born. Most of the time, your attention flows into your usual channels. But you can build new channels whenever you decide to.

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