The Dangers of Self-Identifying as “Too Nice”

Deciding that you're "too nice" is a comfortable way to frame a problem. But it may not get what you want. Being too nice can even reward bad behavior. The mammal brain is always comparing itself to others, but the cortex can be open to new information.

Who’s Afraid of Unhappiness?

Cortisol evolved to give you the bad feeling that you will die if you don't "do something, now!" If you do nothing in the face of cortisol, you teach your brain that it will not kill you. Accepting unhappy chemicals starts to free you from any habit you may be using to mask unhappy chemicals. You can build this skill if you can "do nothing."

Your Story Is a Survival Saga

Your brain is designed to remember the threatened feelings of your youth in order to avoid harm in the future. That's why our primal survival urges are often triggered. Here are some strategies for honoring and managing your primal self instead of abandoning it.

Is It Worth Being the Beta Monkey?

A mentor who helps you climb the ladder is nice , but what if he only wants followers? What if he rejects you when you think for yourself, and you lose your investment in the relationship? You may decide that you're not cut out to be a #2. Lighting your own candle is better than lighting someone else's. But are you ready to do without the support of the big kahuna?

Score! Dopamine! Repeat! Or Not

Reaching a goal triggers dopamine, but the spurt soon ends. When a high passes, the return to normal can be unnerving. But rushing to mask it with more dopamine-stimulating activity brings a cycle of frustration. You can free yourself by getting comfortable with the inevitable up-and-down-ness of the human brain.

“I Thought I Could Get Away With It”

Some people believe in their own invincibility, but everyone can learn to expect trouble when they break the law.

Sexual Harassment in the Animal World

Big-brained animals avoid aggression by exchanging favors. Humans seeking political office are giving and receiving favors most of their waking lives. They get good at asking for things. People often comply because they expect favors in return. How can democracy-loving primates choose a leader who's likely to respect the rule of law?

Naked in Shanghai, Massage Heaven

Lying on a massage table in China, I appreciate the miracle of trust among strangers. It took centuries to build this trust and we should never take it for granted.

The Urge to Be Heard at Your Core

Babies cry as if their lives depend on it because in the state of nature it does. The brain builds on each experience, so our early vulnerability is at the core of who we are.

The Danger of Self-identifying as "Stressed"

You literally hurt yourself when you "lose heart." You can break the habit of stressing yourself by managing your expectations. Instead of thinking something is wrong with the world, you can do what animals do when survival challenges trigger their cortisol: keep trying.

Abuse of the Nuremberg Principle

A dangerous free-rider problem is created when resistance to authority is glorified. Any time you find it convenient to break the law, you can call yourself a courageous ethicist who’s resisting an unjust authority.

You May Already Be Steve Jobs

New ideas would never get launched if visionaries bent to the will of the crowd. Many visions fail, and your vision may fall flat on its face. But it's your face. You get to decide where to invest your precious life energy.

The Animal Urge to Leave a Legacy

Your brain is hard-wired to care about what you leave behind when you're gone. You don't need money to name a building after yourself, or grandchildren to learn your recipes. You need the trust it takes to keep planting seeds though you may not see them germinate.

Pessimists: Stay Away From Me

People pretend concern for the greater good, so why do they sound oddly happy when forecasting doom for the human race? Hell-in-a-handbasket thinking makes people feel strangely good while the predicting pandemonium.

How Could I Be Related to These People?

Your happy chemicals turn on in ways that are different from those around you. It's frustrating to feel different, but it feels good to know how we got wired to be the way we are.

What a Let-Down!

When happy chemicals sag, your brain looks for "the problem." Unfortunately, the brain always finds problems when it goes looking. Focusing on let-downs builds neural pathways that shape your outlook on life. Ignoring those feelings is sometimes the best thing to do. They are just your brain's natural re-set after happy spikes.

7 Reasons to Honor Your Autopilot

Your brain evolved to run on autopilot. Condemning your own thought process leaves you frustrated and annoyed. What if we let go of the idea that autopilot is bad?

When Someone Pushes Your Buttons, Know Your Own Buttons

Your ability to analyze the trustworthiness of others evolved for a reason. When the lion laid down with the lamb, usually the lamb got eaten. So the world was left to lambs that made better decisions. Animals that formed sturdy alliances had more surviving offspring, and the capacity to trust wisely was naturally selected for.

Nature Gave Us Four Kinds of Happiness

The happy neurochemicals feel so good that we use our big cortex to figure out how to get more. But try as you might, you can't control your environment in a way that triggers all of them all the time. You could take this as evidence that "something is wrong," or just accept the fact that happy chemicals evolved to promote survival.

The Good Old Days Were Awful

Why do people overlook the good in the present and dream of an idealized past? Today, our brains focus on social pain because there's less of the physical pain that pervaded life in the past. The social snubs in your life feel more brutal than thoughts of the plague and pestilence of the past.

Preventing Corruption with Your Neurons

Human beings evolved to follow a leader. New leaders highlight the flaws of old leaders to compete for followers, but they still focus on their own interests. One corrupt guru competes with another. To get a better deal, we must process information for ourselves.

Duchess of York’s Redemption Story Is Good Theatre

Princess Sarah resents the focus on her recent bribe-taking indiscretion, but she is trying to sell herself as an author of heartfelt ethics books. Can she really expect to sell people on the charity-lady facade while brushing an ethical whopper under the rug? Can Dr. Phil and Suze Orman fix this much emotional dishonesty? Tune in next week to "Finding Sarah."

Don’t Blame the Politicians

When we feel disappointment, politicians are convenient targets for blame. Of course I want everyone to reach their dreams, but the government can't be in the "make-a-wish" business.

Fatherhood Makes Us Human

A father puts the needs of weaker individuals before his own. This is a huge evolutionary step and the foundation of human civilization. It's easy to notice what your father didn't do, but the evolution of paternal investment helps you notice what he did.

Is your costume glorifying crime?

People want to live in a law-abiding society but they like to be above the law themselves. It's natural for your mammalian brain to feel that way, but your human brain knows better

The Urge for Stuff Is Primal

Why did my mother care about impressing a woman whose jewels came from crime? We mammals inherited a brain that cares about how we stack up against others.

Shallow Breathing

The habit of holding the breath often goes unnoticed- even by doctors. The autonomic nervous system sometimes learns to use the breathing muscles in an unsynchronized way, and it's hard to unlearn.

Conquering the fear of standing up to bullies

People appease bullies instead of opposing them because our inner mammal knows the danger of losing the safety of the herd. You can resist a bully if you accept your mammalian urge for social support instead of trying to reject it.

Vincere: to Win and to Shine are the same word in Latin

If you won the Olympics, the thrill would soon pass and your brain would be on the lookout for the next triumph. Our brain is always hungry for the neurochemical reward. Fill up on nutritious winning and you will avoid the temptation of junk winning.

My Mafia Roots

I started reading about Sicily for insight into my cultural heritage, and that's how I realized, in the safety of a suburban library, that the Mafia is my cultural heritage. What I mean is, my family was so traumatized by a legacy of violence that they treated all social interaction as potentially lethal.