Hacking your Chimp

Photo Credit to Frontiernerds
Photo Credit: Frontiernerds

WARNING: Your brain has been hacked. Instructions to follow.

I spent the past holiday weekend designing and building a shelf system in my garage. I had to tear out the old ones, awful excuses for storage as they were, and build heavy-duty units that could stand 100-lb containers of beans, rice and other staples, camping equipment, tools, et cetera.

I was struck by an observation I made on my trip to Home Depot immediately upon making the decision to start the project, feeling high on the endorphin cocktail associated with shopping and goal achievement. It occurred to me that most or all of the good feelings, the emotional rewards of the job, were to be had upon the decision to get it done.

Of course, buying material isn’t the same as reaching the goal, right? I still had two glorious days ahead of me, of measuring, cutting, and retrieving tools from my “helpful” children. So why the satisfaction?

Even the most responsible person has felt it: A rush of satisfaction, immediately upon taking a no-pain action toward it. You probably have one of those Tony Little Ab-Cruncher things in your garage right now, in “like new” (i.e. unused) condition.

This recalls a brain study I recently learned about from one of my favorite entrepreneurial gurus, Eben Pagan, in which the researchers analyzed the real-time brain functions and responses of young players during their engagement with the electronic heroin known as video games.

One of the most striking observations the study noted was the timing of the activity in the pleasure center of the brain, relative to the achievement of a reward in the game: The gamers’ brains experienced the greatest rush of satisfaction when the little “teaser” image appeared that let them anticipate the reward (e.g., points, a weapon, the next level) – not, as we might expect, when they actually achieved that milestone.

In one of my current reads, The Chimp Paradox, Dr. Steve Peters writes that many such “automatic” responses are part of a “Chimp” mind, a set of hard-wired emotional responses that helped us survive before we developed the powerful “human” traits of rational thought and logic. Whatever your opinion on evolution or creation, this provides a powerful model for understanding ourselves and others.

Is it an accident that the most successful and increasingly addictive video games embed these “teasers” along the way, appealing to the emotional triggers of one’s “Chimp”? Of course not.

These companies employ some of the best and brightest to “hack” the human mind and create powerful connections. Same goes for the producers of “House of Cards”, “24” and other standouts among the current generation of television series. In fact, all cutting-edge marketing operations have evolved from the “transaction” model to the “relationship” model.

Ultimately as the disciplines of research and product creation converge, we are bringing love (or at least lust) itself down to a science. What is love, if not the feeling we “can’t live without” someone or something?

Cult leaders, evangelists, and sales pros have used the same methods for centuries – some for good purposes, some for evil. The technology is morally neutral – it simply continues to prove that, for all our education and advancement, people have an inner need to feel emotionally connected to important people and things in their lives. Few would want to do away with feelings of love and desire, irrational as they are, but we would do well to recognize the relationship between our “Human” and our “Chimp”.

Yes, you’ve been hacked, and here’s what you can do about it: Use the findings of the billions of dollars being poured into this research to hack your own way into a better understanding of yourself. Update your operating system!

Becoming aware of how our mind works is the most valuable kind of learning there is. We are forced to make hundreds of subtle decisions every day, all day – in response to media and marketing messages, a personal offense in a social setting, a threat to your career status at the office, a comment about our appearance by a spouse.

Unpacking these kinds of findings, if you and I can learn to reinterpret our own own (often irrational) responses to stimuli in a way that offers a range of options instead of the reaction our “Chimp” is wired to produce, we shall see improvements in all major areas of life: Relationships, stress, career or personal success, and even our bank account.

So next time you feel suddenly compelled to do, buy, or act on something, think about it: is it your “Human” or your “Chimp”? Then hack them right back.

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