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Why some people succeed and others don’t. How to hack your brain

All things being equal, when people are in the same roles, trying to achieve the same thing, the outcome should be fairly the same. In the case of a truck driver, who drives 25,000 miles a year for a company, should have a similar accident track record like all the others. But some will always […]

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All things being equal, when people are in the same roles, trying to achieve the same thing, the outcome should be fairly the same. In the case of a truck driver, who drives 25,000 miles a year for a company, should have a similar accident track record like all the others. But some will always have more while some drive accident free. Why the difference?

It’s our patterns of thoughts and behaviors that account for the difference in performance. Only this can explain why we have differences because at the very bottom, we all have been given the same brain.

You think its enough to be a genius as the sole determining factor to succeed in life. This is what we have been taught for decades but its wrong. Its also linked to a broader question that I have been dealing with in my career as a humanitarian aid worker and let me give you an example. In 2014, I was working in South Sudan when the civil war broke out. Millions of people were forced to flee, and the international community came in to help. The country is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, with only 50 km of paved roads. When you aid people, the only way to get to those displaced is by air. One of the UN agencies would use helicopters to bring in their food parcels. One day, I stood at a distribution site and two small children came to me showing me the mud helicopter they built that modeled the real one. What a talent and what could his future be like if he had a chance? But he didn’t. If he didn’t get recruited into an armed group, he would grow up in poverty, knowing nothing but poverty and hunger without ever having a chance to attend university. Poverty is such a powerful constraint and affects our global ability to advance further. What if he is the one, smart enough to design a spaceship to fly to Venus? This has long been proven by studies. The Terman study conducted in the 1920’s selected the top 1% of 250,000 students in California who had an IQ of 145 and above. Terman followed them throughout their lives to understand who succeeded and the results were astonishing. Those who were born into wealthy families succeeded by our standards. They had high ranking positions while those born to poor families failed. They remained poor despite their genius level IQ. This is due to various factors such as having an environment where learning is key, where you have books at home. Discussions on emotional intelligence would explain this further. How we manage stress and overcome challenges in life is more important that our IQ. Those who succeed in life are no smarter than the rest of us, they have recurring patterns of thoughts and behaviors that help them succeed.

These learned behaviors and thought patterns are not a conscious effort. Most of us do them subconsciously. We have been trained this way and they are our default programming. Does that mean for those who are stuck and not successful, they never will be? Neuroscience explains that billions of neurons since we were a child have built highways based on our experiences and upbringing. We use these highways subconsciously when we respond to stress for instance. There are no other highways and roads with most traffic get widened. If someone learned to withdraw from conflict, it’s because its hardwired into our brain. These highways are your road that your thoughts travel every day on to reach to work, to your brain to form thoughts and behavior. They define if you are an introvert or extrovert if you love to be adventurous or seek security. This is why all of us have unique capabilities.

This is the reason why no amount of the usual training can change your highways. The hack to your brain needs to start with what we know about the brain. Ever tried to become more sporty or healthier and failed? You cannot change your habits and thought patterns through a diet or a regular sports class that you attend. You must hack your brain with meditation. The science is compelling from Harvard and Stanford that states that meditation over time changes your brain structure, and therefore your highways. Its not some esoteric stuff. Its what athletes call the “flow state”. You are being fully present and interrupt your default programming – the usual highways you take. Your brain will get irritated and agitated but the longer you stick to your new programme, practicing presence, the more likely your new habits and thought patterns will stick. Another hack is also self-talk. Think of your brain as another you, who learned from parents, friends, and the culture. Your thoughts are not you. Have a conversation about it and become aware of some of the self-talk that is not helping you. How often can you catch yourself saying you cannot do this? Meditation has fully entering mainstream with Google adopting it, US Marines, Twitter, and other big corporations and CEOs. Because its working.

Old ways of thinking that only certain people are born leaders is a lie. That there are certain traits that cannot be learned is not true. You don’t get there by signing up for another leadership course or distress retreat. You have to start my changing your recurring thought patterns and behavior and meditation is one successful to do it. Start now and comment on how you find it.

Gary Waters/Getty Images/Ikon Images
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