- Nothing is truly original, … everything is borrowed from somewhere else and made to fit the moment and its time.
- The past holds us captive. Even when we succeed in giving up slights, grudges, feuds and pride, we cannot easily give up knowledge, memories and experience.
- Technically speaking everything in the world is a system. Life is no exception. All systems are governed by two things: A. Their energy state. B. Their level of stability.
- We can learn to direct the course of our own life.
- Our values are not always our own.
- Happiness is an experience.
- We are what we believe.
Figure 1. The universal formula for survival of any organism in any environment.
Figure 2. Who we are and why is not always clear to us.
Figure 3. The reason we do specific things, our motivation to actually do them is internalized and consciously structured only when we are in proactive motivation mode.
Each of these illustrations is a breakdown of fundamental attributes that make up each individual: survival, identity, motivation. Neurobiologists, experimental psychologists and neuroscientists have developed new theories, gathered fresh experimental data and have carried out fMRI studies to help us understand how we function.
The motivation for all these considerable manhours and research dollars is the hope that by better understanding our own operating system (so to speak), we can devise better societal systems, improve the way we do business with each other and learn how to behave so that we can achieve specific, favorable outcomes that will make our life meaningful and happier.
This book is about how to do this, exactly, on your own. One step at a time. The traditional approach to self-help is always about some formula which when applied will magically transform what you experience in your day-to-day life. Life is complicated. It is messy. It is full of friction that creates inefficiencies. It is full of contradictions that confuse us. It has ups and downs linked to our physiological state as well as our mental one. The goal is to help people better understand who they are by understanding the elements that make them who they are.
The method I have used is scientific. By breaking everything down to its component parts I provide a granular picture of why we do certain things, come to believe certain beliefs and are led to take some actions. By building on the scientific experiments and research discoveries I provide insights that will help you better understand yourself. This better understanding will lead you to take better control of your own behavior, your own mental and emotional processes and your own development.
My own hope is that by helping you improve in your emotional control, behavior, choices and decisions, I also help you raise the bar for those around you. If the bar is raised by enough people it is raised for us all. Collectively we then help each other improve faster than any of us can do so, alone.
Let’s explore this in a little more detail:
What Does It Mean to Talk About Behavior?
Behavior is, usually, a series of actions taken within a specific context as a result of a, usually, unseen stimulus. Over the last ten years the disciplines of behavioral economics, psychology, and persuasive technology have looked at behavior as the means through which they can reverse-engineer the processes that guide intent.
The research shows us that prior experiences, knowledge and the environment play a much deeper, greater role in our decision making than had been assumed in the past. Businesses want to know what affects people’s decision because they believe that with the right kind of marketing they can then influence the decisions that affect purchasing behavior, to their favor.
My focus, throughout the book is on the individual. There are lessons, examples and data that I use which can easily be applied in a business environment. But that is not my primary aim. Instead, I consistently take the findings of neuroscience, experimental psychology, behavioral economics and neurobiology and apply them to the more prosaic, practicality of personal behavior and the reasons behind it.
Applying all that knowledge in a practical way follows a six-step process that culminates in a round up at the end of each chapter. The process reflects the way we are designed to think and feel about our self and the world.
Figure 4. There are six, distinct steps that lead us from the realization of a physical sensation reported by our body, that has originated in the environment and the full realization of who we are as distinct, wilful individuals capable of making conscious decisions and rational choices.
- Sensory Input. As the name suggests, our first and primary source of information is our environment. Our principle means of capturing information from our environment is through our senses. The ability we have to process the information we capture is determined by our health, self-awareness and the efficiency of our brain.
- Meaning representation. The ability of the brain to process information that makes sense leads to the development of specific mental models that represent not just the meaning of the information that has been processed but also the importance of the information within the context of any specific moment in time.
- Abstraction. The brain’s ability to represent abstract models at a neural level is part of our trait to ascribe meaning to every action and seek meaning in every pattern we perceive.
- Expression. The expression of abstract models, formed by the brain, in the context of the moments of our life reveals our priorities and values.
- Semantic Construction. The process of creating semantic representations for specific items of knowledge and facts that we hold is part of our overall sensemaking super power.
- Entity. The moment we realize that our existence is distinct and independent and can be made to work without relying on external factors, we are in the process of creating our own identity. One that is reflective of our own beliefs and values.
That’s the basic approach of every chapter throughout the book. To make it more accessible I have broken things up for readability and lightness and have avoided, wherever possible, the more rigid approach of an academic textbook with its focus on seeing everything through scientific formalism.
The “Intentional” Part of Living the Life You Want to Live
Each of these six stages is dependent on the ones before it. It turns out that our identity, which is a construct, requires foundations in the layers that precede each of its curating stages. The beliefs we hold, for example, cannot be divorced from the values that are dear to us. But the values which form our core cannot be separated from our earliest experiences and upbringing.
This means the choices we make and the decision we take, in the first instance, are highly dependent on some of our earliest experiences and the things we were exposed to when young.
This makes nothing predetermined however. Our ‘destiny’ is the result of our ability to see where we are going and our willingness to take action to get us there. Our motivation however is itself dependent on our awareness of our circumstances and our ability to plan for the future.
The three-step process that takes us from where we are to where we feel we need to get to then is:
- Awareness. Understand, deconstruct and analyze each situation.
- Motivation. Determine why we need to do something so that we can justify the elements involved in the implementation.
- Action. Take the action(s) necessary.
This conceptual approach to designing our life is anything but simple. Everyday challenges can distract us, unexpected problems can derail our efforts and even a minor illness can become a deep source of anxiety for us.
Understand the Impact of Behavior in a World Full of Uncertainty
Our behavior is shaped by both external and internal factors. Culture and traditions. Our desire to belong to a particular social group. Our perception of others within our social circles. The way we project who we think we are. The beliefs we hold. The values we hold. The goals we have. The plans we have made. The mindset that guides us. Our expectations about our future. Our ability to discern consequences. Our sense of agency. Our identity. The emotional regulation we are capable of. Our mental and physical health.
Figure 4. Many traits, skills and attributes need to combine before we become who we want to become.
The process of self-discovery is never linear. We are all engaged in a constant, dynamic relationship with our environment. Our internally generated thoughts, ideas, aims, goals and desires balance with the demands and expectations made upon us by the natural and man-made environment we live in. There is a calculus of what we win or lose in each trade-off we make that is, in turn, a representation of what we value, what is important to us and what we prioritize.
Who This Book Is For
As you can probably tell by now, this book is aimed at those who ask themselves the simple question: “How should I behave so that I can live a life I feel I control?” Because a sense of control is key in our ability to predict the future and because predicting the future is the brain’s primary function, in this book you get to understand:
- The role values play in your decision making.
- How grit can help you succeed (and why grit alone is not enough).
- Why happiness is elusive (and how to experience it more often).
We are all works in progress. The work we need to do in order to progress however is not clear to us. This is why we reach out for formulaic solutions we can blindly apply in the hope that they are the ingredient that’s been missing from our efforts. This book peels back the layers to give you a glimpse of what you have. You then need to experiment with the synthesis to get what you want.
In addition, this book is for anyone who hopes to become a leader in business. Guide teams in becoming successful. Business is a reflection of life. When businesses fail they fail because the approach was wrong, the execution faulty and the values behind everything in need of articulation and refinement. It takes an enormous amount of effort to get a business started, get it going and then make it succeed. It takes even more effort to achieve a clear grasp of who we are and why we are. If we can succeed at the latter, the former becomes easier.
The world we live in is complex. The problems we face deep-rooted. None of us can work alone and succeed. But working with others needn’t challenge our sense of who we are. Nor does everything have to be a competition. This book will help you resolve some of the issues you face in this regard.
Combining Research, Data, and Experience
One of the book’s recurring themes is that understanding how the mind works is not enough to help us improve.
In addition to behavioral science research and neuroscientific discoveries we need two additional sets of skills to support the process. First, we need self-awareness (the ability to think about thinking). Second, we need to feel what we do. This is Bruce Lee’s famous line about “emotional content” in our actions.
Unless our actions are reflective of our emotions we lack the degree of alignment required to help us reduce the internal friction we experience, the cognitive dissonance that holds us back by presenting contradictions in every step of our personal journey.
We’re only just starting to understand how to apply the research breakthroughs being made on emotions, feelings and cognition to behavior. There are no magic formulas you can apply, however. Each of us is unique. Our personal struggle is our own. Our past, history, experience, memories and knowledge creates a unique filter that’s called perception. We use it to establish expectations. The former defines our reality. The latter our sense of happiness and success.
You understand by now that success and happiness are ephemeral. But we can grasp the former and experience the latter by applying some basic principles to our behavior.
Figure 5. What we do springs from what we value, how we believe and the way we look at the world.
What Do You Need to Know to Benefit from This Book?
I wrote this book to give you the knowledge you need to better understand your own impulses, the things that influence you and how you can increase your sense of control over your own life.
If you have some knowledge already of semantic construction, behavioral marketing principles and the psychology of community constructs, all the better. But none of this is necessary.
Start with a desire to become a better version of who you are. The practical summary at the end of each chapter will give you a handle on what you learn. The three questions will help you in the difficult task of self-analysis and the practical tip will give you an actionable task to complete.
This will help you leverage everything you already know, the skills you already possess and the attributes you have already developed into a greater whole.
What This Book Is Not About
If you’re looking for a book that will give you a magic formula on how to change yourself overnight, this is not the book for you. If you’re stuck in your life or business and expect an easy solution you can apply to help you move forward this is also not the book to read.
A lot of the topics covered in this book do have to do with motivation, persuasion, focus, decision making, goal setting and planning. But this is not the type of book that tells you in a detailed, prescriptive way what to do in order to feel more motivated, be more persuasive, or more focused, or make better decisions and more detailed plans.
When you read this book your behavior will change. The way your brain works will undergo a transformation. But that is a by-product of the book’s focus on helping you gain greater control over your own self.
In this way the changes you will feel and the gains you will make will be sustainable and persistent. You will change for life, instead of a week or two.
This, I hope, will help you attain the heights you’re reaching for and make you feel stronger in your sense of who you are.
What to Expect in This Book
These two pieces of writing linked to in the paragraph above should give you a good idea of what to expect in the book.
However, if you’re looking for a more formal chapter outline, here you go:
Chapter 1 - arms you with your first skill: an understanding of how you make decision. You get an overview of the current set of theories on the subject as well as some of the most up-to-date research on what it is that actually keeps us alive. You will then get some key points you can apply to better understand the patterns of your own life and the practical tips you need to begin to gain control over who you are and what you do.
Chapter 2 - describes the three components of identity. It provides an explanation of how pro-social behavior leads us to adapt specific tropes. We begin to understand how we are formed by circumstances and expectations before we get the chance to choose for our self. It then lays out the brain’s Primary Directive and prime function and how they work together to mitigate the uncertainty we experience when we face objective reality. It closes with a powerful tip on how to find your center and maintain it when the circumstances around you are difficult and when you are feeling low.
Chapter 3 - examines the role played by goal-oriented behavior. How goals affect our priorities. The limitations this can impose as well as the empowerment it can provide. Goal-oriented behavior leads to specific actions. Actions have consequences. The chapter helps you define how to choose the goals that help you and how to avoid goals that can hold you back.
Chapter 4 - demystifies motivation. It goes deep into the reasons we can stick with something difficult and the reasons we can abandon something even though we think it is what we want to do. We learn how motivation is formed in the brain and what makes it possible, in the first instance. We then examine the role played by learning and experience in the motivation we feel. There is a role for planning here, too. We then learn how to direct our motivation so that the effort required is lessened and we achieve more with less. The chapter closes with three questions that become powerful introspective, analytical tools and a practical tip to help create a sense of perspective and balance in your life.
Chapter 5 - holds the secret to the equation of success. We examine how behavior shapes everything we experience inside our self and everything we instigate outside our self. The attributes of passion, focus and purpose are examined through practical examples as well as the research literature and we learn what the common thread is in all people who exhibit resilience when faced with incredible difficulties. Resilience, in turn, is analyzed from a neurobiological perspective and specific competencies are discussed, that help it develop. We learn how to better allocate attention to conserve mental and emotional resources. The five characteristics of resilience are then presented and analyzed and three very specific exhibited behaviors are examined as the pathway to developing a stronger sense of resilience in our self.
Chapter 6 - takes you to the core of who you are. Your belief system is formed by a specific combination of memories, experiences, knowledge and expectation. We can change our minds all the time yet how we remain uniquely our self requires a specific approach and knowledge to handling situations, making choices and taking decisions. We examine the primary drivers of external behavior. Then, analyze how core beliefs determine some of the critical choices we make. In the process we also touch upon how we believe in something (and why), and examine why our neurobiology can make us fall for conspiracy theories. We are then given a field-tested technique for priming our decision-making process through refined situational awareness.
Chapter 7 - gives us some of the most critical skills and attributes we need in order to live the life we want. We look at traits and values, character (and how it is formed) and the way personality emerges in each individual. Context is defined as the catalyst for many of our actions and the source of some of our contradictions. Our brain’s constant search for meaning is weighed against the development we undergo under our own sense of direction in life, versus that which is provided for us by societal pressures and our own pro-social behavior that produces the need to belong to a particular social group.
Chapter 8 - completes the process of self-development by examining what grit is, where does it come from, how we create it, what impact it has on our success and how our feelings and emotions lead to actions. This is played against the research on the ever-evolving narrative of self that is our sense of identity. We examine the effect of narrative on our internal world and the implications of cognitive processes that affect our physiology the moment we perceive them.
Chapter 9 - provides the three distinct elements that create what we call “attitude”. First distinction is made between attitude and mindset. We look at the practical application of attitude and how it helps us stand in the world. We then examine how to direct our attitude to harden us against the ‘friction’ we experience as we try to fit into the larger, system that we call “the world”.
Chapter 10 - deconstructs the way our mindset is created and it examines the role it plays in the decisions we take and the choices we make. Inevitably it examines the contradictions we experience as we try to apply a consistent set of values in our life. Destiny, as a construct created out of the inevitability of some situations, is examined with a view on shaping it to be what we want it to be. We then get to a critical piece of research as we look at the intentional mind, examine intentionality from a neurobiological point of view and get to see just how we can guide our actions to better reflect our plans and meet our dreams.
Chapter 11 - is about happiness. Happiness is elusive not just in its definition but also in its actualization. Yet that doesn’t mean we cannot choose to be happy, nor that we cannot engineer our circumstances to provide us with the most happiness available to us. ‘Optimizing’ for happiness is a process. As such it can be learnt and applied in a conscious manner to help us experience a deeper sense of happiness in our life.
At the end of the book there is an appendix describing a particular scientific process further and there is an extensive bibliography of the research papers I drew knowledge and inspiration from.
Each chapter ends with a few bullet-points that serve as a quick summary of the chapter. They are super-useful as a reminder of what has been covered. There are also three distinct questions that act as the forensic tools you need to dig deeper into your own self. Finally there is a practical tip you can implement straightaway. I personally find this approach to summarizing chapters useful as a reminder of what has been covered before and as a handy trigger of what has been learnt in each chapter. Many times I find myself having picked up specific ways of thinking or a crucial piece of information but can no longer recall the context or many of the details that go with it. So, this saves a lot of re-reading when you are short of time.
Talk To Me
In the past, I used to be super-active and engaged in Google Plus. I found the experience of answering specific questions about my writing and providing additional clarifications, engaging and personally rewarding. After Google Plus was closed down I spread my activities across LinkedIn, Twitter and even Instagram where you get to find out more details about my personal journey and private life.
I always respond to questions on all of these platforms and I share, on some of them, greater insights from the research I analyze and the insights I glean as a result. You can follow me on those platforms and always feel free to ask me questions that spring from your reading of any of my books.
Intentional is the follow-up to the ground-breaking The Sniper Mind.