Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)An unexamined brain is a tricky thing to carry around. You’ve got unintentional biases, marketing weaknesses, “overclocking” issues, and all kinds of other mental bugs you may not know about. Here’s a helpful list of the mind’s weird ways.

Photo by Digital Shotgun.

10. Knowing You Can Get Smarter Makes You … Smarter

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)There’s a way of thinking that goes that, since you didn’t grow up with genius parents or Einstein’s instinctive reasoning, you’re only going to be so intellectually able throughout your life. But consider that when a group of college students were given a course that studied the ability to grow smarter and improve performance, they performed notably better in their further college studies than those students who were never taught such thinking. You can easily convince yourself that rigorous study can be a time sink, or let yourself believe in the brain’s ability to adapt, and then actually adapt your own gray matter. And it kind of applies to the rest of this list, we’d hope. Photo by Adam NFK Smith. (Original post)

9. Your Eyes Skip Over Good, Cheap Menu Items and Fall for Menu Tricks

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)Why would a menu describe one breakfast item as “Fresh-cut Yukon potato hash browns with vanilla griddle cakes and thick-cut slab bacon,” while the menu right under it is simply labeled as “biscuits with sausage”? Because the restaurant makes more money off that first item than the second, and uses the filler adjectives, and its proximity to a non-descript item, to push it. Tastes are, of course, a very personal thing, but if you want to let your hunger make the decision rather than the menu designer, read up on the psychology of menu design and you’ll have a bit more ammunition the next time you head out to eat. (Original post)

8. Your Brain Can’t Stop Spinning, Even When You’re Asleep

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)It’s not modern technology and consumer culture that gives us too many distractions and worries, but our brains. The human mind has had a tendency to spin off into unproductive cycles of worrying and wondering as long as humans have been around, but you can train yourself to focus on one thing, or no things, and get some actual relaxation and much-needed perspective. We put together our best take on the why and how of meditation in a guide for the rest of us. Photo by tess.

7. Online Stores are Just as Tricky as Retail

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)It’s the suckers who head to the mall and pay the listed price for their shiny objects, right? Then again, online stores have just as many tricks up their sleeves. Blue backgrounds are used to convey the comfort and calm of an item, and your decision. Virtual catalogs are filled with high-price items they’ll never sell, to make mid-range items more appealing, and vital text is placed to the right of pictures, while less appealing facts are on the left. When you’re facing the power of consumer research, do just like a shopping trip: make a list, name a price, and stick to them both. (Original post)

6. You Give Priority to Experiences that Prove You’re Right

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)Everybody you know is getting an Android phone! What’s more, it seems like Droid phones have taken over your city’s billboards, and absolutely nobody wants to keep their BlackBerry anymore. Or, you know, maybe that’s not the case at all. When you or somebody else puts a container around your experiences (“Everybody’s heading to Android”), your brain can do funny things to your experiences, tinting everything toward a certain conclusion while drastically minimizing, say, those 10 people in line at the coffee shop, all checking their BlackBerries. Put another way, “If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” (Original post)

5. You Grow Attached to Items the More You Touch Them

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)Ever set out to “Really, seriously clean out this room,” then find yourself, 20 minutes later, slowly sorting through photos and memorabilia, unable to toss a single thing? Erin Doland, editor of the Unclutterer blog, explained in a guest post why we can’t help holding onto clutter. The more you touch things over a lifetime, but also in the last few minutes, the more attached you grow to those things. It’s why every retailer worth their salt wants you to test, try, but most of all handle their sample goods, and it’s why you find it hard to toss things that were once precious, but now totally useless. Have a friend or professional help you out by holding things up for you, rather than let your hands get all sentimental. Photo by Elsie esq..

4. You’ve Got a Finite Amount of Habit-Changing Willpower

It’s a sad bit of truth, but spending all day at work being nice to people that you should blow up at can mean exploding on your friends or significant others after you punch out, or reverting right back to tossing your coat instead of hanging it up. Fast Company‘s Dan Heath explains how your mind processes temptations and habits in an entertaining video and in a explanatory write-up, and offers some simple advice—don’t give yourself too many things to change-right-now-immediately-for-life all at once. (Original post)

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3. Your Deeper Desires Go Shopping With You

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)Do you really need another 16 GB thumb drive to move files around, or are you just angry with all the tech problems you had at work? Are you really in need of a garage sale panini press, or are you just late on grabbing lunch? It’s not such a stretch. As the Moolanomy personal finance blog points out, the role of HALT feelings—Hunger, Anger, Tiredness, Loneliness—are no small thing in the impulsive decisions we make. Step back from that thing you’re about to open your wallet for, consider your HALT levels, and maybe you don’t end up a bit more weighed down with the unnecessary. Photo by Christian Haugen. (Original post)

2. You Value New Numbers Based on Other, Unimportant Numbers

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)Why do infomercial hosts insist on telling you what “you’d expect to pay” for any item they’re about to price? Because the “Anchoring Effect” works. A salesman tells you that the golf clubs you’re looking at cost $1,200, you scoff, and suddenly he’s noting that, this week, they’re on sale for $599. Your brain remembers the first number, it sets the second number against it, and it looks like you’d be stupid not to pick up this deal—no matter how ridiculous the first price. Photo by bradleygee. (Original post)

1. You Let Negative Feelings About Putting Off Tasks Prevent Actual Work

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It)Could sending out that email really be so painful that you’ve put it off three days in a row? Likely not, but it certainly feels that way every time you try to dig in. It’s what a Psychology Today post describes as the “overwhelming wave” of negative emotions, building and seemingly towering over you when you try and address yourself to a task. Knowing that it’s really this kind of meta-misery, though, you can perhaps acknowledge it, let it go, then move on. Photo by Steven C Wilson. (Original post)

What trick of the mind affects your own work and life? How have you overcome your own mental stumbling blocks? Grab a seat on the couch and tell us why in the comments.

Send an email to Kevin Purdy, the author of this post, at

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