← Return to Posts

Rational Thought Is Hardwired in Our DNA (So Why Don't We Listen to Ourselves?)

November 15, 2018 Joe Mechlinski


Our three brains work in funny ways. Sometimes we do things without realizing why they work, but they do. Our heart brain advises our head brain or our gut brain tells us when something just isn't right. 

Psychologist and writer Dan Ariely realized this while he was recuperating following a serious accident. 

He was blasted by a magnesium flare as a young man, which resulted in third-degree burns on 70 percent of his body. He spent the next three years restricted to his hospital bed, where he developed a keen interest in people’s behavioral patterns. 

Ariely noticed, for example, that when the nurse would change his dressing, she would rip off the bandage in one quick motion, adhering to the belief that it’s less painful if done quickly. It sure felt painful to Ariely, and he wasn't certain that the faster way was any less painful than a slower one. After he was back at MIT (he is currently James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University), he decided to run an experiment on whether this method was quantitatively less painful. 

The amount of pain, he determined, doesn’t change if the ripping off is done slowly or quickly. We only think it does. He began to understand that decision-making can help a person live in a better way, and he started working on how to get people to use the same basic knowledge to improve their daily lives and to find purpose.

We may think we are acting rationally, when in reality we are listening to the heart brain and gut brain. 

We rip off the bandage quickly because it’s less painful, not for the patient, but for the nurse. In other areas of life, we tell ourselves the best course is the rational one, even though it’s influenced more by emotion. How do we fire people? Quickly. How do we break up with people? Quickly. 

Ariely, in his book, The Upside of Irrationality, explores the notion of what makes you happy in your work. He found, for example, that bonuses don't necessarily bring higher performance, since money can be stressful. Ariely's findings in behaviorism tie in with many of the things that I explore in my book Shift the Work: how to become more motivated, engaged and happier at work and at home. 

Part of this is using feeling and thinking – relying on the combination of our head, heart and gut brains to see where we are happiest and what gives us purpose.

Ready to Shift?

I’ve written a white paper that describes how you can use brain science to be happier at work. It’s called “How Brain Science Helps Engagement” and it will give some some clear strategies to shift your work.

Download my free white paper