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Your brain is programmed for failure, here’s what to do about it

This is what you have to battle against today! Want to know how to win?
This is what you have to battle against today! Want to know how to win?

Evolution has not been as kind to you as you would like to think.

Sure, it has kept you and us as a species alive for the last couple of thousand years. But that’s all it has done. It has allowed us to survive, but not thrive.

Want to know why evolution is not your friend and how to win the battle against it?

Keep reading.

Like it or not, you are designed to focus on the danger, or even the perception of danger, around you instead of the beauty and the growth.

To see how this first took shape, let’s go back in time and place to the Serengeti, where it is said that human beings first evolved into who we are today.

Archaic man is going about his day and misses out on a kill while on the hunt. No big deal, there will be plenty of animals to hunt the next day.

Now if our friend here fails to notice the saber tooth tiger waiting for him around the corner…

No more food. Forever.

What does this mean for you today?

Studying the enemy

Sun Tzu once said “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

To fight this battle against our evolutionary adversary, you must first know this enemy, which in this case also happens to be a part of who you are.

Here are three bars that keep you imprisoned by the fear of failure and prevent you from achieving the personal and financial success you desire:

– The negativity bias
– The availability heuristic
– The chaotic mind

Let’s take a look at each one of these and see how they affect your reality.

Threats keep you alive

To keep you alive and kicking, evolution blessed you with what psychologists refer to as the “negativity bias.”

Instead of focusing on the beauty of a sunset, the negativity bias taught human beings to focus on threats in order to eliminate them.

But since we no longer have to worry about saber tooth tigers or wooly mammoths, this trait no longer serves us in our journey toward success. It now sets up for failure.


Because without any life threatening dangers to preoccupy our minds on a daily basis, we create dangers that apply to other areas of our lives. Which is why in business, people tend to focus on what’s wrong and how to fix it, as opposed to what’s right and how to do more of it.

Even experts on happiness are burdened with this. It’s not just you, it’s within all of us.

Neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson says “our brains have become like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”

So your mind is conditioned to fixate on the negative and dismiss the positive, because evolutionary speaking, the positive presents no threat to your well-being.

Check out this great article to learn how to use this evolutionary construct to grow your business.

Reality is distorted by emotion

The availability heuristic states that when an event is easier to recall, we form a belief that this event is a common experience of life and it is far more likely to happen again.

The worse part is our brain is wired so that emotionally arousing, stressful events activate the Amygdala, which causes the activating trigger to become firmly rooted into our implicit memory.

That is your unconscious memory, the one you don’t have to consciously work at to remember. Like how when you ride your bike, you don’t have to think about it, it’s a part of your automatic memory.

What this means is that when we experience any kind of failure, loss or trauma we are more likely to create a belief about the way world works based on that traumatic event than we are about any other positive event in our life.

Because the traumatic event is easier to recall, it becomes more real to us. Which is why traumatic experiences in our past have such a strong hold on us.

This means that if you fail in starting a business once, your brain holds onto that memory of failure and now says that starting a business equates to pain, especially if that failure resulted in significant loss.

Chaos reigns supreme

After decades of research, bestselling author and psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that “contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos.”

Try sitting down and closing your eyes without any external distractions. Now shut of your mind so that no thought flows through it. It is near impossible right?

I would bet that even the Dalai Lama finds this challenging.

In fact, in the second it took you to read that last line, the area of your brain associated with consciousness and awareness has been updated five to eight times.

As a result of the negativity bias working in sync with the availability heuristic, our chaotic mind naturally drifts toward whatever presents the greatest danger, threat or problem in the moment.

This becomes a downward spiral that makes television an easy and comfortable release from the seemingly endless list of problems.

Television contains our mental energy by shifting focus to the story on screen. It distracts us from the internal chaos by providing an outlet that requires no effort to do so.

Hence it’s universal appeal as a form of escape from a natural state of disorder and negativity within the human mind.

But as we all know, watching television for hours a day does not serve our financial or personal success.

To make things worse…

For the rest of your life, you will create a meaning to the world around you that validates the negative, chaotic and dangerous reality you have created in your mind.

It’s called the confirmation bias.

We tend to favor information that confirms our view of the world. We will find meanings to events that are in line with our beliefs. As Tony Robbins says, “The strongest force in the universe is a human being living consistently with his identity.”

If you believe you can never trust a partner in a relationship and that person shows up an hour late, what meaning will you create to that event? Probably that they are cheating on you.

But if you believe that your partner loves with you every inch of their being, and they show up late, you will have a very different meaning for the event.

Because any event in life has no inherent meaning, we assign meanings to them and those meanings shape our experience of life.

And unfortunately, because of all the forces mentioned above working against us, more often than not, we assign meanings that disempower us.

Winning the battle against evolution

The good news is that you are more than capable of winning the battle against your evolutionary flaws.

Anyone who has ever succeeded in any endeavor serves as living proof of our ability to fight back against an evolutionary construct of the human condition that ensures existing, but obstructs living.

Now that you know you are conditioned for failure, here’s what can you do about it?

Systematize success with preemptive strikes

For starters, you can plan ahead and prepare for obstacles before they arise by using preemptive strikes.

Psychologists Peter Gollwitzer and Veronika Brand-statter conducted a study where they took a group of elderly patients recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery and split them into two groups with separate instructions. One group was told to plan out and write down exactly when and where they would do things like take a bath or go for a walk. The other group was simply encouraged to do the same at their leisure.

They found that patients that used preemptive strikes were taking a bath by themselves in 3 weeks, while the other group took 7 weeks. The preemptive strike group was standing up in 3.5 weeks, while the other group took 7.7.

On some days, after my morning success routine, I tend to feel a bit lazy to go to the gym. I prepare for this ahead of time by first scheduling gym time in my calendar for the same time every morning. I then put on my shorts and shoes before I begin my morning success routine, so that when it comes time to head out the door, I have made it as psychologically easy as possible to do so.

Preemptive strikes give your mind clear directions so that it knows what to do and when to do it. They create systems that prevent the chaotic and negative mind from sabotaging your success.

Become an inverse paranoid

An inverse paranoid is someone who believes that the world is out do them good. It’s someone who focuses on the sunset instead of the saber tooth tiger. In a non life or death situation, of course.

A study by neuroscientist, Sara Bengtsson found that the simple act of priming students with words like smart and intelligent before a test consistently leads to better test scores than if the same students were primed with words like stupid and failure.

Prime your mind with things that serve you and it will start to affect not only your internal reality, but your external one as well.

Just above my computer, I have stuck a piece of paper with the words “every single person in the world is plotting to help me, do me good and support me in manifesting my vision for the planet.”

Despite the hype, positive thinking does work. It just needs to be conditioned repeatedly and over time.

Start by simply writing down 3 things you achieved and 3 things you are grateful for at the end of every day. In a study by Dr. Martin Seligman, which he describes in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being he found that this simple exercise, done over a period of 3-6 months improved the quality of life even for those diagnosed with depression.

So every time you find yourself creating a disempowering meaning to an event, pause and ask yourself what else could this mean? What could be good about this? When you ask your brain a question, it will look for an answer.

Another practice I regularly engage in is the “Universal Admiration” exercise.

I am not a big fan of big cities, which I why I don’t like going into New York City too often. Large crowds and densely packed spaces with no exposure to open air or sunlight freaks me a out a bit. I was told this is a result of my experience in Iraq, but I am not so sure, I think I am just strange that way. Whatever the reason, I found a way to love going into the city by admiring every single thing I see.

Walking around, I would tell myself, “Wow, it must have taken so much work and effort to build these tall buildings, I wonder how it was done,” or “I really admire the way the designers of this city made it so organized and structured.”

By practicing universal admiration for everything I see everywhere, I started to enjoy my trips into the city, because I just became curious about what new, amazing thing I would discover next.

So, what do you admire everywhere in your life?


Children love to daydream. But as we get older, we are told to “get real” and “stop believing in fairytales.” We are taught that life is tough and to believe otherwise is childish.

Our beliefs then define what is real.

Try telling a child that Santa isn’t real. That doesn’t go so well does it?


Because every inch of their being believes Santa Claus is a part of their life.

Daydreaming allows us to create our own version of Santa and in turn a new reality.

The Russians mastered the art of daydreaming to produce some of the best gymnasts in the world.

They found that the optimal rate of training was to spend only 25% of their time in physical training and 75% with mental training. The mental training regimen consisted of picturing themselves completing the routine or winning the gold.

By repeatedly daydreaming the result they desired, they were able to manifest that result in external reality.

On a neurological level, the mind cannot distinguish between something that is vividly imagined and something that is real. Your brain will light up in the same parts if you physically engage in an activity as it will if you just imagine yourself doing it.

When you daydream, really feel what it is like to be in this desired place. Experience the emotions from the positive state you are envisioning and bring them into the current moment in time. Intensity the positive emotions and hold onto them for 30 seconds to a minute. Let them soak into you and overwhelm.

If you do this regularly, the positive reality you have created in your mind will implant itself into your implicit memory, and your brain will become velcro for positive experiences, not negative ones.

This practice, continued over a period of days, months and even years will shatter the bars that keep you imprisoned by the fear of failure and allow you to create new, empowering beliefs on how the world works.

The number 1 thing that separates successful people from failures

The most powerful and effective way to defeat our evolutionary foe is to simply take action in service of the future we want to create.

Since thought is naturally chaotic and negative, stop thinking! Act.

Successful people are made so because they act in the face of possible failure, danger, and fear.

Taking action also forces the mind to focus on something other than the negative forces at work within it. And what you focus on shapes the neurological pathways in your brain. It’s called the Quantum Zeno Effect.

You can literally change the inner workings of your brain by shifting what you focus on.

“I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

By taking action, you create new experiences that become evidence to validate a belief that the world is not filled with saber tooth tigers.

And if you do happen to encounter one in your journey to success, which you will because success requires struggle, failure and hard work. But by conditioning the inverse paranoid mindset, daydreaming that future you want and taking action to create it, you won’t let the beast kill you.

It will just leave a small wound that in time will become a battle scar: a worthy trophy to signify the struggles you overcame to achieve victory over evolution.

Someday may as well be never. So act now and earn those scars.

In the comments below share what you will do today to win the fight? Share one action that you will take today to move your personal or financial goals forward.

Also, if you have a friend stuck in a rut or struggling to overcome any mental barriers, tell them it’s not their fault and then send them a link to this article. They will thank you for it! (as will I)

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6 thoughts on “Your brain is programmed for failure, here’s what to do about it”

  1. Negativity seems to breed negativity and the ability to step back and actively identify the positive in difficult settings is definitely an important skill. Appreciate the support and great ideas on how to live more mindfully and positively!

  2. Thanks for pointing out some measures for turning negative experiences into something positive. The article provides some much needed ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so to speak.

    • That is the key to success in life – to be able to turn any situation into a positive experience. Which is why I always recommend Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is the best book I have ever read.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Randy!

  3. The negativity bias is such an annoying one. It is funny how we so often focus on the things that we don’t like which end up making us sad rather than appreciating what we do like. I liked your scientific approach to the subject of failure and negativity.

    I think the thing that I will be working on is reframing. When I think of the negative side of something I will consciously reframe it to think of the positive side. I can see how in the long run this conditioning can really affect your mood. Thanks for the reminders to be on the lookout for our negative minds striking.

  4. Was feeling horrible after a rough day, convinced that my brain was wired for failure (which was the search term I used on Google to find this article). Your writing has inspired me and given me comfort, thank you for doing this.


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Fearvana inspires us to look beyond our own agonizing experiences
and find the positive side of our lives. ~ The Dalai Lama