We’re going to start our discussion today with a story of a turkey. A mother turkey, to be precise. Turkeys are very caring parents. Research has actually shown that there’s a certain sound - a “cheep cheep”, or a “chirp chirp” sound that’s an automatic trigger built into turkeys by evolution. What happens is when a turkey hears this sound, it’s almost like a switch goes off in the turkey’s mind. And it immediately goes to nurture and take care of its young. That makes sense, then. The vast majority of the time, that works out perfectly. But here’s where it gets really interesting: If you take that sound and you record it, and you put it on a stuffed polecat. A polecat is an animal that’s one of turkey’s natural predators. The turkey will immediately go out to the stuffed polecat and begin to nurture it, just like one of its baby chicks. Which is a pretty surprising reaction, especially when you consider the fact that if you don’t have a recording of the “cheep cheep” sound with a stuffed polecat, the turkey will go absolutely insane and ruthlessly attack the stuffed polecat with its life. Why is the turkey doing that? The biological shortcuts are programmed into the turkey’s mind by the process of evolution. This is called by psychologists a “Click, Whirr” response.
The famed psychology professor Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence, has shown us that this sort of Click, Whirr response, which sounds kind of ridiculous, right? You know, what, how are these turkeys so dumb that they’re literally taking care of their arch nemesis one day, then if they don’t have this particular sound, they’re suddenly flipping and attacking them. But what happens is, as Robert Cialdini has shown, and many other psychology researchers, this phenomenon is actually a biological shortcut that’s programmed in the turkey’s mind, and humans have many of the same biological shortcuts.
So, let’s back up a million years. I want to talk about the selective power of evolution, and really understanding the mechanics of evolution and what it means. A lot of people when they hear, or when they talk about evolution, they think that “the strong survive”, or “the best survive”, whatever that means. But really what evolution is talking about is that the most well-adapted to their environment happened to survive more often, and thus happened to reproduce. And so, the environment selects, kind of the optimal characteristics for survival. So, through evolution these turkeys happen to - the turkeys that happen to have sort of a natural trigger that when they hear the “cheep cheep” sound, they go and take care of their young. Those turkeys took more effective care of their young than turkeys that had other behavioral patterns. So, those turkeys reproduce more often and more frequently. And thus, that trait, over hundreds of years, over millions of years, over thousands of years, was slowly embedded into the turkey’s behavior. Similarly, human beings have many of the same biological Click, Whirr responses as turkeys. And if you think about it, human beings most of our evolutionary history has taken place in a hunter-gatherer society. And within that hunter-gatherer society, or even pre-hunter-gatherer society, evolution naturally selected a number of behavioral traits that are embedded in the human mind, into our psychology, that are completely non-optimal for living and existing in today’s society. In fact, if you were to compress the four million year evolutionary history of human society into just twenty four hours, the advent of agriculture would take place at 11:55 p.m., just a shade before midnight. So, if you think about the fact that the evolutionary time scale of our development was nearly four million years, and that agriculture, which was even thousands of years ago, was only at 11:55 p.m., on that 24-hour window. You really get a sense of how much time we’ve sort of had to adjust to the constraints and stresses of modern day society. What happens is the things that are naturally selected in a hunter-and-gatherer environment were you’re, you know, foraging for food. You’re living in a small tribal society, you’re dealing with predators, you’re dealing with all different kinds of dangers. The behavior patterns that are selected by evolution that are optimal for survival in those circumstances are not the same behavior patterns that are optimal for succeeding in today’s society and in today’s world.
Society has changed massively in the last two or three hundred years, let alone the last several thousand years, let alone the last several million years. So there’s a couple key ways that these changes manifest themselves. One of the first examples is the idea of seeking explanations for things. Wanting to understand, wanting to put an explanation to something that isn’t necessarily always right, isn’t necessarily there, doesn’t necessarily fit. This is kind of a pattern recognition which humans are incredibly effective at recognizing patterns. So much so that sometimes we recognize patterns that don’t even exist.
Another way that this manifests itself is through fear and anxiety. When you think about it, if you’re living in kind of the world of the hunter-gatherer, if you have all of these stresses taking place, if you have a predator lurking behind a bush, if you eat these berries and they’re poisonous, you may not live, right? All of these different things in that world – it pays to be very cautious, it pays to be very skittish, it pays to avoid taking risks and to be very anxious about what might happen to you if you were to take a certain course of action. In reality, that sort of behavior is deeply engrained into us. Some people use the term “lizard brain” to describe that type of behavior.
Another way this manifests is in fast classifications. If you’re living in a world and you see something, hunter-gatherer sight, and you see something? You need to be able to classify it immediately and people that work really quickly at classifying “that’s a threat, that’s dangerous, this is safe.” The most quickly they could do that, the faster they could make a decision, and the higher probability they have of surviving. But the reality is a lot of times those fast classifications in today’s society, we end up making the wrong classifications, or are evolutionary programmed mental shortcuts end up short-circuiting. 99% of the time, those shortcuts are designed to be incredibly effective, right? To the point that there’s so much information that deluges us every day that we get hit with. Nonstop ads and e-mails and all kinds of things, that we have to have an ability to filter out a lot of that junk. But the reality is, occasionally, these fast classifications and these mental filters, will let something in or classify something in a way that’s completely inappropriate, and you have this sort of outsized event takes place there a massive mistake happens, that you never could have foreseen because your mental shortcuts essentially misfired.
Another thing that was preprogrammed to us in this hunter-gatherer world is the focus on society and the tribe. If you think about, you know, from a reproductive standpoint, somebody who gets exiled from the tribe, loses food, lose potential mates, lose – it’s pretty much a death sentence in many ways to get exiled from a tribe in a hunter-gatherer world. So, people naturally develop the traits that led them to wanting to please others, and many of these traits are incredibly beneficial. Occasionally they misfire. But focusing on not wanting to – not wanting to do something that’s not socially acceptable. Wanting to get the approval of other people. All of these things were essential in survival in a world where being exiled from the tribe means your death.
But the reality is all of these different filters manifest themselves in a way that is completely counterintuitive and unproductive in many of the contexts we find ourselves today in the modern world. The same sort of Click, Whirr psychological shortcuts that are essential to survival in the hunter-gatherer world, in today’s high-pressure business and social situations, can give us exactly sort of the wrong impulse, exactly the wrong way to think about how to handle these situations. And so this idea that there are sort of hard biological limits on your mind, your subconscious, your mind, your ability to process things, your innate, built in biases and the way you perceive the world. Every single human has a ton of inherent challenges and problems inside their mental machinery. It’s been pre-programmed to us for millions of years where, evolution, the hunter-gatherer society, has essentially sculpted the human brain into a tool that, while perfectly optimized to survive and reproduce in the world of a million years ago, has a number of shortcomings in today’s society.
This is kind of one of the most critical first things to understand if you really want to understand the psychology of peak performance. You have to understand what the physical limits of the brain are. You have to understand that these limits exist so you can start to realize and see the patterns in the ways that it plays out where your biological limits within your mind naturally cause you to make certain judgements - to feel certain ways - to think about things in a certain fashion that are not the right ways to think about it, that are not the optimal ways to think about it. And so, throughout the course of this podcast, I’m going to teach you a bunch of different cognitive biases, a bunch of different ways that you trick yourself, that your mental circuitry short-circuits and give you the tools and capabilities to be able to overcome these problems, be able to understand and see your own mental limitations so you can achieve the goals you want to achieve, so you can be successful, so you can master your own psychology.
Warren Buffett has an analogy where he talks about the mind as a motor. Your IQ, or your innate intelligence or talent, represents your horsepower. Right? Say, an engine has 500 horsepower, whatever it might be. Your IQ sort of represents that raw potential. But your output is what actually counts, right? Do you have the toolkit mentally and the mindset and the ability to use that 500 horsepower engine to go 10 miles an hour, or to go a hundred miles an hour? And the biological limits set in place by evolution over millions of years of human history are going to naturally constrain in many ways your ability to do that, and without the sort of self-awareness and knowledge of what those biases are, you’re inherently limiting your ability to maximize the output of your engine. So, I want to teach you the tools. I want to give you the framework to think about all of these different pieces of the puzzle so you can really understand how am I lying to myself? How is my mind tricking me? What are the shortcuts that are naturally misfiring in my mind, that are causing me to have these challenges, or issues, or preventing me from achieving the goals that I want to achieve?
And so that’s what we’re going to talk about throughout this series, Science of Success. And this is really one of the cornerstones, kind of fundamental pieces of understanding what is necessary to sort of grasp the depths of the human mind, and grasp and understand how performance really functions, and how the mind truly functions.