‘Self-Portrait as a painter’ by Vincent van Gogh

In a letter to his younger brother Theo on October 2, 1884, Vincent Van Gogh wrote about the fear of mistakes:

If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, “violates”…

The three evolutionary layers of the triune brain are the very ancient brain (reptilian), the later mammal brain (limbic system), and, the more recent human brain (neocortex).

(The ‘triune model’ is not literal but is metaphorically useful)

Reptile Brain

Your inner-most, smallest and most ancient reptilian brain may well be your most treasured possession. It controls everything you value most, your life systems. It runs your body temperature, blood sugar levels, heart rate and blood pressure, your respiration, releasing hormones for all the daily house-keeping and maintaining homeostasis or balance. Your reptile brain regulates deep evolutionary maintenance and self-healing. It’s hard-earned digital wisdom has been curated over the course of a million successful generations. It’s IP value in dollarized terms is simply priceless.

Mammal Brain

Your life systems reptilian brain is in constant conversation 24/7/365 with your emotional mammalian brain. Your wide repertoire of emotions ranging from fear, anxiety and anger to sexual longing to surprise, joy, sadness, trust and disgust. These are all triggered and/or switched in the mammalian brain. These mood changes and emotional switches are in sync with high speed parallel processing in the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain can stimulate the mammalian brain … and, of course, vice versa.

Human Brain

Enter your BIG human brain! This new brain, the neo-cortex, is also in conversation 24/7/365 with both the older brains. As you would expect, their conversations can stimulate responses in the human cortical brain … and, again, vice versa. All three evolutionary brains are in constant digital engagement up and down the neuronal layers of the triune brain (reminder that this is not literally accurate but is so, metaphorically).

So what?

So what does this mean to you on a daily basis? It means that real fear and imagined fear both work the same way in stimulating stress responses in the triune brain.

When you are walking alone through Hyde Park at night and you suddenly hear a sinister sound behind you, your heart will suddenly pump faster, you will be flooded with adrenalin and other stress hormones, your blood pressure will spike and your skin will crawl. You will have a stress response whether Jack the serial killer is actually there … or not.

The Stress Response

Daily Stress

The problem on a daily basis is this: what if you are turning on the stress response too often and too long for imagined or psychological reasons and doing this on a daily basis?

In other words, chronic stress.

The answer is: Imagining Jack every day will kill you just as surely as the real Jack will, only it will take a little longer.

The stress response doesn’t have to be fear of Jack, of course. It can be other stress inducing causes like fear of mistakes or failure in career, business or job-related situations, fear of family crises, relationship conflicts, social media, fear of political or global issues etc etc etc.

The take away is that the reptile brain’s stress response is there to save your life from the real, but rare, life-threatening crisis like a sudden ambush from a Jack or a charging elephant. But, continuous imagined or psychological crises in the mammal brain, on a daily basis, will cause cascading stress responses that can give you depression, alcohol dependence, ulcers and heart disease.

Lateral thinking avoids stress

The greatest opportunity on Earth, for cognitive fitness, is lateral thinking. The numerical synonym for lateral thinking is x10 thinking. Although it is not natural for humans it can be taught and learned.

Lateral thinking (x10 thinking) is our best tool for creating value, our best hope for solving wicked problems, our best defense against imagined fears, fear of mistakes, fear of failure in career, business or job-related situations, fear of family crises, relationship conflicts, social media, fear of political or global issues etc etc etc.

 

 

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to change your mind.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to escape from your current viewpoint.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to stop defending your current viewpoint.

Speed of thought is how long it takes you to switch to a much better viewpoint.

The biggest roadbump to speed of thought is your fear of being wrong.

The most common cause of cognitive inertia is mistake-phobia, the morbid fear of making a mistake. Excessive use of logic makes us fearful thinkers.

Logic is a natural thinking style for humans because it is driven by the strong emotion of fear. The fear of mistakes.

Western education has put too great an emphasis on logic, the kind of binary thinking focused on judgement of right/wrong or good/bad or black/white.

At the level of human2human relationships, many causes of daily conflict often are exacerbated by binary I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong logic-style thinking.

Our obsession with logic is bad philosophy.

Our over-use of logic has made us very slow thinkers. Very fearful thinkers. Very aggressive thinkers.

A wicked problem is one which cannot be solved using human logic, our current way of thinking.

The rapid acceleration of global climate change, the unprecedented scale of the nuclear threat and the rising hegemony of artificial intelligence are all examples of wicked problems that cannot be solved with logic.

At the level of human2human relationships, many causes of daily conflict often are not solved but are exacerbated by binary I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong logic-style thinking.

Logic is natural to the human brain’s limbic system because it is driven by the emotion of fear. In particular, the fear of ‘mistakes’.

In contrast, lateral thinking is not natural to the human brain. It is counter-intuitive. It requires re-wiring. Rather like driving a car, It must be acquired as a skill with deliberate practise and repetition over time.

Lateral thinking is a skill that we should be teaching our children … because they are going to need it!