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Hi! I’m Luca. How can I help?
Email me. I reply within 24h.

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Most of the frustration I encountered in my life came from the problems large enough to bring me stress, but not large enough for me to face them once and for all.

Mysteriously, my problems seemed to stop growing just before reaching the size that would force me to address them. It wasn’t magic. Simply, whenever they would reach a certain size, I would look the other way. I would pretend that they do not exist, that they are not problems, or that there is nothing I can do to address them.

I remember this state of feeling stuck. It characterized much of my early adulthood. It didn’t pervade all my life – I had many reasons to be happy – but it definitely marked parts of it.

When I did take action, it was never effective action. Sometimes, I engaged in busywork. These were actions that I considered not because they were useful – they weren’t – but because they gave me a feeling of usefulness.

Other times, I took what looked like a shortcut. These were actions promising to bring me results without leaving my comfort zone. Of course, it never worked. How could it have ever worked? These shortcuts seemed to make sense, but none of the people I wanted to become had used them. If they did work, wouldn’t everyone use them?

Instead, the only people using these shortcuts were those like me, those who couldn’t face their problems, those who refused to do what reliably worked for others, and ended up stuck in a world of frustration, excuses, and rationalizations. Often to the point of suppressing their dreams in a desperate attempt to hide their inadequacies.

Does it feel familiar? I believe that everyone experienced this, at least for parts of his or her life. It is inevitable. Whenever we desire an outcome but not the actions that would make us achieve it, we end up with inaction, busywork, shortcuts, excuses, and, ultimately, frustration.

The solution is not the one that our parents, teachers, and managers tell us. “Just do it!” “Want it more!” or “Put more effort!” But motivation is not a dial somewhere in our brain that we can rotate at our pleasure. Instead, motivation is the result of our emotional associations. We can only change them by living new experiences that bring us new emotional associations by letting us experience the benefits of the actions we should be taking.

By asking us to put more effort, parents, teachers, and managers arrogantly ask us to rotate a dial that does not exist. Instead, they should humbly acknowledge that, for the neurological reasons explained in later sections, motivation is a reaction that we can only influence indirectly. If they wanted to help, they should facilitate those emotional experiences that would create new associations with the actions that we would benefit from taking.

Doing that is hard, I know. One reason is that emotions are subjective. When the same event causes different people to react differently, it is difficult to help each other making sense of our world.

Another reason is that there is little clarity on how our brain works. School teaches us how our brain looks, but do not explain how it works and, most importantly, how to best use it.

Hence why I decided to research and write this book. I wanted to give everyone an understanding of their most powerful tool, their brain. In particular, I had two goals. First, I wanted to describe its functioning, giving everyone a manual to use it to the best of its capabilities. Second, I wanted to offer a guide detailing the purpose of our brain, celebrating its marvelous features and warning of its necessary limitations. Perhaps, if we understood better our brain and its functioning, we could love ourselves and others more.

End of the excerpt

This is an excerpt from my book “The Control Heuristic​: Explaining Irrational Behavior and Behavioral Change”. You can purchase the book here.

Cover for The Control Heuristic, 2nd edition
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