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You Can’t Stop Your Brain from Predicting.

Human brains predict. In fact, we constantly anticipate in order to perceive.  

We learned in grade school that our five senses receive input and then we react to the information.  However, our teachers were wrong. Neuroscientists now know that we constantly rely on our expectations. For example, you don’t know it but even your perception of this sentence stems from your knowledge of English and the context you find yourself in.   

You cannot stop this from happening – it’s just how we work.

While self-help advice often demands we stop conjecturing, do not waste your time. Anticipation runs the show. Attempting to avoid predictions only creates more misperception and misdirection. Instead, be glad for all the work prediction does. In a way, it is like the productivity benefit of your own personal AI.    

Learn to work with yourself. Notice your expectations—think of this as the “what” you’re predicting. Ask yourself something along the lines of… “What do I expect to happen? What happened last time?” Next, examine the “why”. Consider if your anticipated outcome is about your personal safety (actual or social) or the question you are analyzing? While the brain prioritizes your self-interest, what keeps you personally safe is rarely the right answer in a business or market risk analysis.  

Do not fall for the “don’t think that way” or “don’t say that” advice. Thinking or saying things does not make them come true! In fact, saying the things you actually think aloud – and in a perfect world, to a good listener – contributes to the best outcome coming into view. You can consciously work with all the information your subconscious uses. Really, you’re giving yourself more information to work with.

Get in the habit of asking “What do I expect here?” “What always happens?” You do not need to fear the most truthful answer to “What’s the worst that could happen?” Power lies in being honest with yourself. Understanding your worst case usually improves your analysis of the actual risk.  

It is not clear why putting subconscious thoughts into words possesses the perceptual magic that it does. But it does. Our range of choices expands when we admit and own our default predictions. We can’t change our patterns if we don’t know and/ or refuse to admit they exist.

The best part, however, lies in the phenomenon of being conscious of our formerly subconscious predictions. This process opens our minds to hearing the voices of our expertise – otherwise known as intuition or instinct. And as one researcher said: intuitive reasoning contributes to performance in hard, fast- paced probability tasks.”

The trick is to learn to tell the difference between your intuition and your history-based prediction.


Furlan, Agnoli and Reyna, 2016.

Andy Clark, Cognitive Neuroscientist: How the Brain Shapes Reality

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