Prediction Brains


Our brains are designed to make predictions. In addition to controlling things like heart rate, respiratory rate, immune response, and a whole host of reflexive processes in the body, it is trying to predict the future all the time. This is an incredibly useful aspect of our brains in order to keep us alive and safe.

According to Stanford Professor of Neurobiology Andrew Huberman, when a situation, goal or task is presented to us, our brains gets right to work trying to predict 3 key components: duration, path, and outcome. The brain tries to calculate how long it will take (duration), what are the likely steps it will need to take (path), and what the likely result will be (outcome). 

This is a heavy cognitive load on our brains. Especially when there is uncertainty with respect to the situation or task. If it is something familiar to the brain, these 3 aspects don’t necessarily come in to play as much. That’s because the situation or task is likely a habit. Or it’s something we are used to and have already performed the necessary calculations, so to speak.

When the uncertainty arises, the prediction process can be taxing on the brain and body. New situations and tasks can produce stress because the brain is working hard to calculate duration, path and outcome. In order to mitigate the stress in the face of uncertainty, Professor Huberman suggests focusing on one or two aspects to the prediction model, not all 3. Control what is controllable, and in this case, it’s all about the mind (as it is in most cases in life!). 

Focus on the Path

In my opinion, it’s best to focus on the path. Enjoy the moment. Embrace the grind. Don’t worry about how long it’s going to take to achieve something or what the outcome could be. They can (and likely) will change to some degree. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it can be stressful. 

This is why it’s about the journey, not about the destination. The reward is in the process, not the outcome. It’s better for the brain and stress levels to focus on the task at hand, not the time it takes to complete the task and what the reward may be once the task is complete. 

So the next time you are feeling the pressure of a deadline, a new goal at work, or a new project at home, break your actions up into small, incremental steps. Do the same for your thinking. Just focus on the work. Focus on getting better and the time it will take will get better. And the outcome will also likely get better.

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