Does your income match your effort? Or does it feel sorta stuck? Many people experience a plateau in their earning potential—even when they’re working harder than ever.
But guess what? It’s not your intelligence, or your skills, or even your boss. Your income may be stagnating because of . . . YOUR BRAIN!
In addition to all of the great stuff your brain does, sometimes it’s kind of a hindrance.
This is partly because brains just love automation. Thinking takes a lot of energy—the energy that you might otherwise be spent hunting for food or fending off predators.
(You, like most of us, probably shop at a grocery store. Our brains just haven't caught up to the fact that food is easy to get.)
Your brain is conservative with its energy use because it was necessary for survival hundreds of years ago. Instead of using conscious thinking processes, you have automatic patterns and habits.
How Automatic Thinking Impacts Your Financial Success
There’s a little part of your brain that actually predicts how much you will earn in the future. It’s called the “frontostriatal pathway.”
It’s fortune-telling powers arise because it relies on all of the information from yourpast.
(Often, your past does determine your future.)
Here’s why. The frontostriatal pathway holds onto your “hidden self-image,” or, your non-conscious identity. This image of yourself drives behavior, more strongly than your conscious decisions and desires.
For example, people who win large sums of money in the lottery are very likely to be broke again, after a short amount of time. Increasing their wealth overnight without first shifting their identities caused most lottery winners to return to their pre-lottery states.
It’s not because the winners aren’t smart, or don’t have skills.
It’s because there’s a financial set point in the brain.
Your set point is your comfort zone. It’s an accumulation of data from your past, that your brain uses to predict (and drive you toward) a certain income level.
If you’ve been earning the same amount for the last ten years, that income level is part of your hidden self-image. And if you try earning more by breaking out of your comfort zone, a little alarm will go off in your brain.
Your Brain and Big Change
You have a teeny brain area called the hypothalamus, and it’s big on maintaining homeostasis.
It functions kinda like a thermostat.
When your hypothalamus senses a big change, it immediately wants to get back to the set point. It influences your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, to get you back into your comfort zone. The more your frontostriatal pathway enforces a belief, the more it sets in with your hidden self-image.
Perhaps you have a conscious idea of the income that you want to be earning. If it’s a lot more than what you have been earning, you’re competing with a strong, unconscious sense of self.
It’s in the background, subtly causing you to maintain whatever level of financial achievement you’ve conditioned your brain to expect.
The latest research shows thatanychange in the brain is interpreted as stressful — regardless of whether it’s a good change or bad change. Any big change activates the fear center, your “amygdala.”
When that little guy lights up, it makes you do one of three things: freeze in your tracks, fight the change, or run away from it.
How to Overcome Your "Set Point"
If you want tomake a change in your life, you have to get your frontostriatal pathway on board. When your non-conscious self matches your conscious image and desires, you will start earning what you desire.
Rather than trying big changes, research suggests that small changes in your thoughts or behaviors won’t activate your amygdala.
Visualization is a fantastic small change to make in your thinking. If you imagine yourself after you achieved the success you want, you activate the nucleus accumbens and insula. These are the motivation centers in the brain — they get you excited to take action on reaching your goals
Want to try a thought exercise?
Imagine yourself sitting in a Hollywood cafe. A famous producer comes up to you and introduces himself. He then tells you that he’s producing a new Hollywood movie. He saw you from across the room, and he thinks you’d be perfect for a role.
If you like the script and are willing to be in the movie, he’ll pay you $5,000,000.
Would you be excited? Shocked? Maybe even a little scared?
Let’s assume you agree to accept the challenge, after some tests and discussions. You agree to do your very best to play the role, then you sing the contract and take your script.
What do you do first?
If you really want to nail the part and have people believe you when you play the part, would you practice reading, acting and imagining the role? With practice, in your mind and through your behavior, you would start to integrate the role. The more familiar the role becomes, the more youbecomethe role.
This is exactly what happens when you try to integrate any new role into your brain.
When you’re working with your self-image, and you add knowledge, skills, and ability, your goal and vision become one. Your frontostriatal pathway has new image integrated with old one.
You have changed from the inside out.
Do this for the next 7 days.
To get started activating the part of your brain that manages your self-image, try this trick:
Sit quietly for 5 minutes and see yourself already achieving the financial goals you have for yourself.
See it in your mind's eye . . . role play with yourself and ask yourself questions:
What are you wearing? Who are you with? What are you feeling? And doing?
What is the entire emotion that you’re experiencing?
The more detailed you are, the more easily you can retrain your unconscious self-image of yourself.
Practice is really the art of repeating something until it feels normal. Just like riding a bike, or learning the alphabet. Learning how to become the script requires focused attention and spaced repetition so it really sinks in. So does creating the new self-image you want.
If you like brain science, and you want to learn more techniques and tips for achieving a success mindset, watch our Brain-A-Thon event. It's chock-full of insight from experts in the field of neuroscience and success.
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About The Author
John Assaraf is one of the leading mindset and behavioral experts in the world, with a unique ability to help people release mental and emotional blocks that keep them from achieving their life’s biggest goals and dreams.
He's written 2 New York Times Bestselling books, appeared on Larry King, and was featured in 8 movies, including "Quest For Success" with Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama.
Now, he is the CEO of NeuroGym, a company dedicated to using the most advanced neuroscience-based training to help individuals and maximize their fullest potential.