Introducing you to you

Posted on under Today's research

There are hundreds of dating and introduction sites out there, even ones introducing lawyers to lawyers, but none that can introduce you to yourself.

Well, I want to correct that. As a behavioural neurogeneticist and a psychologist I may be the best one to affect the introduction. Come in and let’s talk a while.

First, and most importantly, let me tell you that you are a relationship forming animal. You are genetically driven to seek out and retain supportive relationships. In fact, some 80 percent of all your DNA and your neurobiology (what goes on in your genes and your skull) are geared, in some way, to achieving that end. It is as fundamental a drive as eating, mating and seeking shelter.

Your worst fear is social exclusion or abandonment. That can come in many forms. Part of the grief of the passing of a loved one is the sense that we have been abandoned. The survivor, whose husband or wife has died after a long marriage, will likely die shortly afterwards. A poignant example is Johnny Cash who only survived a short time after his wife June Carter died.

Being forced to leave the firm you work at is another abandonment. The chances of having a heart attack go up exponentially each time this happens because you feel excluded from your work “tribe.” And we are starting to find that being “unfriended” on Facebook or other social media has something of the same effect and can lead to profound depression and even physical illness.

We scientists are finding out so much more about you, almost by the day.

Take rationality. Not even lawyers are rational: facts and reason (despite all the appearances to the contrary) play a very little part in your decision-making process—probably none at all. Your decisions are based on your genetically-driven predispositions interacting with your past experiences, your present context, your neurophysiology and even the microbiota of your gut. These forces work together at incredible speed. The amygdala, a part of the brain directly involved in decisions, works in nanoseconds. The result is that you often arrive at a decision long before you’re aware that you made it. To tell the truth, research has shown that the worst way to make a decision is to carefully weigh the pros and cons and examine the facts—even the “big data” facts. Going with your “gut” results in a better decision over 65 percent of the time.

Yet, of course, as lawyers you’re trained “to weigh the options”, to appeal to facts and reason and trust that clients, and others (even your teenage children), will respond to your rational advice. They may, but it has nothing to do with your reasoning; rather their relationships with you.

You’re a learning machine. The human brain was constructed to learn. It’s one of the main reasons you became a lawyer in the first place. When you stop learning, your systems start preparing you to die. The cessation of learning is seen as one of the causes to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The longer you continue to learn the longer you live.

You’re a status-driven creature. Your subconscious sees having status as akin to having safety—which it is, since all societies, even law firms, strive to keep those of highest status safe. We seek status in the form of acknowledgement and praise. Both of these give the brain shots of dopamine and oxytocin, two powerful reward neurochemicals. Dopamine makes the brain work smarter, faster and more creatively. It also makes you feel happier and more satisfied with life. It strengthens the immune system and with oxytocin it bonds you to those who give you the praise and acknowledgement.

Maybe instead of reason and punishment you should try praise and acknowledgement to get people to do what you want.

You probably don’t like change. That’s not surprising since the prospect of change goes through the same neural pathways as physical and emotional pain. You can only accept change if those that you value want you to, or if that’s what it takes to strengthen the relationship with them.

You are attracted to those you have most in common with—not, as the old adage had it, to opposites. In fact, the more you have in common with other people the more that you see them as part of your tribe and the more likely you are to trust and collaborate with them (or to stay happily married to them).

You are inventive. Very inventive. And yet you only innovate when you feel safe. When you feel threatened or stressed you only wind up doing more of the same, maybe harder, but not innovatively.

You’re a copy-cat and you are far more likely to do something, or even believe something, if those that you feel commonality with are doing or believing it. That’s why nearly all major law firms seem to march in lock-step with each other with very little variation. Their strategies for facing the future are basically the same.

You are designed to ‘work’ for a maximum for 10 hours a week. Really. Beyond that you become stressed. But you can ‘work’ longer hours if that work involves learning or being with people you like. Then your neurogenetic system doesn’t see it as work at all, but fun. Once more it’s the dopamine and oxytocin effect. The ‘work’ brings the neurochemical reward you strive for.

Oh, and don’t worry about aging. Modern research has shown that everyone ages at their own pace and largely it’s a psychological phenomenon. If you see yourself as young and vital you will be, no matter your chronological age. Don’t accept other people’s assumptions or worry about what they say regarding how you “ought” to “be at your age.” You really aren’t that age anyway.

Finally, the latest findings indicate that time itself is not what we thought it was. A series of studies showed, to everyone’s surprise, that time literally slows for those who live for the moment. Time rushes, you literally age faster, if you look forward to things in the future. In reality now is all you have, and now is all you will ever have. Live for that and live long and happily with the person I’ve introduced you to.


By Dr Bob Murray