The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is The 'Onion Brain'?

To understand human behavior, it's important to understand the brain. The Onion Brain is an easy way to remember how the brain is constructed: it has layers, like an onion.

One of the best things you can do to get more done is to dissociate yourself from the voice in your head. The voice isn't always right, it just likes to highlight things around you.

Meditation is a simple practice that can help you separate "you" from the voice in your head. Nothing mystical, just breathe and watch what your mind does. It will eventually get quieter.

Josh Kaufman Explains The 'Onion Brain'

Most of us identify with the voice inside our head that's constantly commenting about the world around us. That voice is sometimes electric with excitement, but more often, it's uncertain, concerned, or scared.

Fortunately, "you" are not that voice. "You" are only a small part of your brain.

The voice in your head is just a radio announcer, commenting on what your brain is doing automatically. It is not you-your consciousness is actually what your brain uses to solve problems it can't handle on autopilot.

Since human behavior has its roots in the brain, it's very useful to understand how your brain is actually constructed. Here's a brief (and massively oversimplified) look at how your brain works.

Think of the Brain as an Onion-it has several layers, which sit on top of each other.

At the core is a structure called the hindbrain, which is essentially responsible for keeping you alive. The hindbrain is responsible for all of the physiological functions necessary for survival: heart rate, sleeping, waking, reflexes, muscle movements, and biological urges.

Located at base of the brain, the hindbrain is sometimes called the "lizard brain" because this basic neurological structure appears in all of our biological precursors, including reptiles and amphibians.

The hindbrain is primarily responsible for generating signals that are passed down through nerve synapses to every part of our body, resulting in our physical actions.

Above your hindbrain is the midbrain, which is responsible for processing sensory data, emotion, memory, and Pattern Matching.

Our midbrains are constantly (and automatically) predicting what will happen next, then sending that information to the hindbrain, which readies our body for immediate action. The midbrain is the radio announcer, and the hindbrain is the radio.

Sitting just above the midbrain is a thin, folded layer of tissue-the forebrain.

This small sheet of neural matter is responsible for the cognitive capabilities that make us distinctly human: self- awareness, logic, deliberation, inhibition, and choice. Developmentally speaking, the forebrain is very new, and likely evolved to help us handle ambiguity.

Most of the time, our midbrain and hindbrain run the show-we're operating on instinct and autopilot. That changes, however, when we face something unexpected or unfamiliar, which confounds midbrain's ability to predict what will happen next. In those moments, the forebrain kicks into gear, gathering data and considering options.

After some deliberation and analysis, the forebrain decides what to do based on what appears to be best at the time. Once a Choice is made, the midbrain and hindbrain assume normal operation and carry out the decision.

Neuroscientists are probably ready to shoot me at this point, but this very basic model of the brain is accurate enough to be useful.

P.J. Eby, my "mind hacking" friend and mentor, uses a great analogy to explain the relationship between the different parts of your mind: your brain is a horse, and "you" are the rider.

Your "horse" is intelligent-it moves on its own, can identify challenges, and will balk at things that appear dangerous or scary. "You," the rider, are there to set a direction and reassure the "horse" that it's safe to proceed.

One of the best things you can do to get things done is to dissociate yourself from the voice in your head. The radio announcer has the attention span of a two-year-old hopped up on several cans of Red Bull. Its job is to highlight things in your environment you may be interested in paying attention to-things that may fulfill one of your Core Human Drives or present some danger.

That doesn't mean the voice is always right, or that you must take everything it says as gospel truth.

Meditation is a simple practice that can help you separate "you" from the voice in your head. There's nothing mystical or magical about meditation-you simply breathe and watch what your "monkey mind" does without associating yourself with it. After a while, the voice becomes quieter, improving your ability to keep yourself on the course you choose.

A few moments of quiet meditation every day can be the difference between feeling scared and overwhelmed and feeling in control of your destiny.

If you're interested in learning to meditate, I recommend Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana and Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Questions About The 'Onion Brain'


"The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the unanimous view of all parts of my mind."

Malcolm McMahon, bishop of Nottingham


From Chapter 6:

The Human Mind


https://personalmba.com/onion-brain/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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