An exec at Alphabet's moonshot lab says treating his brain like an employee has made him happier

Mo gawdat workshop 2Anthony MichaelConsider your brain a direct report, says Mo Gawdat, pictured at the ‘Solve for Happy’ workshop.

Your brain is lazy. Don’t take it personally — everyone’s is.

Ask it to come up with a solution to a problem (how many letters are on this page?), and it will immediately spit out something easy (count them!), even if it’s not the most effective (use a digital word count tool).

Under stress, the brain is even more of a slacker, meaning the first response it generates isn’t usually the one you want to act on.

This is something Mo Gawdat has thought about a lot. Gawdat is the chief business officer of Alphabet’s moonshot lab, X. After the untimely death of his son, Ali, Gawdat published “Solve for Happy,” in which he applies his engineer’s mentality to the problem of unhappiness.

In August, I attended a free “Solve for Happy” workshop that Gawdat led in New York City, where he shared a clever trick for not letting his lazy brain sabotage his chances at happiness.

Simply put, he treats his brain like one of his employees.

For a long time after his son’s death, which occurred unexpectedly during an operation, Gawdat was tortured by the thought that he should have taken his son to a different hospital. At some point, Gawdat realised that these painful thoughts weren’t helpful — he couldn’t bring back his son.

He started to interact with his brain like a direct report — when it presented such a thought, he would tell it, “Bring me another one” until his brain produced something more productive. Or, he might say, “Thank you, brain. What can I do with it?”

I spoke to Gawdat a few weeks after the workshop and he told me: “Treat your brain as the best tool that you have.”

In other words, don’t treat your brain as perfect. Even a stellar employee sometimes needs to be pushed to do better or make some revisions, and so does your brain.

Gawdat said this strategy gets easier the more you use it — it might feel a little weird at first to talk to your brain like you’d talk to another person. (You can do it silently.)

Over time, Gawdat said, this process becomes “second nature.”

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