Your Reptilian Brain

What if I told you that you don’t understand most of the core reasons how you make your decisions? What if I told you those rational reasons you bought that home or dated that girl are complete bullshit? What if I could help you get to the heart of how and why people make decisions? Once you understand how your reptilian brain works I want to show you how you can use it to your advantage. Have you ever purchased a vehicle, home or other large ticket item? Why did you purchase this item? Seriously, why did you buy this item? Humor me, take out a piece of paper and write down all the reasons you bought this item. Make a feature column and a decision-making process column and fill them out. If you bought a car it would look something like this:



                         Desired Features                                                               Decision Making Process

Gas mileage

Received recommendations from dealerships


Looked at the gas mileage and warranty

Trunk Space

Looked at the trunk


Drove the cars


Negotiated with the dealership




Now look at the reasons you wanted to buy this item. Notice how on paper our decision-making process is centered around rationally based decisions. My guess, is that nowhere on that piece of paper did you write down anything emotionally based like:

  • Cool looking car - because I wanted to impress people.
  • High Status vehicle - because I want people to think I am important.
  • Familiarity – because that is what I drove in the past and had a good experience.

These are emotionally based decisions and you know what? All of us make them. Not only do we all make them but they are at the core of the decisions we make. But Brandon, if we make emotional decisions then why did I write down rational reasons for the large ticket item I purchased? Because, and here is the kicker, we tend to make emotional decisions and then rationalize it. This process masks the true intention why we made the decision in the first place. You may think you bought a car primarily for the gas mileage and warranty but really you bought it because you wanted to look cool and had a good experience with that vehicle in the past.

Why do we do this?

Because our decision making process follows a pattern:

Gut à Heart à Brainstem (Reptilian Brain) à Neocortex

Our decision usually starts in the gut known as the “gut instinct.” That feeling then moves into the heart where it then moves into the brainstem. The brainstem or reptilian brain is responsible for our emotionally based decisions. It then gets fired into the neocortex. The Neocortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for rational decision making. This is where our emotionally based decisions get twisted into a rational decision. Most of our decisions derive from the Reptilian brain. Here is how the Reptilian Brain works.

The reptilian brain is responsible for:

  1. Comparative Analysis
  2. Loss vs savings
  3. Physical and Emotional Pain

Let’s take a closer look at these.

Comparative Analysis

Ever gone onto Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and saw what everybody else was doing? Did you feel like their life was better in any way? Maybe you saw your old friend getting married and it made you more self-conscious that you are still single. Maybe you saw your buddy getting promoted at his job and it made you feel like your career wasn’t going anywhere. This is the reptilian brain at work. We are constantly comparing ourselves to other people.

Loss vs savings

Think of a time when you purchased a large ticket item in the past. Maybe it was a home or a car. Were you able to negotiate any savings in the deal? If so, how much? Do you recall what the negotiating process was like? Who you spoke with? The names of the people involved? Chances are if you have purchased a large ticket item in the past it may be difficult for you to recall the savings you were rewarded with on the item. Now, how about a time you were burglarized or broke up with someone? Can you remember the day it happened? Do you remember how it happened? The name of the people involved? I’d be willing to bet that you can recall every detail of the experience and how you felt when it happened. I know this because I just came back from a training course showing this in a live demonstration. The instructor asked 3 people who have purchased homes in the last 10 years to get on stage and tell us about the experience. All 3 people remember they had saved significantly on the price of the home but no one was able to recall how much they saved, the negotiating process, or the names of the individuals involved. Then, he asked if anybody had been burglarized in the last 10 years. He picked 3 hands that went up. When asked about their experience they remembered the exact day and time it happened. They remembered every single detail of the experience. One guy’s story went like this. “I’ll never forget it, I came home early at 3:00pm and opened the garage door. All my tools and wakeboards were gone. I began to sense something was wrong. When I opened the door to my home a gust of wind hit me so I knew another door was open in the house. That’s when I saw all the dishes smashed on the ground. Everything was gone. We had been completely cleaned out. I knew the guy who did it because we found photos of him wearing my son’s clothes on Facebook but there was not enough evidence to charge him. We knew who did it and there was nothing we could do. It was a deep feeling of helplessness and loss.” As I sat and listened to this man’s story I could feel the hurt in his voice. He was reliving this horrifying experience going through all the emotions he felt at the time of the event.

The point is, our brains are hard wired to experience more emotion with a “loss” rather than a “gain” (savings, reward etc.)

Physical and Emotional pain

We all know what physical pain feels like but what does emotional pain feel like? If you have kids, have you ever been sitting at dinner and heard a knock at the door? What conclusion does your brain jump to? You probably felt alarmed. Your epinephrine glands start pumping and your fight or flight instinct kicks in. You open the door only to find out it’s the Fedex guy delivering those water filters you ordered last week. This is our Reptilian brain hard at work.

Now, I am not saying that every decision we make is an emotional decision. There are plenty of scenarios where we make rational decisions. We are not totally controlled by our emotions. What I am saying is that if you start to question “why” on the decisions you make then you will find many of your rational reasons are rooted in emotional reasons. This can be huge for a variety of reasons. What if we are a car salesman and the potential customer we are speaking with is telling us MPG, Warranty, Trunk Space, and Acceleration are the features they want in a vehicle? You are going to start showing them vehicles that have those features. The problem is that the customer may not be consciously aware of what they really want – a car that looks cool, is a status symbol, and familiar to the car they had a good experience with in the past. You would completely miss the real reasons your potential customers want to buy and that will cost you dearly.


How to use this information

Let’s say you are trying to influence someone. You could be trying to sell someone on a product, convince your friends to hang out, or motivate your kid to do their chores. How do we position something to make the biggest impact? We proved emotions have a stronger impact than rationality on our decision-making process. So first, we need to appeal to emotional reptilian brain rather than the rational Neocortex. Second, we know that we are wired to attach more emotion to loss over reward so we need to position as a loss. Third, we need to understand how this individual compares themselves to others and who those individuals are. Do they look up to anyone? Do they want to be the same as everyone? Do they want to be different than everyone? Let’s play this out in 3 different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Selling someone a product

Rational selling – Doctor, this all suture anchor is much smaller than what you are currently using so it is less invasive to the patient and if you ever get a pull out you have a soft body bouncing around in the joint rather than a destructive hard body object. This product is going to save you more time in the OR because it is self-punching and is also less expensive so it will save your facility money. Want to try it out?

Emotional Selling – Doctor, this all suture anchor is going hedge your risks for revisions and help you attract patients from other surgeon’s practices because it is less invasive and safer to use. If you ever did have a pull out you don’t have to stay awake at night wondering if this patient’s joint will ever recover because there will be a soft body bouncing around in the joint rather than a destructive hard body. Because its self-punching, it is quicker to use. You will get off work sooner and spend more time with your wife and kids. By the way, it happens to be less expensive so it will also help your surgery center stop bleeding money. Doctor Stevens just switched to it and is loving the results. Want to try it out?


Notice how we appealed to all parts of the reptilian brain:

  1. We appealed to the doctor’s emotions explaining how it will help him sleep at night, ease his mind on patient recovery, allow him to spend less time at work, and more time at home with his family.
  2. We positioned as a loss rather than savings by explaining how this product will stop his surgery center from bleeding money.
  3. We used comparative analysis by introducing Dr. Stevens to the equation. This was assuming he looked up to Dr. Stevens or he trusted his opinion. If we knew this doctor wanted to differentiate himself from everyone else then we would have positioned this item as a revolutionary new product that we wanted to bring It to him first.


Scenario 2: Convincing your child to do a chore.

Rational Selling – Johnny, you need to take the trash out, clean the bathroom, and unload the dishwasher. Once you are done you will be free and I will give you your weekly allowance.


Emotional Selling – Johnny, you need to take the trash out, clean the bathroom, and unload the dishwasher. Your losing valuable time being outside like everyone else having fun jumping on the trampoline.  The faster you do it the sooner I can give you your allowance so you can buy the captain America doll that everyone else is playing with.


Notice how we appealed to all parts of the Reptilian Brain:

  1. We appealed to Johnny’s emotions by explaining how he could be having fun on the trampoline and playing with the captain America doll when he was finished.
  2. We positioned not doing the chores as a loss rather a gain. He is losing time to play with the doll and have fun on the trampoline with his friends.
  3. We used comparative analysis by comparing him to his friends. They were outside playing and had the captain America doll he desired. We positioned doing the chores in a way that would enable him to do and obtain the things his friends had.


Scenario 3: Convincing your friends to do something.

Rational Selling – Hey guys, the game is tonight. Let’s get tickets and go watch it. Tickets are only $12. It will be the only time we get to see these 2 teams play this season.

Emotional Selling – Hey guys, the game is tonight. Tickets will never be $12 again and this is the last game of the season these 2 teams will play. Let’s not lose out on this once in a lifetime opportunity. I could see this turning into that wild night at Scott’s Bachelor party after the other baseball game. Don’t be the slob at home with nothing to do. When you’re 50, are you going to look back and wish you had spent more time at home on the couch or out with your buddies doing the things you love.

Notice how we appealed to all parts of the Reptilian brain:

  1. We appealed to their emotions by position the game as a potential opportunity to relive one of the best nights together – Scott’s bachelor party.
  2. We positioned this as a loss by explaining how tickets will never be $12 again, how the teams won’t play again this season, and as losing a night out with your buddies doing what you love.
  3. We used comparative analysis to compare them to guys at home with nothing to do. We also positioned this so they could compare themselves to 50 year old men looking back on their life of regrets. Who wants to look back and regret not having more fun?


What are your thoughts? Comment below I would love to hear from you!