And the Story of Cortex Evolution: Why I Committed to my Company Instead of a Career in Science
The panoramic picture above shows the beautiful view from the laboratory where I spent countless hours researching neuroscience and earning my Ph.D.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Similarly, science can be beautiful. It can be illuminating and objectively accurate. It can satisfy burning curiosities, cure burning diseases, and help cool a burning planet.
Yet here I am, giving it up for what one of my colleagues affectionately called “self-help bullsh**.”
My journey From Skeptic to Advocate of Personal Development
In my experience, changing for the better is often a hard, slow, frustrating process. How many goals have you not hit? How many weaknesses persist no matter how hard you try to improve them? How many bad habits just won’t go away? How many good habits fizzle out?
Too many to count, for me.
And yet, I used to resist everything that could have made the process easier. I used to hate anything related to “self-help.” It all seemed like woo-woo, feel-good nonsense that wouldn’t actually do any good.
(Spoiler: I still think a lot of it is exactly that.)
However, after 9+ years of studying and researching neuroscience and all the amazing ways that our brains can change, I gradually realized a crucial fact: personal development wasn’t the problem.
In fact, personal development can and should be an effective and joyful process that makes life easier, happier, and more fulfilling. And the more people do it, the more the whole world improves, too.
It took me over a decade of learning, growing, and healing to understand this. Now, self-improvement is my biggest passion.
What was the problem, then?
Turns out, there were two problems. Two problems with standard “self-help” that define exactly what I hated about it. Two problems that I had to deeply understand so that I could create ways to fix them, thus transforming “self-help” into actual personal progress that I (and you) can finally enjoy and employ.
I’ll think you’ll probably resonate with one or both of these problems. And I think you’ll probably appreciate what I’ve done to make sure that you and others like you never have to be held back by them again, like I was for so many years.
The first problem:
Indeed, many “self-help” ideas are, essentially, nonsense.
They’re hollow, unproven, faulty, impersonalized, and cliché.
People sell books and courses and coaching and programs based on what sells well to the masses instead of what actually works for individuals.
One thing that sells well is the placebo effect. Get people to do something, anything, that they believe will work, and their brains will often produce the desired outcome even if the treatment itself does absolutely nothing. The research shows that the more complicated the so-called “treatment,” the stronger the placebo effect.
Interestingly, another thing that sells is a description of how to sell more nonsense self-help to other people. And thus the empty cycle perpetuates itself.
All of that leaves people like you and me wasting countless energy and money on faulty advice, strategies, and programs that frustrate us more than they help. They make us believe that there’s something wrong with us, instead of them. They make us believe (mistakenly) that self-improvement just isn’t worth it, or isn’t even possible.
But in my Neuroscience Ph.D. program, I would sit in lectures, engage in discussions, and pore over scientific articles that mention over and over again all the amazing things our brains can do and all the amazing ways they can change thanks to neuroplasticity. I heard about all sorts of breakthrough discoveries about how the brain functions. And what was the result of all these discoveries?
Big societal changes?
People’s lives changing for the better?
A scientific paper would be published. If the author was lucky, future papers would cite the first paper.
So where were the new techniques and technologies that would actually help people?
Let me tell you from experience: unless they’re the one-in-a-million, a scientist’s life work is unlikely to ever meaningfully help anyone.
There exists a massive divide.
On the one side, billions of people who care about improving themselves but have only self-help nonsense to turn to (assuming they haven’t already given up). On the other side, thousands of incredible scientific discoveries that go unnoticed and unapplied by the world because they’re locked away in pay-to-view scientific journals and scientific articles full of too much technical jargon for most people to understand.
I founded Cortex Evolution because someone needs to bridge that gap so that science can actually help people*. Someone needs to be sufficiently trained in the sciences to understand the technical jargon and the conclusions that should (and should not) be reached. Someone who can tell the useless “brain-hacks” from real behavioral change strategies that actually work.
But unlike most scientists and scientific writers, whoever bridges that gap also needs to be personally and professionally experienced with the practical application of those strategies. After all, what sounds great on paper could become utterly useless when you have two jobs, two kids, or two in-progress degrees to worry about. You’re not a rat in a lab. You’re a real person. Just like no cliche “self-help” nonsense will solve your problems, no one-size-fits-all scientific theory can be thrust on you to solve your problems, either.
You need someone who can understand the science and apply it successfully to you, as the complicated, unique person that you are.
That’s where I come in.
As far as I know, there’s no one else who has the legitimate neuroscience training and practical coaching experience to effectively change your brain for the better.
*I also took to entrepreneurship because, in science, you learn a lot of knowledge but very few skills. There’s almost no reason to keep improving yourself or learn about a variety of topics – doing so is more likely to hurt than help because it distracts from the primary goals of experimenting and publishing. Whereas in entrepreneurship, learning and improving is critical. Since those are my passions, it was a no-brainer (pun unintended but approved in hindsight).
The second problem:
I, like many people, found self-improvement so painful because I was trying to do self-improvement alone.
It’s in the name, right? “Self” improvement. “Self” help. Well, those names are wrong. Both research and practical experience make it clear that you have more success when you work with other people.
I’ve always been an introvert. I was also socially awkward as a teenager. My isolation was made worse by the fact that I felt like no one understood my drive to constantly learn new information and skills. After all, many people view personal development as nothing more than a method to fix problems, like a necessary evil. But I wasn’t trying to fix any problems, per se, I just wanted to be even better. That’s something you can’t easily talk about with your friends and family without sounding eccentric at best or arrogant at worst. So I had no one to talk to and certainly nowhere to turn for help with my personal development dreams, which in turn made self-improvement feel ineffective. Worse, I felt like I was alone.
It’s taken a lot of going outside of my comfort zone to make a focused effort to get help from other people. To be vulnerable, to be open, to acknowledge the value that other people contribute, to let myself learn from others, and to appreciate interacting with others.
Now, I talk through my challenges with my wife, my friends, my mentors, my accountability partner, and the experts in various fields that I have deliberately surrounded myself with. They help me learn, process feelings, make decisions, and succeed in ways that I never could on my own.
But creating that support network took massive effort. In this day and age of instant communication with anyone in the world, it shouldn’t be that hard.
That’s why I created the Strive Hive.
No one deserves to feel shamed or lonely for trying to improve themselves – we should celebrate that passion! And no one should have to be held back for years or even decades of their life because they couldn’t find good mentors, supporters, and friends.
Now, you don’t have to be. You don’t have to be alone, like I was, any longer.