It’s no secret that Steve Jobs is esteemed as a “neurotic genius,” and that neurosis can make you a great entrepreneur. But if you’ve ever wondered what your personality type is and what that might indicate about your ability to succeed, you might have found that the answer isn’t easy to find. The reason being is that for many, it’s deeply hidden by the fact that people are blinded by who they want to be, disabling them from understanding who they actually are.
That is, until Stanford University Professor and Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman revealed one simple question that breaks barriers and exposes whether someone is neurotic: Do you enjoy Manhattan?
Negative thinking, rumination, anxiety, worry, fear, and isolation are all used to describe and identify those with the neurotic personality trait. Millions of people take prescription medications to counter these symptoms. But while the average person might see neuroticism as a psychosis, people building unicorns are anything but average.
Take a look at the “big five” personality traits widely recognized in psychology today below and you’ll see that, neuroticism is blatantly the least attractive. In fact, it’s the only trait marked solely by negative traits. Or so it seems…
Conscientiousness: reliable, prepared, and organized.
Agreeableness: friendly and compassionate.
Openness: curious, adventurous, and imaginative.
Extroversion: thrives in amongst others.
Neuroticism: negativity, instability, and a heightened sensitivity to threat.
While the trait is characterized by a disposition with an inclination towards negative emotions, anxiety, and instability, these lead neurotic people to have a heightened sensitivity to threats. It’s this extremely heightened threat sensitivity that leads neurotic people to find seemingly non-threatening situations threatening. And this can be an incredibly powerful tool.
In fact, fear sensitivity may be a symptom of a heightened sense of empathy and a greater connection to interoception (internal sensory processing). Neurotic types are highly tuned into fears–the emotion that is meant to keep living beings alive. As mammals, the primordial function of fear is to enable awareness of threats. Animals who fail to notice the sound of a distant footstep or aren’t cognizant of the feeling of silently watchful eyes are ones who become easy prey.
In the wild world of nature, animals detect predators using a number of senses that largely remain foreign to humans. For example, some spiders, caterpillars, and even tadpoles use vibrations transmitted through solid objects (also known as substrate-borne signals) to indicate the presence of predators, as well as non-predators. And birds employ the use of chemical signaling to identify the presence of enemies and alter their behavior in accordance with their perceived level of risk, according to ScienceDaily.
But its effectiveness for survival (or in the case of human, success) is not just in the awareness, but in the response. In other words, “responding to every stimulus would waste time and energy, and may actually attract the attention of predators,” according to Biologists and Behavioral Ecologists, Renee L. Rosier & Tracy Langkilde and co-authors of Behavior Under Risk: How Animals Avoid Becoming Dinner.
In the very human world of business, this translates as founders who build successful startups are those who not only recognize the presence of problems (via fears, anxieties) but mitigate them through strategic solutions and risk-appropriate actions.
Those who like the chaos of fast-paced cities are typically neurotic. Pathological chaos is comforting to these types of magnified minds. Neurotic people feel tend to feel a sense of peaceful energy amongst a chaotic environment, whether that’s New York City, Tokyo, London, or the like.
And if you don’t get a buzz from bustling cities? This doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful, but it does mean you need to try to be keenly aware of potential risks and know when to develop strategies to mitigate them (e.g., Uber’s $0 marketing strategy to mitigate risk).
By understanding that the very nature of fear is to serve as a tool for survival. In the 21st century, it is also a tool for success. Fear enables us to recognize problems, and with the ability to see problems, we’re able to find solutions.
Neurotic or not, founders who aren’t tapped into the anxiety-inducing environment around them are those who trek blindly down a detrimental path, whereas keenly aware entrepreneurs, preemptively forge a different path with the recognition that the other is riddled with danger. Those who take a neurotic approach may appear “crazy” in the eyes of others, but the most successful innovators, visionaries, and entrepreneurs are typically those who have the ability to see what others can’t, allowing them to do things others won’t.
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