Insights from the Discover-defend axis

Maximilian Rehn
2 min readMar 13, 2022


  1. Discover-defend axis. One way of looking at human behaviour is to split it into two moes. One is defending you against threats; the other is going out and seeking and discovering rewards.
  2. These modes result in quite different approaches to life.
  3. When you are in defensive mode, you are quite tunnel-visioned. You’re closing down: It’s fight, flight or freeze. What happens in defensive mode — and we know this when we’re put on the spot — is it becomes harder to think straight. What’s been found is that there’s actually less activity in the prefrontal cortex when people are even mildly stressed. In other words, when we’re on the defensive against some kind of threat — and it can be as small as being cut off in a meeting or being put on the spot — it’s enough to actually make us seize up slightly and not be able to think straight, just at the moment when we want to raise our game.
  4. Discovery mode, where you’re focused more on the rewards than the threats in a situation. For example, if you’re dealing with a really tough discussion topic, you don’t have to be soft about it, but you can get people to think more clearly and, indeed, yourself more clearly if you first ask, “What’s our ideal outcome here? And what’s our first step towards that?”
  5. Competence and purpose are inherently rewarding for the brain. If you can get the brain to focus more on the rewards than the threats in the situation, then you’ll get to clearer thinking.
  6. So aim to be in discovery mode when you are interacting with people. Let people know about this so you can create a discovery environment together. Avoid ego and status games, avoid interacting in a hierarchical way — it is simply bad for your thinking.

Thanks for reading.

How to have a good day, by Caroline Webb.



Maximilian Rehn

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