“Fanatic.” Just having read that word, I can probably guess the unflattering image going through your minds. Winston Churchill offered a slightly more benign portrait, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” If that’s our working definition then anyone who’s ever been trapped in a conversation with me has learned the hard way that I’m a fanatic. And I am. Proudly. For 15 years as a neuroscientist, inventor, entrepreneur and mom, I have been driven to understand how to maximize human potential, and my research has returned again and again to the power of the fanatic.

When I talk about fanatics, I’m not talking about religious mania. Rather, I’m talking about endogenous motivation, the drive that comes from within. Where exogenous motivation—sensitivity to praise and bonuses and punishment—fails, endogenous motivation brings about the intrinsic curiosity and personal drive that powers the fanatic.

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Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscientist, technologist and entrepreneur. She co-founded Socos, where machine learning and cognitive neuroscience combine to maximize students’ life outcomes. Vivienne is also a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, where she pursues her research in neuroprosthetics.