“Why did I do that!?” Know when your instinctive animal self is working both for and against you.
‘Why did I do that?’, we say, mystified by decisions we regret: buying $200 leopard skin shoes we can’t afford, choosing another mate that makes us miserable, following a work directivethat goes against our values. We’ve all done similar things.
But we make fewer unconscious choices when we’re aware of what’s really running us, when we create a clear connection to our instinctive, animal self so that our bodies and brains work together for us. We start having more ‘aha’ moments, and evolve old habitual thoughts and behaviours into better ones. Big topic, but let’s look at a few examples of how it works.
Our ‘cultural’ or ‘social self’ is the one we know best. It’s our thinking part – the self we believe is fully under our conscious control, but which is actually saturated by the influence of our unconscious mind. It’s the language part that chatters incessantly inside heads and when we speak, and it’s wildly imaginative and creative. Communicating through language is a major part of how we build and share who we are personally, and of how we share and preserve culture – for a shared reality and the ‘certainties’ that bring us a sense of safety and belonging.
The instinctive, animal self – that lives in both our minds and bodies – is on our side in an unconscious way, directing us via lightning-fast sensations, feelings and emotions. We walk the planet now as the result of the split-second survival decisions and reactions of a long line of ancestors!
If conscious awareness seems miraculous, our instincts are right underneath and directing that miracle. Realising just how many conscious mind strings instinct pulls can be a revelation (Google neuromarketing for some insights into the human mind).
Some intuition’s about instant safety, like jumping into a cab to escape someone walking behind us who ‘feels’ dangerous. Other intuitions are more complex. If, say, we’re a poster child for habitually attracting good-looking dynamic partners who later turn out to be domineering, unpredictable and unreliable, there can be a lot more at work than what’s on the surface. Let’s look at this one.
Obeying one part of instinct but ignoring its red flags
On first meeting, we’re flooded with sensations. Our reptile brain says ‘Wow, and yes!’ as it leaps to the mating call of a good-looking face and an attractive body. But we often override ominous red-flag feelings of uneasiness too. Why? Because the person who initially says and does all the right things is someone we want to believe because we’re already melting into their physicality. Victory for the reptile brain.
But the red-flag feelings that signalled a clear ‘no’ increase over time as we notice mismatches between the person’s words and actions, even if we’re emotionally hooked and unable, for now, to separate from someone we suspect is wrong for us.
Learn about yourself
No point in beating ourselves up. From a growth point of view, it’s not all bad news. If we keep attracting or choosing unsuitable people in any areas of our life, our intuition is calling us to take a good look at our patterns. A look at which parts of us are the matching opposites of the other person’s dysfunctional parts – nudging us to learn about evolving and maturing those parts so we can make more reliably beneficial choices in future. Because what’s appearing in one place in our lives is almost certainly showing up somewhere else too. (Some straight-talking relevance in ‘Before you accuse me’ – the Bo Didley song Eric Clapton made famous! Click here for YouTube video. Clapton in a pale pink suit … mmhmm!)
What you can do
Unravelling a tangle of direct body knowings where there’s no immediate threat, but potential future threat can look like this:
Slow right down – no quick decisions.
Become very present, pay attention and interpret everything our body’s communicating from a detached observer’s viewpoint.
Later, over time …
Be discerning and honest with ourselves, and expose our blind spots without shame.
Let go of false identity beliefs that could be blindsiding us. (eg ‘I always have to be reasonable.’ ‘I always have to be nice’. Question what ‘reasonable’ and ‘nice’ mean and how they might not support us in every situation.)
Give up self-doubting thoughts that devalue us and make us vulnerable.Get curious instead.
Find out which ancient instinctive pulls are inappropriate and don’t fit with the life we want.
Get familiar with the feeling of clean fear that really does protect us, and use it to our advantage.
Separate that clean fear from the culturally driven anxiety that comes from trying to ‘fit in’ by conforming to behaviours, opinions and appearances that don’t fit who we are at our core.
Know that advertisers and governments deliberately use ancient fear instincts to get us to conform and behave in certain ways – but that’s another story …
If that seems easier said than done, get writing. Journalling our self-observations tracks our progress and brings a sense of achievement that encourages us to keep going, and helps rewire our brain at the same time. Sounds almost too easy, but it works.
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