Thursday, March 3, 2016

Not Bound By Instinct

Some people will tell you that your first instinct is usually sound. That’s close, but not entirely accurate. If you are living your life according to your values, if you have trained your mind to the honest expression of your soul, then your first instinct will usually be pretty solid, but if you are living with contradictions, or if your beliefs and actions tend to be out of sync, then things might get a bit more complicated. To use an old programming idea, garbage in equals garbage out. If you are filling your mind with conflicting signals, your mind is going to give back conflicted signals.

One thing your first instinct can be fairly well depended on for, though, is to give you a look inside the works. If you have trained your mind to kindness, your first instinct will usually be kindness. If you have trained your mind to cruelty, your first instinct will usually be cruel. The reverse is equally true. If your first instinct is usually kindness, it’s a safe bet that you have trained your mind to kindness. If your first instinct is cruel, though … If cruelty isn’t your intention, this should be a warning flag. If you are taking the time to read this, cruelty probably isn’t your intention, so you may want to give special consideration to this idea.

The human mind is one of the most malleable tools on the planet. We are not dependent on instinct, and so the possibilities are wide open. We can learn to do almost anything, and our limitations are often more defined by existing knowledge than by physical reality. As we gain more knowledge, more things become possible. As more things become possible, we gain more knowledge. On and on it goes, and the more we change, the more we change the world.

The downside of that, though, is that not being bound by instinct means we also have no built-in governing device. Being able to learn almost anything means that we are just as capable of learning things to our harm as to our benefit. We are even capable of learning mutually exclusive behaviors and then, against all odds, putting behaviors into practice that should cancel each other out, all at the same time. It’s practically magic. Not a good magic, by any means, but magic just the same.

That’s the thing about not being dependent on instinct. We have the option to have the instinct, see the instinct, and ignore the instinct. We can take a step back and not act on instinct. If we do that enough, we can learn new instincts, and hopefully make certain that they are the instincts that we want. We don’t have that built-in governing device, but we do have warning signals. We just have to pay attention to them.

The human being can ignore instinct and choose to go in a different direction. That’s useful when instinct wants to take you down a bad road, but if you’re having to ignore instinct on a regular basis, that too can be seen as a warning sign. What are you feeding your mind that it is routinely giving you bad advice? What can you do differently that will teach your mind to start giving you better advice? While not bound by instinct, things do work better when you’re not having to course correct around every corner.

Spend some time examining your instincts. Be aware of your gut reaction to various things you encounter throughout your day, and then ask yourself what those reactions might mean. Look for a pattern, and try to honestly see the meaning behind the pattern. Do you like the meaning? Does it line up well with your values and beliefs? If yes, keep going in that direction, and maybe even see what more you can do. If no, though, what is causing the conflict? What is leading your first instinct toward being different than a more complete evaluation says it should be, and what changes can you make that will bring it more in line?

To take it a step further, will your first instinct lead to being the kind of person you want to be? Will it lead to the world you want to inhabit? Same as above. If yes, do more. If no, change something. Be who you want to be leading to the world you want to inhabit. Be aware of the warning signs that are going off in your own mind at all times, and treat them accordingly.

We are not bound by instinct, but we can learn a great deal from it. We just have to pay attention and be honest with ourselves. As a species, though, we don’t do either of those very well. It takes a special effort, but it’s worth it. We accomplish great things when do succeed. What are your instincts trying to tell you?

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