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The subtle energy driving our behaviour

Insecurity, self doubt, and the desire to be accepted exist in all of us at a very deep level. These primal forces are baked deep into our subconscious, and in days gone by, the neurological and physiological wiring supporting these traits were essential to our survival.

In evolutionary terms, if, for example, we were rejected by the tribe, our chances of survival were incredibly slim. Humans are not the fastest or strongest creatures in the animal kingdom, but our ability to effectively cooperate is unparalleled. We are better together, and this ability to cooperate, for better and for worse, has made us the most dominant species on the planet. It's no wonder that our bodies and our brains reward us for behaviour that makes us more likely to be accepted by the tribe.

Fast forward a hundred thousand years, and many of us now live in conditions where if, for example, we're not accepted by the tribe (friends, colleagues, family etc) for the most part it doesn't fundamentally threaten our physical survival. If you have a massive fight with your father, and as a result don't speak to your mom and dad for a year afterwards, chances are there will still be food on your table. In days gone by, that may not have been the case.

This context is important, because as we navigate everyday life, all of us need to be cognisant of the signals our brains and bodies are sending us every day, and start the discern between those which are driving healthy and sustainable behaviour patterns, and those which aren't.

For example, if I'm working 16-hour days, every day, for months on end, and my colleagues are rewarding me for it by celebrating my 1am emails and dedication to the company, there is a part of me which feels accepted into the tribe. My psyche yearns for this sense of belonging, and even though on every other dimension my life and health might be falling apart due to this unsustainable behaviour, a deep primal need is being fulfilled, and I keep chasing that feeling of belonging and affirmation.

In the example above, there could be many other things driving this behaviour, I might be using work as an escape from my past hurt and trauma, I might have been fired from a previous job and now be overcompensating to prove to myself and others that I am worthy. The individual circumstances, and the energy which drives this sort of behaviour might differ wildly, but almost without question, there is some part of our psyche which is being rewarded for the behaviour, and that's the tricky part.

The need to feel validated and accepted is so strong that it can easily override everything else. In this sense, many of us experience positive feedback loops for destructive behaviour, and you have to take ownership of this dynamic in your own life.

I'm not saying you shouldn't work 16 hour days for a few weeks at a time when it's needed. The more interesting question, in my view, is what is driving the behaviour? If you have a big project with a deadline, and although it can be tiring you still feel energised by the professional growth you're experiencing, then by all means work 16 hours every day for months at a time. Sometimes it needs to be done, and it can be deeply rewarding.

If, however, the energy that's driving your behaviour is the fear of not being accepted, and even though the project might not need you to work as long and hard as you are, you still feel compelled to keep going to get the affirmation you yearn for from your colleagues, you should watch that very carefully. Your behaviour, whilst creating some of the positive feedback loops you crave, is likely to take you to burnout. Your actions are being driven by fear rather than creative exploration, and fear activates the cascade of fight or flight hormones in your body. These are great if you're running away from a lion, and need the hormones to increase your chances of immediate survival, but they're not so great when they are coursing through your veins for months on end fuelled by a fictitious threat to your identity and ego.

The invitation here is to look at the subtle energies driving your behaviour, and to give yourself a lot of compassion in the process. We're all human, and we're all wired for survival, and it takes a lot of work to unpick these behaviours. That said, as humans we also have the unique capacity for metacognition and self awareness. We're able to catch our subtle thoughts and drivers, and with a lot of bravery and persistence, able to alter the course of our thoughts and actions in the world.

No one else can ever control the subtle dynamics which is driving your behaviour. With a sense of curiosity and openness, the invitation right now is to look at an area of your life where you feel unbalanced, and to ask yourself, "what's driving my behaviour?"

This is a question worth coming back to again and again, and meditating on for months at a time to get to the subtlest truth of what's going on. Your freedom from these primal drivers, and your true power, is hidden in this deep process of exploration. Conversely, it's instantly gratifying, and so much easier, to externalise this process and blame the people around us for the way we're feeling and behaving. But be warned, every single time you do this, you become weaker and give up more of your agency in this world, and that's a slippery slope to nowhere.


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