The survival of our species hinges on whether we can move beyond our “survival behaviors”
Einstein summed up the challenge some 70 years ago, saying “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels.”
Over more than 200,000 years, humans have progressively dominated all other species and eventually the world. We achieved this by working together, learning, developing tools, and passing our accumulated knowledge to each subsequent generation. Our technological advancements have allowed many to live longer, healthier lives. Along the way, we have defeated deadly diseases, traveled to the moon, and explored our solar system and beyond.
But our technological progress has far outpaced our cultural progress. “Survival behaviors” – genetic capabilities honed by life experience – still drive many of our decisions and actions. Our brains are wired to compete for food and other resources, to court and to mate, to raise our children, and to band together with those like “us” to defend against, conquer, and dominate “others”.
These powerful drives, arising mostly from our non-conscious brain, have made it possible for humans to achieve dominance over all other species on our planet. But these “survival behaviors”, still important for our biological continuity, create major problems for us in our modern world. Some of our current challenges include global climate change, increasing social and political polarization, the rise of authoritarianism, and a worldwide pandemic. And with technologies ranging from carbon-based industries to social media, atomic weapons, and artificial intelligence, our brain-driven “survival behaviors”, paradoxically, now put us at risk of causing our own demise.
At this pivotal moment in history, the survival of our species hinges on whether we can control and move beyond our “survival behaviors”, recognizing that we are interdependent, acknowledging and embracing our differences, and working together for individual and collective well-being.
feeding the good wolf
Becoming who you want to be
Steps 1 and 2 are about preparation. Moving from a life of largely non-consciously driven behaviors to the possibility of reality-informed self-governance.
Step 1: Achieving Self-Governance
Self-governance means being in control of one’s own actions. But how can you achieve this?
Slow Down and Become Self-Aware
Control your impulse to act. Let feelings subside. If it’s not urgent, don’t do anything. Take time to reflect on how you feel and why. Name your feelings. Cognitive neuroscientists sometimes label these groups of neurocognitive activities “executive functioning” and “conscious metacognition.”
Train Your Non-Conscious Brain
Practice integrity, be honest, and make healthy choices a habit. Pay attention to your media diet. Select friends you admire and want to become like. Everyday choices teach our non-conscious brain how to make decisions even when we’re not thinking about it.
Step 2: Achieving Competence
Competence means having the knowledge, understanding, skills, tools, values, and confidence to function in a socially and technologically complex world.
Listen and Learn
Recognize that your experiences – especially first impressions or feelings – are a result of what is triggered from your past. Listen to the other person. What are they experiencing? Ask questions. Challenge your assumptions.
Get in Synch with Reality
Get your understandings and beliefs in synch with reality. Cognitive neuroscientists label our internal map of the world and our beliefs a “cognitive map.” We call it our “Mind Map.” Whatever you call it, it’s important that it reflects the realities of oneself and the external world.
Making A DIfference
Building on the practice of self-governance and development of competence (Steps 1 and 2), these steps of Feeding the Good Wolf focus on becoming a value-driven agent. We call this “A-Team Living.”
Step 3: Individual A-Team Action
Individual A-Team actions and decisions are those we make based on our values. Such individual value-based agency includes practicing slowing down, controlling our impulses, reflecting on ourselves, listening to others and being open to learning. It also involves considering our values, our goals, and the possible short- and long-term impacts on others in making decisions and taking actions.
Step 4: Collective A-Team Action
We are social beings and need relationships and community. We must respect, listen to, and work with others. We will successfully face and meet our challenges only by working cooperatively across groups, cultures, and nations.
We can learn and grow, individually and collectively, through understanding the neuroscientific foundations of – and practicing – the four parts of Feeding the Good Wolf. Using what we know about ourselves from neuroscience, we can individually create fulfilled, meaningful lives, and collectively build communities where all can thrive.
There is hope for each of us, and for the future of our beautiful world.
Learn about your brain and take control of your life. Start with reading about How Your Brain Works.