In todays society where instant gratification is becoming an epidemic and social media giants are using the latest software and psychological techniques to appeal to our addictive impulses, a new awareness of how to foster a more meaningful existence is required.
Before moving forward we must first understand why we are biologically susceptible to these types of impulsive behaviours and what we can do to get the best out of our biology.
Basic brain structure.
Our brain is composed of its old preserved structures and its more recently evolved structures.
The allocortex is the name for the old preserved structures of the brain. It is responsible for our basic animal survival functions. This part of the brain is more emotional and feeling based.
The neocortex is the more recently evolved structure. Amongst other things, it is responsible for more reasoned behaviour.
A type of competition to control our behaviour exists in the brain.
Why is this important?
The neocortex or executive centre is responsible for long term planning and goal oriented behaviours.
This area of the brain does the job of controlling and mitigating emotional responses caused by fight or flight situations and thereby reducing emotional turbulence when the threat that was planned for is encountered. (Example: planning for possible threats in your business and making plans to mitigate these risks; this will result in a less emotive response when the threat is encountered.)
However, momentarily turning off your executive centre and activating the primitive allocortical centre allows you to temporarily survive immediate perceived treats.
Your brain is a fully integrated system with each part contributing to the success of the overall entity. Your inner emotional brain tries to understand your problems, while your outer rational and logical brain solves them.
Our brain allows for both impulsive behaviours and purposeful plans.
Hedonistic behaviour describes a persons pursuit of perceived momentary pleasures whilst running from perceived momentary pain. These behaviours or habits are impulsive by nature and subject to change. The executive centre of the brain is less involved in these pursuits as there is less reason, planning and mastery involved.
A purposeful pursuit
According to Aristotle when our life is governed by impulses towards momentary pleasures and instincts from pain we are no different than untamed animals.
He describes the greatest life as the one lived in moderation according to the golden mean. The mean being the oscillations of impulsive emotional extremes. He describes courage as the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. Temperance is the mean between abstinence and self-indulgence. A life of moderation hence requires your reasoned and rational control (neocortex) over your emotional appetites (allocortex).
So then what should we look to drive us?
Deciding on a path of purpose based on what it is most inspiring to you seems to be the wisest pursuit.
Clearly defining a long term vision is a function for your neocortex. When we act from a place of purpose we are more resilient in the face of momentary impulses.
The ability to plan ahead and mitigate potential threats is a gift which the neocortex provides us with thereby allowing us to stay poised and steadfast for what lies ahead.
Tapping into our inspiration and goal setting
It would seem wise to introduce children to concepts such as goal setting, especially in their areas of interest. It requires considering fundamentally important questions such as why do I want this? How will I accomplish this? What will I do next? Is this important to me? All of these questions are important for self understanding, self discovery and long term fulfilment.
During the Life Skills Academy events we give each camper their own personal Life Skills Academy Goal journal. We like to encourage campers to write down a few goals for each day of the camp (make a new friend, talk to someone new, master a self-defence technique etc.), to think about and write down a couple of challenges they are encountering and how these challenges are making them stronger and 2 things they are grateful for each day.
Encouraging children to play around with goals that inspire and give feelings of long term fulfilment might be the best protection from pursuits which offer instant gratification primarily based on pleasure seeking pain avoidance impulses.
This blog is based on the research of Dr. John Demartini, an expert in human behaviour.
For more information surrounding motivation please see our blog on “Understanding motivation to foster inspiration in our children”.