Beware of Your Own Involuntary Reactions

Created March 25, 2022

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

Treat them as coming from your brutish heritage. Not worthy of humankind today.

Let’s take a simple example. When someone transgresses against you in some way, no matter how subtle or unintended, a part of you is ready to move faster than your self-control, to equalize. Equalization is an instinct hard-wired into our autonomic nervous system.

Gotta strike back. Get even. Make fair. Justice.

Overcoming this hard-wired animal instinct is a sign of being a mensch.

We are grateful for our autonomic system, without it we would have to remember to breathe, digest, and a host of other things that ought well to have been made automatic.

And the higher-order robotics in our brains, far more advanced than the AIs we create today, which observes events and metatags them and creates networks of them enabling free association and cross-fertilization, as well as building up tendencies for and against certain types of stimuli. This latter higher class of internal robotics is what we have to guard against. Because in an accelerated and divisionary culture such as we live in today, these automated internal responses we unreflectively take as our own, are getting us in a lot of trouble.

Considered responses are much more valuable than impulsive kneejerk reactions, however the latter are so deeply ingrained only the most self-controlled among us are able to conceal the manifestation of automatic reactions, let alone stop ourselves from blurting out retorts.

Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for his work on what he calls “Thinking Fast” vs. “Thinking Slow”. In that lens, what I am saying is that thinking slow ought to be leaned upon much more than it is by the average person.

However, the reality is more complicated. If all “thinking fast” is thrown out the window, there goes Flow state out the window too.

Here’s the litmus test. Go with your own flow without overthinking when you sense your own inner peacefulness. If you can detect a kernel of vindictiveness or any hint of negativity, tension or fear in yourself, switch gears into keeping your mouth shut and your body immobile and focus on seeking inner clarity before taking any kind of action. (Obviously this rule does not apply if you or someone nearby are under physical attack at the moment. But that is the only exception to the rule.)

No need to hesitate like Hamlet if on the inside you are totally positive and not nervous. Let yourself flow without self-editing but pay attention to your own hunches so you stop yourself before saying something you got a last second “hit” might not land right. Follow those hunches and analyze it all later.

Involuntary reactions are not expressions of your true self. They are autonomic, conditioned, Pavlovian, robotic, other-directed, conformist not individualistic behaviors. In many cases nowadays they were purposely brainwashed into you. Stop all kneejerks now. At least the ones you can stop (literal kneejerks can be stopped but that requires yogic practice).

Example: you wake up in the morning and find yourself in a bad mood. You’re not really feeling up about the day that is upon you, the events that you’ve committed to, it’s not inspiring. That is one of the involuntary reactions I’m talking about.

Even though this is likely to be accompanied by (and perhaps partially due to) time pressure, take five and focus on attitude adjustment. The day will go much better if you are interested in the challenges and take the time to achieve clarity in advance about your own intentions, reasons for those intentions, feelings about those reasons, and you totally get why today is a day worth turning into a positive turning point, and the gamelike aspects of dealing with the obstacles with your own creativity.

You might find that your negativity reflects a sense of being unprepared. You’ll have to prepare yourself in a very efficient way then. As a general rule you might start preparing yourself for the next day as you put your head on the pillow – that would be the “last minute” in terms of waking up ready to face the day. Best to prepare for the next day a few hours earlier, so you can fall asleep more quickly and deeply.

You could wake up in a bad mood and as you study yourself to discern the cause, you might realize it was your dreams. Take five and guess what the dreams were trying to tell you. Take a totally wild guess out of nowhere. It is quite likely to be accurate. Something you are afraid of happening in the next day or week that could happen at any time. Once you’ve decoded the dream a lot of the negativity will fall off you automatically. Then predream the event actually happening and how you will deal with it if it does happen – what you will say and how you will say it, what if any other actions you will take. This will knock off another large chunk of the bad mood. After that it will be your standup courage and resolve that will take you the rest of the way into a right frame of mind and mood to succeed.

Related post: https://www.humaneffectivenessinstitute.org/billharveyblog/things-we-do-automatically-that-do-us-no-good/

Best to all,

Bill

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