The human mind is an incredible piece of equipment and scientists are still nowhere near understanding how it all works. However, there are some fascinating theories out there as well as a vast amount of research about why we respond to things as we do.
We’ve evolved rather rapidly and we’ve inherited certain behaviours, psychological, and physiological reactions to our surroundings from our evolution. Some of these abilities are super useful, and some aren’t when placed in the context of today.
Take your average cave person. They would have had to be on the lookout for anything and everything that could be harmful to them – or kill them! And if they weren’t very good at spotting danger or pre-empting attack, well, they’d be a goner. And so in evolutionary terms, we’ve inherited this ability to be on the lookout constantly for danger, causes for concern, risk – our brains just want to keep us safe from harm.
And so how is this affecting us now? Worry, anxiety, stress, we’re triggered into fight or flight in our modern world in the same way physiologically that we would have been back then. The difference is context.
One of my favourite examples is blue food. A lot of people are disgusted by blue food, and that’s because blue was once a warning colour. I mean, there aren’t many blue foods in nature and so our brains would associate this with poison. Nowadays, some weightloss companies will tell you to eat from a blue plate to curb your appetite. Interesting stuff.
How many times have you made a faux pas that you’ve felt sick to your core with embarrassment or shame? And then you replay it over and over in your mind. When you think about it in terms of our ancestors, after having successfully thwarted a wild bear attack it’d be pretty useful to replay that in the mind, it would cement it as a skill and make you better prepared for future encounters. But for us nowadays, these responses aren’t useful. In fact, they hinder us. It doesn’t serve us to replay our suffering over and over – we have nothing new to learn from these experiences but we dwell. You can see how this might hold you back.
Our ancient ancestors would have lived in groups – safety in numbers, as they say. Each individual would have a part to play, and groups would protect one another, share food, take care of their children etc. To be alone would have meant almost certain death. And so we are wired to want to ‘fit in’. We worry about being worthy, we worry we’re not fulfilling our role, we worry and compare ourselves to others because we don’t want to get kicked out of the safe circle. In modern life you can see this playing out as fear of rejection, fear of speaking your mind, fear of setting boundaries – but we have an entire world at our fingertips now, the worry isn’t justified like it once was.
Wait, there’s more!
The life of a cave person wasn’t stable. There would have been a constant stress about where the next meal was coming from. Hunter-gatherers would be on the move, searching for more water, food, shelter, better tools etc. So the desire would be to gain as much as possible to create more security. And of course, it did create more security or stability, and these cave folk would live longer and have more children. You can see where I’m going with this and how it’s manifested in the modern age.
The difference, of course, as with all of the examples, is that it’s not necessary for us nowadays, yet we still play it out as if it were.
According to The Happiness Trap – Evolution of the Human Mind, all these factors are exacerbated by our modern lives, the pace, the stress, and the stimuli we all face each and every day.
Simply understanding this is useful for all of us. We can tap into this knowledge when we find ourselves overreacting to a situation, stressing over something we needn’t, freaking out, or lusting after that new shiny object we don’t really need.
Just taking a moment to remember this is our cave person brain kicking in can stop us from reacting and allow us to take a breath and respond instead.
We cover this and more about how the mind can create havoc in our bespoke Purpose, Progress, Performance programme.
The programme will help you and your team:
- Have fun and build stronger relationships based on authenticity and trust.
- Understand each other’s strengths, differences and how they complement each other.
- Have honest conversations about what you all need and how you can support each other.
- Gain the tools you need to build individual and group wellbeing and resilience.
- Create a blueprint of shared values, behaviours and ambitions.
- Become a cohesive and effective team that achieves more together.