The field of psychology and human behavior that emerged out of different schools (the three Viennese schools of psychotherapy, beginning with Freud, then Adler, then Frankl) reveals an evolution from what we can see as humans mature from self-serving individuals into contributing members of society. This evolution moves along a trajectory of drives for:
- pleasure (dopamine hits from seeking instant gratification)
- power (status-driven neurochemicals like serotonin fuel us to compare and compete as individuals)
- purpose and service (combinations of all of these various drives and motivators plus new sets of meaning and values - integrated in new ways)
An important part of resilience and perseverance is a concept called Self-Transcendent Purpose. Attachment psychologist Gordon Neufeld also calls this the Alpha Instinct. However you want to call it, it's about being aware of a purpose that is larger than oneself – and generally includes service to other beings (including people, animals and the planet). Studies show that people with a self-transcendent purpose:
- persist longer rather than give in to a tempting alternative;
- increase deeper learning behavior
- sustain self-regulation
The more you can prompt yourself, or people you are leading/teaching to think about who are they serving other than themselves, the more likely they will activate brain networks related to perspectives beyond the self. Leadership expert Simon Sinek calls this ‘start with why’.
What's your purpose - and is it inspiring you to keep going? One way to think about it is - where is the spotlight shining? In a self-oriented goal, the spotlight is on you - how to benefit yourself. This can lead you to feeling more self-conscious, self-monitoring - trying to look and act in ways that you think will get likes or approvals because you feel the spotlight is on you.
In a beyond-self, or self-transcendent goal, you ARE the spotlight. What lights you up lights up the world for others, it lights a path for them to find their own way. Through toiling and working on your craft, you - as the spotlight - shine a light on the beauty of the process, the work, the tasks, the discomforts and setbacks, and the beauty and strength of others. This way of shining the spotlight allows you get more into flow, and into really expressing your deepest, authentic self because you're not contorting and monitoring how you appear to others.
Because this type of brain activity gets us to think about others' perspectives, their needs, their histories, their goals - it also allows us to get better at recognizing patterns of overall human behavior. The better we get at that, the better we get at coming up with ideas, things to say, teach and share that are aligned with what is truly helpful for others to get through the challenges they are facing.
Who do you look up to, read about, listen to? How do they shine their spotlight? How do you feel about yourself after you've listened or learned from them? Notice how you feel and find the people (or other sources of wisdom such as spiritual texts) that inspire you to get in touch with your own spotlight and energize you to shine it in service of helping others. I use spiritual texts , books and people I admire as sources of inspiration. What are some of yours?
With Love From Me to You
On a side note...
Headed out to my first day of wilderness first responder training. May be off grid most of today until the evening and then again tomorrow! The instructor has satellite communication but I still need to get my own - asked for Zoleo for my birthday 🙂 What experiences could you create for yourself this year that could take you away from technology, into the outdoors, into the unknown?
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