Step 2: Find what emotionally drives you
How evolution determined the basic nature of our brain
Even though humans have evolved to become rational and self-aware individuals, the more primitive part of the brain still controls most, if not all human behavior.
Most scientists believe that this behavior emerges from the interplay between genetics and life experiences. Since our brain has the ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections throughout life – a property called “neuroplasticity” –, different life experiences create different neural configurations.
Evolution shows us that any behavior that helps us survive and reproduce feels pleasurable and rewarding. As we grow up and learn from the consequences of our actions, our neural configurations get either strengthened or weakened by this reward mechanism and become part of our genetic code.
Until the outbreak of the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, humans’ ancestors had spent around 6 million years living as hunter-gatherers. The basic nature of our brain is thus in line with the behavior that was rewarded in a setting where people lived in small villages, with limited resources and a lot of dangerous threats, such as predators and intruders.
A strong emotion for fear, the ability to make fast judgments and a good reputation to be socially accepted, combined with an individualistic approach to promote self-survival and reproduction were all characteristics that allowed our ancestors to thrive.
How these traits influence our behavior today
Biologically, even though we experienced a lot of technological advancements in the last centuries, we are still running this primitive genetic code. This need expresses itself in our drive to feel important and appreciated by others while always seeking to be part of groups that grants us safety, be it in the real or in the virtual world.
We have the tendency to ignore the impact of our environment when we look at ourselves and take many processes that have been fundamental to our development for granted. This ranges from the language we speak to how we define concepts or even emotional attachments. We accept them as part of who we are but our sense of self has little to do with how we perceive it and more with how we have been conditioned by our environment.
Since our moral and ethical compass is almost entirely forged by our environment, our actions are often a result of the approval we get from society, causing a constant duality between what we logically value and what we learned to value. This usually leads to low self-esteem, a craving for attention, a need to fit in or to seek comfort. On a fundamental level, we don't trust in our own ability to provide for our safety.
What we are on a fundamental level
All of this complex subconscious behavior is the result of all the neural interactions in our brain. There is no specific center of consciousness, the appearance of a unity is, in fact, each of our separate circuits being enabled and being expressed at one particular moment in time.
The extent to which our neural activity brings about our consciousness, which creates our sense of reality, goes far beyond our current concept of the self. The separation we perceive between our environment and ourselves is only a conceptual practicality that we use to make sense of things. From a neural activity point of view, everything that we experience not only takes place within our consciousness but it also physically alters it. Seeing the concept of the self as merely yourself excluding the environment is a misconception.
Labeling ourselves as an imaginary individualistic constant is a narrow interpretation of human characteristics that are perceived through the flawed paradigm of identity instead of what we are, a momentary expression of an ever-changing unity with no center.
Our core value formation and how it causes duality
The psychological consequences of this as a more objective belief system allow self-awareness without attachment to the imagined self and brings about dramatic increases in mental clarity, social conscience, self-regulation and what’s often described as being in the moment.
These effects arise naturally when we do not experience duality between our emotional and rational part of the brain and it is only due to our current core value that this duality is present.
As we grow up, we submit our will to what gives us a sense of safety and belonging and by doing that, we form our core values, that might range from family, friends and romantic relationships to comfort, money, success or religion. Most core values are either “fitting in” or “comfort” and it is usually connected to the feeling of not being worthy or not being able to take care of yourself.
How to find what emotionally drives you
You need be extremely honest with yourself while reflecting and analyzing the reasons behind why you did what you did in your life. Writing your life down and reflecting on emotionally loaded episodes might help you to identify the root causes of your actions.
The real motives behind these actions rise from what emotionally drives you on a core level. Neuroscience shows us that we experience our emotions even before we are aware of them and only afterwards we use our rational part of the brain to contextualize them with words.
This is important because some people often use their own reasoning and logic as slaves to satisfy their core value. Being aware of this dynamic might allow them to begin scrutinizing their perceived rationality. Depending on how vulnerable your core value is, your “inner child” might have created a lot of defense mechanisms over time, impairing your ability to trace your core value back to the core. You should realize, though, that just because you struggle to reach to the core, it doesn’t mean you are emotionless. More often than not, you have simply been suppressing your emotions for years.
Emotional intelligence is generally required to be aware of these mechanisms. Meditation is very beneficial in this regard, as it improves your ability to be in the present and be more aware of your emotions. Taking notes of your thoughts and feelings during the day can also enable you to put things into perspective and help you to find what is driving your actions.
As long as your core value is not “logic”, you will experience duality between what you emotionally and rationally want to do. Once again, a certain level of emotional intelligence is required to first acknowledge the presence of this duality and then overcome it.