When we use our innate guidance system to meet these innate needs – which it is designed to do - we are in balance. We feel most alive.
Bad things happen to good people: Loved ones get sick, we lose people, relationships break down, accidents happen. None of us are immune to the slings and arrows. A key to managing and adapting to them is resilience. By this I mean having a strong foundation and a suite of coping skills that enable us to reassert our equilibrium when life has shaken it.
But we know how: Think of those precious first moments of life. A baby is born. He/she orients toward something round and nipple-like; seeks nourishment; can suckle, can feed. Moreover, in the first hours, research shows, babies are oriented toward the human face and then they begin to mirror their mothers’ facial expressions and gestures. Thus rapport between mother and child builds. The baby’s ability to secure and build rapport in this way is based on innate communication skills - after all, it’s only being introduced to the world for the first time and hasn’t had time to be taught. They are put to good use immediately to ‘pattern match’ to their parents’ behaviour – to mimic, to imitate. This reciprocal dance forms the foundation of all future relationships.
That baby is oriented toward food, security, rapport-building: survival. And that’s just within the first days of life. That natural orientation to what we need to survive and thrive is innate. As we grow, our resources develop further to enable us to live healthily: our complex long-term memory; our imagination; our conscious rational mind; the ability ‘to know’ through metaphorical pattern matching; a dreaming brain; an observing objective self; and that powerful ability to build rapport evident in the first days of life, the cornerstone of empathy and connection, form our innate guidance system. This system guides us to getting our innate needs met. The baby ‘knew’ it needed to suckle. The baby ‘knew’ it needed to connect to its mother.
We know what we need physically very quickly – if we’re not eating, falling blood sugar will rapidly alert us. Ultimately, if we don’t eat, we don’t survive. We also know instinctively what we need emotionally. We don’t always know it consciously though. Making that knowledge conscious makes sense. It helps clarify and guide us to charting a course toward emotional equilibrium. It is our natural inheritance.
We need to feel secure, to have a sense of control, to give and receive attention, to connect to others, to be part of a wider community, to have respect for our role in groups/society and to have a sense of meaning in life.
When we use our innate guidance system to meet these innate needs – which it is designed to do - we are in balance. We feel most alive. We are resilient. We can cope with what life throws at us. We can meet ourselves and be happy.
If we are off-balance at the moment, if we are stressed and frantic and feeling off-keel, we need to look at what needs are not being met, understand why and plan how to address the deficit. And then take action. We may need to learn new coping mechanisms – how to manage our emotions, for example, and think more clearly; how to use our imagination healthily and visualize positive outcomes rather than terrifying ourselves with the worst case scenarios; how to make friends if we’re shy; how to assert ourselves healthily if we’re diffident; how to find pleasure if we’re low; how to find our flow – the activities that work for us and enable us to be free of our worries and concerns through absorption; how to be true to our sense of purpose and values, if we’re lacking meaning.
It’s good to be reminded of our innate riches. The development of FMRI and PET scans has spawned many wonderful discoveries about our neurological reality, my favourite one of which is that our brains are plastic. We can create new neural patterns. We can create new neural circuits. We can change. We can choose to step out of a negative cycle of behaviour. The more we step out of it and engage a more positive strategy, the more the neural pathway we have opened will establish itself; the more it establishes itself, the easier and more likely the positive strategy will be the first to come into play for us. And thus a state becomes a trait.
Build Resilience – Cope Better, naturally. The Royal Marine Hotel Wednesday 15 January, 2014, 7.30pm