Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: A book review by Bob Morris

Your Survival InstinctYour Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions, and Thrive in the 21st Century
Marc Schoen with Kristin Loberg
Hudson Street Press (2013)

How and why to turn causes of discomfort into sources of power

The title of this book was obviously selected to achieve marketing objectives and it probably does, although the substance of the book generously rewards those who read the book with appropriate care. Marc Schoen has produced — with Kristin Loberg — a remarkably lively as well as informative book in which he shares information, insights, and counsel that can help his reader to achieve three separate but related objectives: To identify major causes of daily stress, to understand them, and then to manage them effectively. He examines what he characterizes as “the new paradigm for transforming discomfort into power.” His recommendations are based on the results of most recent research on neuroscience and behavioral psychology.

He does indeed explain how and why one’s survival instinct can be a troublemaker because it “either underlies and exacerbates many conditions or contributes to their chronic nature. Or at least it is at least capable of doing that. “In essence this book, which describes [various] practical methods, is an exploration of our survival instinct’s extraordinary powers and the ways in which you, too, can benefit from my approach and optimize your own well-being.”

As I worked my way through the narrative, I was reminded of the process by which the power of steam was first recognized, then applied, later controlled and managed, and over time used to serve a variety of purposes. For example, steam power enabled Welch mining companies to (a) remove water from below ground, (b) transport the coal to various destinations on land and (c) transport it across water. Of course the rapidly increasing number of applications were among the major drivers of both the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of steam-powered conveyances, notably railroads and ships. In at least one way, steam power and the survival instinct are similar: The potential benefits they offer can only be realized to the extent that their power is managed effectively.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of coverage in the material. All of them provide explain one of more dimensions of the aforementioned process by which to “make better choices in life and work.”

o The New Paradigm for Transforming Discomfort into Power: Misbehaving Instincts and The Sinking Threshold (Pages 3-16)
o Feeding the Discomfort (23-28)
o Too Close for Comfort (36-42)
o A State of Stress (50-55)
o One Head, Three Brains (58-64)
o Our Genes Are at Stake (70-72)
o The Five Basic Types of Maladaptive (Bad) Habits (74-75)
o Types of Conditioning (87-102)
o Digital Demons (119-121)
o 1. Take a Technology Time-out (133-157)
Note: This is the first of 15 tactics to curate agitance that Schoen discusses in Chapter 8 (Pages 131-157)
o The Survivalist Strategy of the 21st Century, and, The Creation of Alignment (162-167)
o Draw on Empathy and Love (179-183)
o Decision Making Under Pressure (197-200)
o Grooming Yourself to Thrive Under Pressure (211-218)

Before concluding his book, Schoen observes, “The survival instinct is truly our inner gatekeeper, separating us from our animalistic past and from our potentially more highly evolved selves. So becoming comfortable with being more uncomfortable and vulnerable [at least for a time] really is the most important tool in the twenty-first century. Once you form this new relationship and partnership with discomfort, the survival instinct will be relegated to where it is truly needed. Any remaining obstacles will be far less formidable and much more manageable.”

I presume to add two brief points of my own. First, discomfort that is managed can help achieve high-impact, breakthrough results or at least significant improvements. If ignored, however, it can prevent them. Also, the survival instinct is a resource of incalculable value that should not be wasted by instinctive, unnecessary responses to relatively unimportant (often unexpected) developments. If we don’t manage discomfort, it will probably manage us. If and when that leads to an imminent crisis, our survival instinct will let us know.

No brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the material that Marc Schoen (with Kristin Loberg) provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be much better prepared to (a) identify the major causes of stress in their lives, (b) understand those causes, and then (c) manage stress much more effectively.

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