Running from Instinct

Winter Moose

The other day, I looked up from my computer and saw this moose staring in my window. I’m not ashamed to admit I yelped in surprise. It’s not every day a moose wanders into my yard. My next instinct was to race for the camera.

Instincts are interesting things because they seem to happen with little explanation. You often don’t realize you’ve acted until after the impulse. Sometimes, if we’re prepared, we can fight our instincts, an option I believe we don’t always give due consideration.

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, The Opposite, includes the best line: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

In the best case, your instincts will drive you forward, prompting you to make the decisions best suited for you. However, sometimes we mistake fear or uncertainty for instinct and let it determine our decisions. Then there’s the conflict that our instincts can create. C.S. Lewis said, “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war… Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest.” (link)

I suspect the successful people we admire the most are individuals who’ve figured out how to balance acting on instinct versus acting against instinct. However, their strength lies in recognizing which course best solves the problem. For every person that claims to only listen to his gut, there’s another who only acts after careful thought and planning. The trick for each of us lies in figuring out how to create that balance between the two. Guts and brains, separate from each other, can only accomplish so much. Put them together and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.



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February 2008
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