Survival Instincts in the Corporate Jungle

The apparently safe, civilized environment of a modern business may seem light years away from the dangerous primitive World in which we lived thousands of years ago. In reality the primitive part of our brain and the same tribal instincts which helped us survive and thrive are still very much in play today. In our modern environment, sometimes those instincts help us and sometimes they hold us back, both as individuals and as teams.

In 30 years of working in the public and private sector at all levels, and, more recently in my work as a therapist I have seen every variation of how people work well and badly together, how they climb the corporate ladder and how they self-sabotage their own success in spite of amazing talents. For those who have an innate or well-developed understanding of how to work in the corporate World the rewards can be great. For those who don’t and who fall prey to negative beliefs driven by misplaced instincts the costs can be far higher, not only in missed opportunities and career success but also in low self-esteem, anxiety, insomnia, financial issues and impact on many other areas of their lives.

So what drives our chances of survival and success?

1.      Acceptance or Rejection

Our survival in primitive times depended on our ability to live in a tribe where our escape from predators and finding food were achieved when we all had a place in that tribe and worked together. Because of this our primitive brains strive to fit into a tribe very early in life with our biggest fears being different or being rejected.

Events in childhood or even early adulthood shape our belief in this area. These events are sometimes very significant but sometimes seemingly insignificant to the logical observer. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the interpretation the child or young adult gives to those events. If they are made to feel different or rejected from family, friends or community in any way that can create a lifetime of reinforced negative beliefs which subconsciously sabotages every effort they make to find their place in the World.

2.      Away from pain/Towards pleasure

Our subconscious brain is incredibly powerful and is said to work 20 times faster than our logical brain. This was essential in primitive times to keep us safe. Its main role is to keep us safe and happy by moving us rapidly and subconsciously away from pain and towards pleasure, with the need to move away from pain by far the strongest instinct. This is brilliant if you are being chased by a lion. It is not so useful if you are telling yourself you hate going to meetings, are sick of doing that project plan, etc, etc because your primitive brain cannot discriminate between what is real and what you tell it. If you tell it doing that project plan will make you sick, it will do everything in its power to stop you doing it, even making you physically ill. Most of the time we don’t even know this is happening and so our chances of success are eroded.

3.      Always Right

This is the trump card. Without this we could probably overcome the two previous drivers. Our subconscious brain loves to prove us right. Scientific studies have proven that the brain gears itself to look for things which reinforce the beliefs it has established, making those beliefs stronger and stronger on a daily basis. Once those beliefs become strong we instinctively and subconsciously follow them, taking decisions which further reinforce them. So, if you believe you don’t fit into a team, aren’t worthy of a promotion or are sick of doing a particular task your brain will drive your behavior to make that happen, all without you having to think about it at all.

Well That’s Demotivating!!

At this point you may be despairing and about to give up the day job. Do Not!!!!

The beauty of our brains which scientists have discovered over the past few decades is that it is incredibly malleable. Many deep rooted negative beliefs can be eliminated and replaced with positive beliefs which make us feel part of the tribe and a valued contributor. For the confident ones amoungst us this is easily achieved – just tell yourself you are valuable and accepted and off you go. (We all know people who can do that – no matter if the things they believe in are initially, logically not approved of by the majority). For the less confident there are still well proven ways to improve your chances of success:

1.      Be aware of your negative thoughts – too many people don’t even recognize the negative self-talk chattering away in their brains. Once you are aware you can stop it in its tracks and replace it with positive thoughts. A daily journal to reflect on your thoughts and rewrite the negative ones as positive is a very effective tool.

2.      Practice mindfulness – this helps massively with controlling the emotions generated by those subconscious negative beliefs, allowing you to detach yourself from them and give more power to your conscious brain

3.      Read, read and read some more – there are some amazing books which help explain how our beliefs drive our success and how we can change them. Here are a few of the books I have found most helpful:

a.      The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters

b.     Ultimate Confidence by Marisa Peer

c.      The Power of Neuroplasticity by Shad Helmstetter

d.     Mind Sculpture by Ian Robertson

4.      Use Talking Therapies – if you feel you need deeper faster transformation this can help you release negative beliefs you don’t even know you have.

We all bring a unique set of characteristics and skills to the tribe. Once we remove the negative beliefs and behaviours which are smothering them our chances of success in the corporate jungle are vastly improved.




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