100 Ways To Live A Better Life – 29. Recycle Your Aggressiveness

Don’t throw it away, recycle it! Use it for something you really want! Call out those wild forces inside of you and put them to work. Aggressiveness is part of your being, so don’t try to reject it, because it will only grow stronger. Recycle your aggressiveness.

Every aggressive action is in fact the result of a certain imbalance. This is why is wiser to assess your imbalances early and acknowledge them. Postponing your reactions to a restrictive situation will trigger aggressiveness, sooner or later.

But the good news is that aggressiveness is also a pure manifestation of power. If you can break a wall with your fist, that means you’re strong. Maybe stronger than you thought you were. The trick is to acknowledge that power and master it.

Aggressiveness is not something outside you, it’s always your inner energy that manifests. Just use it wisely. 

Why Are We Aggressive

As I already wrote in another article of this series (yes, in case you don’t know, this is part of a bigger series, actually the biggest blogging challenge I ever took, 100 posts, one post per day on a given topic) we have two brains.

We have many tiny areas inside our brains, but we do have two which are more clearly defined: one of them is called the limbic brain, and it sits on top of your spine (sometimes called also the “reptilian brain”) and the other one is called neocortex and it’s in the front of your skull.

Neocortex is newer, it was developed only in the later stages of the human evolution, whereas the limbic brain is very, very old. These two brains have different functions. Simply put, the limbic brain is responsible with survival and neocortex is responsible with subtler emotions like love and compassion.

Now, let’s take a small break and talk about this distinction. When I say what each brain does I’m not taking it literally. It’s not like love and compassion are hosted in the neocortex and fear and aggressiveness are hosted in the limbic brain. I use the term “being responsible” more like “are triggered by”. So, when I say “the limbic brain is responsible with the fight or flight situation”, I mostly say that the limbic brain is triggered when a dangerous situation arrives and it takes over. I don’t think consciousness is hosted by the brain, no more than I believe that the radio announcer is hosted in the transistor radio. We just rent these bodies. But all these bodies have some common functionality, and if you understand it, it will be easy to figure out why certain things are happening in certain situations.

So, back to our question: “why are we aggressive?”. Millions of year of experience taught us to protect ourselves. That’s how the limbic brain grew up. Every time we sense danger, the limbic brains gets triggered and it sends a very strong signal to the body. It’s a stress signal and it puts the body on the highest level of alert. This signal gives us only two choices: fight or flight. We have a few microseconds to choose. If we think we have no option other than fight (or if we think we can win by fighting) then we fight. If not, we run away to save our butts.

In this process, which was created as a procedure for survival, we foster aggressiveness. The “flight” part of the answer must be really tough. Because it’s directly linked to survival. We’re past negotiation here, we fight, we need to put down the other one, to kill the opponent, otherwise we will be killed.

So, aggressiveness is a survival tool. To some extent, it’s a very useful one, too.

But then we mix things up. We fail to correctly evaluate the environment. And, instead of using the neocortex to process the stimuli, we think with the limbic brain. We mistake a normal situation for a survival one. Instead of thinking rationally we respond by reflex, using our long time trained killer instincts.

And we do this because we link some of our values to our own survival. For many of us, a job would give us the necessary support to survive. In time, we create such a strong link between a specific job and our survival that all the threatening actions towards that job will trigger the limbic brain. We don’t leave time to neocortex to interfere and to evaluate.

Maybe the fact that our job will end is a good thing. Maybe we’re supposed to move forward. But because we linked it so deep to our survival, we won’t be able to see it. So, we will fight.

That’s the bad news.

How To Recycle Aggressiveness

The good news about the limbic brain is that it can trigger enormous amounts of energy. Aggressiveness, in its pure, survival-bound manifestation, is a form of power. It help us surpass obstacles we didn’t even imagine we could overcome.

But there’s a trick:  how do we know when to fight and when to smile, pensively, knowing that “there still might be something useful in this shitty situation”? How can we separate immediate, life-threatening contexts from potentially useful (although still stressful) events?

Well, it may be simpler than you think. Discriminating between “life and death”  situations and just stressful situations is a matter of learning. So, the answer is in the links we create. That’s what learning is, by the way, making links between things and their meaning.

In our modern world, the “life and death” situations are dramatically fewer than in the Amazonian rainforest, by the way. Technology, science, progress, all these made the present world much safer than it used to be even 100 years ago. But we kinda left the limbic brain at the same level. It didn’t shrink. The evolution went faster than biology, so we now have to deal with a strange situation: we’re safer than we think we are.

Because that’s the bare truth. We face way lesser problems than our ancestors, even less than our grand parents, to be honest. Yet, we mistakenly still link some of our values to survival. It’s not only about the job, you know. Emotional support is also important and it’s one of the most common  causes when it comes to aggressiveness. If we feel we can lose the one we love, we become aggressive.

So, we should learn to unlink. To be present and to realize that our survival is, for a much bigger part than we think, granted. Yes, we may lose our job. But there are thousands of other opportunities waiting for us. Yes, we may be dumped from a relationship and yes, it may hurt. But there are 7 billions people on this earth. 7 billions. You can’t even count to 7 billions in your predicted lifespan (it would take you about 220 years to do that if you count one person per second).

As we unlink our values from our survival, as we understand that we can go on just as it as, trusting that everything will turn out ok (one way or another) we will slowly shift from the limbic brain to the neocortex.

And the aggressiveness we generate during the frustration phase, well, let’s use its energy to build another job or another relation. Let’s free that huge power source, let’s take the violence out of it and unleash the raw power for generating a more fulfilling experience.

It’s our choice.

further reading

Recycle Aggressiveness

The Secret Art Of Keeping Card Castles From Falling Down

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