In the first chapter of his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman introduces the concept of the high-road and the low-road in the brain.
Think of the low-road as a super fast link in your brain that processes information before your high-road can rationalise and add meaning to it.
Imagine that you’re being introduced to someone and you pick up on the slightest hint of negativity exuded by your new acquaintance.
Your low-road picks up on this via body language, tone or visual cues, and processes this information.
In response to this freshly processed bundle of information, your body responds by flooding itself with stress hormones and with an elevated heart beat.
The first impression has been made and there is a visceral reaction that occurs in response to this first impression.
Your body remembers and your unconscious registers this.
No amount of high-road rationalising after the fact – no matter how fair and genuine – can take it away and undo its effects.
From an evolutionary perspective, all of your body and mind’s systems have developed and survived because they have helped your ancestors in the passing of their genes forward to future generations.
A fear of heights was passed along your lineage because it helped your ancestors survive.
The evolutionary branches that didn’t have a fear of heights were more likely to get really close to the edge of a ridge for lack of fear to prevent them from doing so, and likely fell to their deaths before passing along on their fearless genes.
The low-road is one of the oldest and therefore most developed systems in our brains. If we apply the above reasoning to our instincts and the low-road, you can follow the argument in a similar way.
Your instincts were developed to help you survive.
This includes helping your ancestors avoid treacherous people in their tribes, being risk averse in social settings so as not be ostracised by the group or having a knack for identifying opportunities that would promote survival.
Your own instincts are the result of not only your personal experiences but an iterative honing and perfecting of hundreds of thousands of years that lead to the collective survival and passing of successful traits onto you.
It can be argued that it’s the most sophisticated survival system that you have to keep you alive and well.
And so when you get a funny feeling about something or someone that tries to convince you of something that doesn’t feel right to you, what should you do?
You should listen to your gut.
Get in tune with your instincts and understand that they’re there for a reason, and have generations of survival knowledge behind them working for you.
And by honing them yourself, you’re paying it forward to future generations.
There’s lots of talk about the importance of authenticity and self-awareness in leading not only the most successful life for yourself, but one that is aligned with your core being that will lead to a life well lived.
Embrace the collective intelligence within you and trust yourself to go out there and be the best you.
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