Can We Relearn Our Instincts? | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #20

It’s no secret that how we live today drastically differs from how our ancestors did. Our inventions and technologies have enabled us to do much more with less effort. But, of course, this all comes with a consequence, not good or bad, but multidirectional. Are our instinctual reactions no longer reliable or trustworthy? This is an exploration of how our modern lifestyles are impacting our instincts and what we can do to relearn how to trust them.

Our instincts are hard-wired into us for survival purposes. They are usually internal alarm systems warning us of danger or telling us when to rest or stop doing something. Unfortunately, due to the convenience of technology, humans have dulled their senses and lost touch with our natural, instinctual responses. 

For example, when we get into an argument or disagree with someone, we are typically very quick to react to this. This is a response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), originating from the vestibular system (hearing), which creates a feedback loop from our limbic system. In this case, we heard something we didn’t like, or someone crossed a line we disapproved of. So first, consider the foundation of the reaction: The SNS is designed for survival and highly focused responses. Next, consider the importance of the argument; is this something that requires an answer immediately, or is it something that has depth and would be better served with some digesting for a response? If it is the latter, the foundation of this response becomes the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This then becomes a processing opportunity for a creative reply. 

Within today’s world, we expect to have answers for everything with the amount of information we have coming at us, roughly the equivalent of 32 movies per day ( As a result, it has become a luxury to have the knowledge of a million different libraries at our fingertips, to look up anything and everything we choose, an impossibility of processing madness. This, in part, has left us with the reactions of pissed-off rattlesnakes for things we take far too personally. We certainly do not want to understand the depth of these reactions when we could simply move on to the next bite of information. 

The same holds with physical activity; since machines do most of the work for us these days, our bodies aren’t moving as much as they used to. A good chunk of us might walk a few thousand footsteps, rarely pick up anything heavy, or reach for or climb anything in a day. We rely on the convenience of technology and comfort over physical activity, leading us further away from understanding our instincts and needs for rest and movement. To get back in touch with ourselves and our intuition, look back to when we were children learning to walk. Although you probably don’t remember this, you can see any child young enough working towards this goal—motivated challenges, not only in terms of movement but also in terms of the mind as well. We get to practice mindfulness by learning to respond rather than react in moments of stress or distraction in a world we’ve never been safer in. Knowing when it’s time for rest or when it’s time for action – is all based on what our body is telling us rather than what is convenient for the mind at any given moment.

Additionally, we can relearn proper breathing practices – breathwork helps to quiet the mind so that you can listen more intently to your body’s senses without being swayed by your illusive reactions and distractions around you. Taking slow deep breaths can help ground you in the present moment so that you can make conscious decisions based on what your body is communicating rather than what your mind thinks it wants at that particular moment.

Humans have been disconnected from their basic instinctual reactions due to the convenience and comfort of technological advancements for a long time. However, this has yet to be long enough for us to take back some of our true nature. To bring ourselves back into alignment with ourselves again, we must take charge through consistent practice with fundamental tools like breathwork, learning how to respond rather than react in moments of stress or distraction while listening intently to what is going on internally instead of giving into illusive the reactions driven by the filters we create and the comfort-seeking behavior of our minds. With consistent practice, we can start trusting ourselves again and recognizing patterns associated with certain behaviors, leading us back toward trusting our instincts again!


“If you want to see the moon’s reflection in the water it best be still”


brian mackenzie

Brian Mackenzie is an innovator in human performance on stress adaptation and a pioneer in the development and application of custom protocols to optimize human health and performance. His clients and work have included: Ari Emanuel, William Morris Endeavor, Sheppard Mullin, Deloitte, Google, Tim Ferriss, U.S. Military (Navy, Army, Marines), Canadian Military (CANSOF), San Quentin State Prison, The UFC Performance Institute, Altis, Jon “Bones” Jones, Laird Hamilton, Tia Clair Toomey (3X CrossFit Games Champion), Rich Froning Jr. (4X CrossFit Games Champion) and many others.


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