We behave in a certain way. It is shaped by various factors like our upbringing, environment, privilege, etc. But most of the time, it is shaped by our instincts. Until pointed out, we continue to act with our instincts. This instinct-driven behavior is our default behavior.
I am making a case that anyone who has never rebelled against or resisted their default behavior will find it hard to achieve success in this world. All the successful people we see have done something that required fighting the default behavior, which led them to achieve something exceptional and become successful.
Our species (Homo Sapiens) have lived a long time on this earth. And for a long time (hundreds of thousands of years), we survived by hunting and gathering food. Humans back then lived in small tribes and constantly wandered for food. It was only twelve to thirteen thousand years ago that we started farming. Once our ancestors developed farming, they stopped being vagabonds and settled into large communities, which morphed into cities and later into kingdoms and nations. Twelve thousand years is a minuscule time frame to shape any evolutionary process. So most of our instincts have been shaped when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers.
With that historical context in mind, I will continue to point out how we act in default ways and undermine our success in the rest of the post.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors (as the name suggests) hunted animals and gathered fruits, berries, mushrooms, etc., for living. They never knew when and where they would find their next meal. So the idea was to gulp the whole meal as they found it. So instinctively, we have the drive to eat as much as possible.
Today we live in a time when food is in abundance. We have a plethora of places to get our food from. We are sure what we want to eat and where it will come from! But today, we still showcase our default behavior and over-eat, which leads to countless issues like obesity, heart diseases, etc.
On the other hand, those who show resistance to this default behavior of over-eating lead a relatively healthy life.
We are genetically hardwired to be pessimists. Pessimists draw a lot of attention than optimists. Not listening to a pessimist sounds like a bad idea, even if it turns out to be a farce in the future. No wonder the shamans, Jyotish (fortune-tellers), stock market speculators are still in business. They are constantly predicting doomsday scenarios.
In our ancestor’s world, the optimists did not survive. If an optimist person, in a feat of bravado, did something reckless (like trying to fight an unknown predator), the immediate outcome was death, if not an instant, but a slow one. It is only pessimists who survived to pass on their genes.
It is hard to get killed easily in today’s world, where we are shielded from most life-threatening things. But we still carry that instinctual fear and pessimism in our decision-making where there is no fear of dying. People play it safe with life decisions like whether to pursue a passion or do a secure job? People avoid taking risks thinking the risks are not worth it.
But in today’s world, it is optimists who take the world forward. We wouldn’t have known his name if Warren Buffet had been pessimistic like everyone else about the stock market. He has seen many stock market dips caused due to various reasons. If he had let his cynical side do the decision-making, his money would have never compounded the way it did.
Abraham Lincoln lost in total eight different elections in his lifetime on his path to becoming the president. But if he had let his default behavior play, he would have given up way early and could never have become president. He resisted his default behavior and remained optimistic against all odds.
Novelty-seeking is yet another human trait that we have fostered. This trait has led the small tribe of Homo Sapiens to move from east Africa and conquer the whole world. We are constantly seeking something new after being at someplace or in a particular situation. As much as this is a helpful trait, it is also detrimental to your progress if you wish to go deeper into one specific aspect of your life.
Getting better at anything needs that you keep going at it persistently. Suppose you let your default novelty-seeking behavior take precedence over being bored and doing the same thing over and over again to gain perfection. Everyone who keeps practicing the same thing repeatedly gets bored, but those who keep at it despite the boredom come out triumphant.
So if you keep your “what’s new” behavior in check and be persistent at something that you wish to excel at, you can achieve it. You must be willing to get bored!
“Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.” ― Machiavelli, Niccolò.
Our body has evolved to conserve energy. It was beneficial for our ancestors, who did not have a steady food source, unlike us. Due to this fact, we are inherently lazy (read as conserve energy) to do the workouts, and sitting in one place feels natural.
Hence anybody who goes against this default behavior by exercising enjoys a healthy lifestyle.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have a trait of long-term thinking. We are hardwired to only think from a short-term perspective. Our ancestors worked only when they were hungry. They never hoarded stuff for next month or next year. This hoarding, saving for the future, thinking long-term, or waiting for delayed gratification is a relatively new phenomenon for humans. We started thinking long-term only after the agricultural revolution.
So it is in our best interests to fight our instinct of instant gratification. I want to call the example of Warren Buffet yet again. His investment style, a.k.a value investing, only talks about the long-term prospects of any business. His long-term thinking has led him to create a wealth of multiple billions off of stock markets.
We have evolved to eat sugary, fatty, and salty things to survive. Sugary food is rich in carbohydrates. Fatty food is a source of essential fats and proteins. While salty food is good for blood pressure regulation using elements like Sodium Chloride.
Today’s packaged food industry takes advantage of this fact and designs foods that are either too sugary, too fatty, or too salty. If they market it as no sugar, then it is undoubtedly fatty or salty. If acting on our defaults, we will continue to binge on these unhealthy snacks.
If we were to resist the temptation of eating these unhygienic foods, we would lead a healthy life.
NOTE: I am not sure of the source of the following instincts, but wherever they come from, resisting them will benefit the individual.
We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. We are always trying to look good. This behavior creates a “be good” mindset, and thus most folks focus on coming across as good at something.
This is the default behavior, while if we resist this compulsion to compare with others and start comparing to our old selves, we start working on the “get better” mindset. This way, we are improving and not just showing off.
They are faults in our thinking. If ignorant of them, they cause one to make erroneous decisions.
Once one is aware of them and starts actively counteracting these biases during the decision-making process, they enable themselves to take superior decisions in whatever decision-making setup they are in.
Make a habit of investigating the default behavior you are a prey to, then work to supersede them actively. Because more often than not, these default behaviors give us default mediocre results. To get extraordinary results, very few have, be willing to do what few do.