Are you, at times, distracted by your immediately gratifying passions, or are you consistently inspired by your one meaningful purpose or mission?
Your brain is your body’s most intricate and complex organ. It is responsible for both your ungoverned, passionate or animal-like behaviors and your governed, purposeful or meaningful behaviors. To fulfill these roles, your brain has two structures or subsystems that guide your basic animal survival functions — your more emotional allocortex and your more reasonable neocortex. Each of these multilayered structures has different information-processing capabilities and different evolutionary ages.
There is a competition for control of your behavior across these “more primitive” and “more modern” brain circuits. Your allocortical reflexes are more core, impulsive and instinctual, while your prefrontal, neocortical reflections are your highest level and are the most flexible, adaptable and goal oriented.
Your allocortex includes your brainstem and hypothalamus, which are for your basic survival functions. It also includes your limbic system and related structures such as the amygdala, which are for your complex automatic behaviors including the stress fight or flight response, eating and hunger, sexual impulses and raw emotions. Your allocortex also includes basal ganglia and connected structures which are for your adaptive responses or behaviors.
Your neocortex includes your prefrontal cortex, or executive center, which is for your goal-oriented learning, executive behavior, objective reasoning and self-mastery. Neocortical structures do the job of mitigating and controlling your subjective emotional responses initiated in moments of perceived threat or survival. But your prefrontal neocortex still requires the rest of your brain to function.
Your brain, therefore, has overarching structures. The core circuits of your brain are reorganized over time, with certain circuit elements and regions expanding and becoming more complex based upon their need and use. But your brain is a whole system, and all of its neural circuits are engaged and collaborating consistently through time.
Your brain also has deep interconnections and cross-connections, and its circuit elements and regions are part of a complex dynamic system that does not easily separate completely into independent modules. As a result, your inner emotional brain tries to understand your problems, while your outer rational and logical brain solves them. Your whole brain is therefore responsible for expressing both your irrational, passionate behaviors and your more reasonable, meaningful and/or purposeful pursuits.
Your most basic, but often compelling, emotional feelings initiate your impulsive and instinctive passions. These passions can change with the wind and they can be the source of much of your suffering. What you’re interested in and fascinated by today will probably bore you tomorrow. And your passions generally won’t pay your bills or consistently or permanently initiate your long-term and greatest achievements in life. They emerge spontaneously from your subjective biases or the imbalanced and filtered perceptions of the nature of your reality. Though they can sometimes be useful for surviving immediate threats or stresses, they are not reliable keys to great or long-term achievements or fulfillment.
Your passions represent strong and barely controllable emotions driven by your perceptions of pain and pleasure and their corresponding feelings. They reveal where you are a neophyte or an amateur in life more than a master. They emerge when you manically and extrovertly tell in great detail who you intend to become and what you imagine your future success or fantasy will be like. And though “you haven’t gotten there” yet, and might not even be on the right track or a feasible one, you tend to express your fantasy with ease.
These passions represent your lower, more reflexive forms of behavior over your higher, more reflective functions. Their intense and fervent zeal can be ambitious, but delusional. When they rule you, you can be naive and unaware of your true surrounding reality. Your passions can stop or plateau you and make you eventually lose interest and become fearful or defeated.
Your passions can make you strive for pride and manic excitement. They can be associated with your most subjective state of mind and can lead you biases that result in irrational beliefs. Given the transient nature of your passions, you may not even discover when you’ve been thrown off by the futile frustrations and setbacks that they create.
“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings.”
Aristotle described the greatest life as the one lived in moderation, according to the golden mean — the mean between the oscillations of passionate emotional extremes. Courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. Temperance is the mean between abstinence and self-indulgence. Generosity is the mean between stinginess and extravagance. Your life of moderation requires your rational control over your emotional appetites.
“For desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even when they are the ‘best’ of men.”
According to Aristotle, when your life is governed by nothing more than the pleasures and pains that come from the satisfaction and frustration of your passionate appetites, you are indistinguishable from the untamed animal.
Your allocortical desires manifest in two primary forms: acquisition or consumption and pleasure or enjoyment. In your animal-like nature, you desire to acquire and enjoy more and more in the world. You can become ultimately exhausted in this endless thirst and pursuit, for your thirst can never be quenched. Neither can this endless desire be solved by complete suppression.
“To seek that which is unavailable and to avoid that which is unavoidable is the source of human suffering.”
When you are poised, your prefrontal neocortex keeps your baser emotions and impulses in check. It inhibits them or tones them down. But temporarily shutting down your executive center and turning on your primitive allocortical center allows you to temporarily survive your most immediate and perceived threat.
On the other hand, knowing and pursuing a meaningful purpose is a primary and essential function for your fulfillment. Clearly identifying your primary purpose can make you act wisely and remain more poised and resilient for what lies ahead. It can make you humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless of your many distracting impulses or instincts. Your purpose gives you direction and it provides you with the more objective reason for which something meaningful is done or created or for which something inspiring exists. Your purpose is a lot more steady and stable and allows you a metric to base your inspiring pursuit on.
Your meaningful purpose is not excited by your successes, or flustered by your failures, nor is it sensitive to the praises or criticisms of your peers or superiors. Your purpose does not stop if your results don’t go according to your initial plan during the first or even subsequent tries. Your purpose doesn’t stop if you map out this exact role for yourself and then “fail” to “immediately” obtain it. Your purpose is what truly and intrinsically drives you — it is an expression of your highest most intrinsic value. Your purpose inspires you to leave a marked impression upon the world, which becomes eventually well received, if not honored. Your purpose is more realistic, objective and detached from any immediate outcomes.
But, before you embark on your life’s journey, it is wise to make sure you know where you’re going and why. It is wise to know that you’re running a race towards a finish line that you are called to, not the finish line that you think others expect, or what will make them impressed. And when you run your race with purpose, because it is what you are inspired to do and destined to be great at, you become relentless and unstoppable. Not because you have a fleeting passion, but because you have a long-term purpose and vision that penetrates through your many assumed setbacks or obstacles. Your purpose is your true north and it is the primary why behind your life. It is the deep reason you have created for your very existence.
Your journey will be long. Your road, at times, will be seemingly difficult. And if you are like some, you may have never yet even known or pursued your purpose. But, it is your purpose that allows you to repeatedly triumph over your momentary passions. So dedicate yourself to your purpose or inspired mission and use your forebrain masterfully and wisely and give yourself permission to do something extraordinary on planet Earth.