I’ve been fostering dogs rescued from Romania for some time now, and last week I got a puppy waiting for adoption. She is extremely cute as puppies usually are, and admittedly, I am tempted to adopt her myself. This is not a rational thought because I know that having a puppy will be very inconvenient as I begin to travel again. Not to mention how much work it is to raise a puppy properly. She reminds me a little of my old dog Chloe who I raised from a pup until she passed away last October. It brings back fond memories. When I step back from my feelings, I can observe the situation more objectively. I know that when I hold that cute little puppy, it is causing my brain to produce oxytocin which is the same hormone that helps mothers bond with their babies. So my biology is affecting the way I think and feel.
When I watch this puppy, I see the things she knows how to do instinctively and things she learns how to do. She imitates some of the behaviours of my girlfriend’s dog but many things she does because her biology tells her to. She is very curious, like my dog Chloe was as a puppy but lost as she grew older. My little rescue imitates my girlfriend’s dog, but one day, she will be fully developed and go her own way. The same happens with children who learn from imitation until they are roughly eleven and then begin to learn through rational deduction. If humans and other animals are so strongly influenced by their biology, how can we, as self-aware beings, use this understanding to our benefit?
We hear a great deal about life hacks. We have ways of hacking the body for better performance and hacking the mind to do the same. I don’t look at it so much in terms of hacks but instead using this understanding to have a more conscious and self-directed experience. I now know that my brain chemistry has caused me to feel a bond to this puppy, but without this knowledge, I may have tried to rationalise why I should keep this little dog because it felt right. If we can step back and try to understand objectively what our biology is urging us to do, we can be more in control and less impulsive or susceptible to manipulation. This is the opportunity, although it is not easy, just like observing your thoughts during meditation doesn’t mean a permanent end to worry or self-doubt.
Our biology can drive us to eat, desire sex, lash out in anger or even to become sedentary. These biological inclinations have their uses or perhaps were once useful when humans lived in a different way. Awareness allows change, and with a better understanding of the way your biology is causing your cravings and urges, you may be able to make more conscious and healthy choices. Maybe you can learn to stay curious even as you grow older and grow beyond your biological limitations. When you learn to observe your cravings and stress responses, you will be able to act more consciously and learn to overcome the biological urges that lead to unhealthy and unhappy reactions. Instead, you can make conscious choices that lead to a happier and more fulfilling life.