We’re impulsive creatures, there’s no way around it. We’ve evolved, for better or for worse, over the past 200,000 years to become the people we are today. And who are those people? Well, we’re a needy bunch, that’s for sure. And we’re a species based entirely on community and the feelings generated through human interaction. We have an innate desire to keep ourselves comfortable and safe in order to prolong our time spent on this planet.
We feel a calling to show love and affection and to become a provider. We’re a species that has thrived through differentiation and specialization. Many of us are seemingly cursed by one genetic disposition or another. And ultimately, we’re adaptable.
“We know what we are but not what we may be.”
Ophelia in Hamlet
But beyond that, we’re creators and dreamers and individuals who aspire to both become unique and at the same time transcend individualism. In short, we’re arguably the most complex organisms on our planet, and certainly the most complex social species. Humans are an emotional advancement of art and altruism that can sometimes go awry.
We’ve therefore, over time, redefined the meaning of success. The idea of a successful life has always been one of survival and bloodlines, but now, in today’s world, success has become as complex as the people who’ve redefined it. And to an extent we’re still wrestling with this fact. We’ve only just begun to understand the ramifications of our social and technological revolution and how the human psyche will fit in and react to it in a successful way.
But why? How have we grown to become the most dominant and free thinking life form in the known universe but also have become possibly the most directionless? The answer lies within our own evolutionary psychology and how we’re predisposed to react to our changing environment. We’ve altered the game and our psychology doesn’t know it yet.
Which means, in our infinite wisdom, that the collective interpretation of human success has been modified, but our physical makeup has yet to adapt. Our instinct and genetics are actively fighting against the achievement of our new, 21st century goals. Best case scenario might be that we ignore our evolutionary psychology completely and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, we succumb to our impulsive nature and thwart our plans to achieve the success we’ve defined for ourselves.
Neither scenarios seem ideal. But luckily, they aren’t the only two options available. If you want to be successful, truly successful, in whatever capacity that means to you, it’s important to identify key aspects of your evolutionary psychology and harness it to push you upstream toward the attainment of your goals and ultimate successes.
So, you success-minded readers, use your evolutionary impulses for good rather than letting them control you. Below are seven key aspects of human evolutionary psychology, that if identified and used correctly, will stop working against you and start helping you in the pursuit of your success and ideal life.
Harness the Power of Your Psychology to Succeed
Take Care of Your Bare Essentials
All humans have needs. In fact, we have five specific wants stacked on top of each other, according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And before we can fulfill the higher level human wants and desires, we first need to take care of the lower human needs.
The very first need, when looking at Maslow’s pyramid of needs, is physiological, or the need for food, water, and shelter. The next need is safety, normally derived from the consistent attainment of key physiological needs and a sense of safety that comes from the inclusion in a tribe or group of people. Third is love and belonging, a need we can achieve only after we’ve taken care of our physiological survival and have a level of safety that prolongs our life.
The third need of love is what I call a transition in desire, from basic needs to altruistic or high-level needs. The fourth need on Maslow’s hierarchy is esteem. This encompasses the innate human desire to be respected within the community in which they operate and reside. This respect comes from altruistic actions that, over time, build a positive reputation with peers.
And finally, the fifth and highest human desire on the pyramid is the need for self-actualization. And here’s where we reach the point, both literally and figuratively.
Success equals self-actualization in today’s world. It encompasses the pursuit of a person’s full potential and the gradual maximization of that potential. Goal-setting now embodies passion and purpose where it may not have just a few short years ago.
Therefore, in order to be successful, we have to achieve self-actualization. But, it’s impossible for anyone to self-actualize if they first haven’t taken care of the four previous human needs. So, before we set out to change the world, it’s important to first take care of your essentials. Building a strong foundation of physiological and communal safety, filled with love and respect, is essential to moving to the highest form of human desire, and therefore human success: actualization.
Focus on Your Personal Community
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about humanity it is our deep-seeded need for community, both socially, emotionally, and physical. And yes, I know that community is part of the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, but it’s also one of the most important parts.
A sense of community is the driving force behind almost all of our actions as humans. We’ve evolved to be an emotionally acute and highly communal species that has relied on the strength of a group since our inception. This genetically-driven psychology is still prevalent today, but has been damaged by the rise of social media and instant gratification.
You see, we still need the benefits of a community to achieve success. Whether that group is made up of friends, family, coworkers or even acquaintances doesn’t matter, what matters is that we need the collective strength of our network to achieve our lofty goals. Unfortunately, our modern sense of “community,” one riddled with weak connections and unknown Facebook friends, isn’t giving us the support needed to achieve the success we want.
Now, I know that social platforms like LinkedIn and even Twitter have helped us expand our influence and reach. They are amazing tools for advancing key initiatives like brand exposure and even sales. But that’s not the type of community I’m talking about.
When we talk success, we are required to have a strong support system of highly respected people that can be called on for emotional support when things are down. What’s more, we need that same community to help us celebrate when things are good. The path to success has its ups and downs, and a strong community will help you maximize the ups and minimize the downs.
Jim Rohn said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I believe this to be true. It’s imperative, then, that your community be one of uplifting people that will push you to achieve your unique success. Remember, If you’re ever sad or depressed on your journey, I implore you to look to your recent human interactions. Chances are you haven’t had a good one in a while.
Force Yourself Outside of Your Comfort Zone
It goes back again to the human hierarchy of needs, but it is a basic human psychological desire to avoid pain, mitigate risk, and stay as safe as possible. And it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Why venture outside of your cave where there are saber tooth cats when it’s perfectly safe inside?
Well, thankfully there are no longer saber-toothed cats (or, at least, thankfully we aren’t below them in the food chain anymore). But, we still harbor the instinct to stay within our comfort zone, even though stepping out of that zone, in today’s society, means taking social risk rather than the risk of death or harm.
And so we still treat risks like they’re life or death situations, when in reality, that’s rarely the case. Instead, we need to work against our physiological makeup and actively step outside of our comfort zones. Whatever success means to you, whether it be creative, financial, or otherwise, chances are that it lies outside of your zone of comfortability.
So the next time you try to achieve a goal and your fear of embarrassment or the momentary loss of income rears its ugly head, take a deep breath. Even financial hardships, when looked at with proper perspective, are never life-ending. Instead, step outside of your cave and embrace whatever you encounter on the path to your goals.
Overcome Your Genetic Predisposition
Let’s face it, we all have something we don’t like about ourselves. Surprise! What, you thought you were the only one?
In centuries past, a genetic predisposition, one like body fat or maybe even a lack of dexterity or flexibility, greatly hampered the ability to help the tribe, provide for dependents, and become successful in the prehistoric sense.
People with genetic makeups that put them at a disadvantage were either relegated to more menial tribal tasks or were effectively wiped out of the gene pool through social and physical Darwinism. But that’s no longer the case. Now, success has become much more personal, and the idea of success has become much more balanced.
Today, instead of success being defined as the ability to provide or add value to the tribe, it is now defined as a balanced approach toward life. An approach that has personal drivers like financial and sexual goals, but also has altruistic drivers like community service and the spreading of positive values.
A well-balanced life is now synonymous with a successful one. And let’s face it, no one’s going to be removed from the gene pool today because of genetic defect or predisposition. What this all means, then, is that to become successful you need to focus on improving all areas of your life, even the parts you aren’t good at. Detractors that once spelled the end of a generational line are now looked at as avenues for self-improvement.
Even that extra body fat or the trouble you have retaining information can be improved. In fact, it should be improved. Only through continuous, balanced improvement will you achieve the goals you want.
Thrive by Becoming Unique and Adaptable
We as humans are ultimately an adaptable and unique species. We evolved that way. Humans used consistent trial and error, coupled with learning and knowledge sharing, to advance to the level of culture and society we have today.
We’ve thrived through specialization. People who had a genetic predisposition for long distance running and fleet-footedness became tribal hunters. People with high levels of emotional intelligence became healers. Those with sharp eyes and a knack for botany became the tribal gatherers.
And now, in today’s world, nothing’s changed. We can still access through specialization. We all have a specific set of skills and backgrounds that result in a unique genius that other people need. We can achieve our specific goals through unique specialization that makes us desirable in society and the workforce and helps push us in the direction of our overarching passion and purpose.
But in addition to having uniquely specialized skills, we have to be adaptable if we want to achieve lasting success. Take a leaf out of the book of our ancestors: People survive when they specialize and at the same time are adaptable at adjusting that specialization when needed.
Let’s face it, nothing you do is going to go according to plan. When you step outside of your cave and out into the real world, you take a single step toward your goals and then immediately adjust to the unknown stimuli and the changing environment.
Just like our ancestors, if we want to survive long enough to achieve success, and in this case survival is social, emotional, and monetary, we need to be uniquely qualified for a specific specialization. Further, we need to be adaptable. Who knows when that skill you’ve been profiting from becomes obsolete, effectively attacking you like a saber-toothed cat of old. The adaptable person, however, can thwart that attack and become stronger than before.