On first look, an impulse can feel very much like an instinct. It comes from inside and seems to drive you to do something. Instincts also come from inside but are more a general gut feeling that you should follow a particular path. Impulses are not always good for you whereas instincts usually are.
If you can train yourself to recognise the difference between impulses and instincts you will be well on your way to cultivating a life of value and a will power and attention that serves your best interests.
Impulses are really just cravings that have surfaced to your attention, bubbling up from your subconscious darkness and driving you to do something that will normally create a burst of pleasure somehow or somewhere in your body.
Whether this is a good or bad thing does not get considered, whether this is a repeat of thousands of similar habitual actions that you have done before is irrelevant. What matters to the impulse is to offer a way to get a quick fix of feeling good, of feeling pleasure. Perhaps you have an urge to have a drink, eat a cake, send a quick fire email retort or tell someone what you really think of them.
Impulses are reactive, habitual and come from the subconscious mammalian limbic region of the brain designed to repeat behaviours that have been tagged with a positive emotional feeling. Impulses often come more strongly when you are feeling down and vulnerable. They are a primitive system for trying to automatically overcome that.
Unfortunately repeating repetitive impulses drives addiction, depression and ill health. Blindly following your impulses really means you are being controlled by some of your most simplistic systems. This is rarely good for an evolved life.
Instincts connect you to your true heart felt values and desires. They are felt without being learned. They cannot always be spelt out or vocalised but they are deep and powerful, if only we train ourselves to listen to them.
Competing against them are parts of society, government, media and culture. Telling us to do this, think that, buy now, earn more. Then we will be happy. Shouldn’t Australia therefore be the happiest country in the world? Beautiful location, great weather, amazing nature, brilliant health system, second richest country per person – talk about the lucky country. But hang on – how come we have a mental health crisis (like most developed countries) with burgeoning levels of stress, anxiety and depression? Because we are not following our instincts.
Instincts are an ancient and innate force felt throughout all parts of nature, perhaps even the energy of nature herself. Instincts are a primordial force designed to heal, nurture and create thriving vibrant life forces. Instincts are loving, kind and sometimes radical when compared to conventional cultural thinking.
Listening to your instincts will tell you to move away from destructive relationships or leave that job that is rotting your soul. It will rarely be the easy path but easy paths are boring. You want the rocky path that goes up and down around ledges and cliffs that you have to hang onto sometimes, but a path that rewards you with stunning views, constant challenges and leads to the top of the mountain.
Your instincts will help you to find peace of mind, contentment, purpose and meaning. Your instincts will lead to you to an inspired life. A life worth living. A life you won’t regret.
Hear your instincts, they are worth listening to.
Paul von Bergen
Paul teaches about mindfulness in life once a month at the retreat. Dates below.