Human beings are more complicated than badgers. This is not a criticism of badgers – I love them.

I want to be clear, I am not a badger psychologist. I do not have special insight into badger life. It’s just that a badger’s brain is different. It is designed for survival. This means that a badger has to do what it feels like doing. Further, a badger cannot do what it does not feel like doing. There is a direct link between patterns in the environment, feelings in a badger’s body, and action taken by the badger. Trigger, sensation, reaction. Period.

Human beings, on the other hand, have a brain that contains a survival machine sitting underneath an imagination machine. This means that we can write poetry, build buildings, travel across the world, create the internet, and learn to juggle. It also means that we can worry about threats that don’t exist, create problems by pursuing cravings or procrastinating, exhaust ourselves trying to control what we cannot control, and torture ourselves with ideas about how who are supposed to be.

As far as we know, a badger does not do these things. There is no reason to believe that a badger has anxiety about the number of followers on badgergram. A badger does not look in the mirror and think unkind things about the badger looking back at him. Badger parents do not lay awake at night wondering why their little badgers are not doing better at the badger academy.

But a badger cannot be kind when it feels fear or anger. A badger cannot remember to call a friend who is struggling and offer to help even when it is inconvenient. A badger cannot express gratitude and awe for the miracle of existence. A badger cannot stand up for equality and justice for badgers it has never met. A badger cannot dedicate itself to making the world a better place in the face of ridicule and harassment. For better or worse, that’s all human stuff.

Human beings have an incredible ability to think thoughts about stuff we have never experienced. We can travel through space and time in our heads! We can feel what we feel and then choose what we do next. We can do stuff that we don’t feel like doing. We can choose not to do stuff when we do feel like doing it. We can compare how we feel in any given moment to the goals, commitments, and relationships we value, and choose a response accordingly.

Of course, all of this is based on the assumption that we are aware of what we are thinking, what we are feeling, and what matters to us. The incredible human ability to self-regulate requires us to leverage our incredible human capacity for awareness. Without awareness, we are left to live a badger life – trigger, sensation, reaction. Period.

Which leads me to another incredible human ability – the ability to rewire our brains on purpose. We can choose what we practice. We can develop and strengthen skills through conscious behavior. We can cultivate awareness, acceptance, gratitude, compassion, courage, and awe. We can become more skilled at feeling fear, anger, sadness, stress, or anxiety and responding with kindness, bravery, and love. This is why it is worth all the other stuff that comes with being human.

Interested in learning more?

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Dave offers well-being coaching for individuals and training for teams and organizations