A Love of Noise, Speed & Risk: Understanding Stress Mechanics

What is going on with persons who seem in love with noise, speed and risk? I guess a man in organized car racing could be after some fame, however fickle, and possibly even some prize money. But what are these when weighed against the possibility of permanent pain and disability? But there are not just the ones in organized racing. There are also the ones who are always pedal to the medal and the ones who just can’t stay away from their local version of “Deadman’s Curve” [a song by The Beach Boys]. What are these people thinking? Or do they think at all? When someone goes roaring through the neighborhood in an extremely loud car, what is his likely motivation? Just to stick to the people that wish he would just go away and take his obnoxious noise with him, or can he actually like it? Doesn’t it hurt his ears, too?

Good questions! When other people’s behaviors cause hassle for us, we naturally wonder what they are thinking. When we personally dislike the activities that someone else seems obsessed with, it’s easy to assume they are just acting impulsively without any logic involved. Yet humans always have strategic reasons for doing what they do, even when they aren’t consciously aware of what those reasons are.

Now you’ve listed several different kinds of behaviors here–each of which has its own set of complex strategies behind it. To give you an answer that will fit in one post, I’m going to focus on some general principles instead of delving into each of these topics in depth. While the noise, speed, and risk lovers have different nuances to what they are doing, the principles I’m going to explain are key factors in all of these cases.

The Four Elements

Every human has four different elements to their being. Each one of those elements has its own personality, priorities, and preferences. None of your elements are clones of each other. Each is distinct, and each makes critical contributions to your overall system. How well you are able to function as a human depends not only on how well your elements are doing individually, but also on how well they are getting along with each other.

Within this fascinating community, your subconscious is by far the most dominant member. Because your body and conscious are incapable of functioning without the help of your subconscious, they feel very dependent on it, and view it as a greater authority than your soul.

Unlike your body and conscious, your soul does not need help from another element to do its own soul thing. Because your soul does not consider your subconscious to be propping it up in life, your soul considers itself to be equal to your subconscious in rank. Because your soul views things this way, it is not afraid to go to war against your subconscious when it disagrees with something your subconscious is doing. Whenever these two alpha elements start locking horns with each other, your body and conscious become anxious onlookers. Your body and conscious have very submissive attitudes towards your other two elements. It’s as if your soul and subconscious are two strong willed parents who frequently fight with each other, while your body and conscious are two little kids who just want peace in their home.

It is always very stressful for your conscious and body whenever your two alpha elements are upset–either personally or with each other. It’s even more stressful when your soul and subconscious get into a heated debate with each other then start demanding that your other two elements choose a side in that argument. No child wants to be told he has to choose between mommy or daddy, especially when he wants both in his life. But if forced to choose, he will likely go with the parent who is most involved in his daily care. This is what happens with your conscious and body. When forced to choose sides, they will usually choose your subconscious over your soul, because they depend on your subconscious to help them function. Once it becomes a case of 3 against 1, your soul usually finds it impossible to get its way in the situation. But instead of accepting defeat graciously, your soul will often seethe over the injustice of it all, and its constant fuming in the background causes ongoing stress for all of your elements.

It’s very helpful to understand that while your soul and subconscious are quite different in how much influence they have over your other elements, they can be equally stubborn towards each other. While your subconscious can override your body and conscious and drastically alter how those elements function, it does not have such power over your soul. Your soul functions in a way that your subconscious can’t directly interfere with, and this makes your soul a formidable rival to your subconscious.

Elemental Focus

So now that we’ve identified your four elements and gotten a general idea of how they view each other, let’s move on to the issue of focus. Here things start getting very complicated so let’s use an example to make things easier.

Suppose you’re listening to a friend telling you an interesting piece of news. In such a moment, all four of your elements are listening to that conversation, each with a different degree of interest. Your elements are always multitasking. In any given moment, each of of your elements is dividing its attention between three different things: 1) its personal agenda, 2) what you’re other elements are up to, and 3) what is happening around you.  Instead of dividing its attention equally between these three things, each of your elements is constantly adjusting how much of its attention it gives to each area. 

Now when it comes to your friend’s conversation, how interested you feel overall in what she’s saying depends on how each of your elements are responding to her. For example, if she starts talking about subjects that really interest your soul, then that part of you will turn more of its focus onto what your friend is saying. Having just one element increase its focus on your friend will cause you to feel more interested overall in what she’s saying.  But if none of your elements are interested in your friend at the moment, then you won’t be listening to her at all.  Instead, you’ll feel lost in your own thoughts or completely distracted by other things in your environment.  

Let’s use a chart to see how this works.  We’ll just focus on your soul for now.  While your soul is always busy with its own soul stuff, it’s also monitoring what your other elements are doing, and it’s monitoring what’s happening around you.  When your friend starts talking to you, your soul listen with half an ear–just enough to conclude that what your friend is talking about is boring.  Once your soul makes this decision, it decreases how much attention it gives your friend.  Now it’s barely listening to her at all.  But when the conversation suddenly shifts onto a topic that your soul finds very interesting, it immediately starts paying  more attention to your friend.  Giving more attention to one area means taking attention away from other areas.  In the following charts, the red section shows how much attention your soul is giving to your friend.  Notice that when that red area suddenly becomes bigger, the other two areas shrink.  

Now since you have four different elements, you actually have four different focus “dials” that are constantly shifting about. You also have dials reacting to dials, which is where things can get even more complicated.  The key thing I want you to understand here is that you don’t just have one perspective of life.  You actually have four different perspectives.  

If I were to ask you “Do you like dogs?” each of your four elements would internally give their opinion on that subject.  Your soul might say “I don’t care about dogs.”  Your body might say, “I’m scared of dogs.”  Your subconscious might say, “I hate dogs.”  Your conscious might say, “I don’t have an opinion, but since the subconscious thinks they are bad, I’m going with that.”  After comparing notes with each other, your elements will form a group opinion, and that group opinion is what you will use to answer my question.  In this example, since you have neutral and negative feelings about dogs, you will probably say to me, “I don’t like dogs.”  Neutral opinions are usually ignored when there are positive or negative opinions as well.  

Now suppose I were to ask, “How do you feel about your sister?”  This kind of question can provoke some contradicting responses from your elements.  Your body and conscious might feel neutral about your sister, while your subconscious dislikes her and your soul feels morally obligated to declare that you love her.  In this example, we have two elements expressing two opposite opinions.  Maybe your sister recently treated you badly, which is why your subconscious is very upset with her right now. But maybe your soul feels it is morally wrong to speak negatively about family members, so it wants you to give a strong, positive answer about your sister, regardless of the fact that you and her are in the middle of a fight.  In this situation, you will experience yourself feeling conflicted about what to say to me.  Part of you wants to say, “She’s a conniving twerp,” but another part of you says, “I love her, of course.  She’s family.”  In this scenario, you’re likely going to hesitate before answering me.  When you do finally respond, your tone of voice will likely sound unconfident, and you’ll probably behave in a way that shows you feel uncomfortable.  Feeling conflicted is an extremely common experience for humans, and it’s due to the fact that we are made up of four different elements, each of which is has its own thoughts and feelings.

Now the two charts above are focused on the issue of proportion. In these charts, we can track who is receiving the most of your soul’s attention in a given moment. But while these charts show us quantity, they don’t show us what kind of emotion is happening in each of the coloured sections. In the first chart, your soul is mostly focused on its own business, which is the blue part. Well, what does that mean exactly? What kind of business is your soul up to? If it’s feeling calm and generally satisfied in its own soul world, then the more blue there is, the more calm your soul will feel, and the more calm it will seem to your other elements.

But suppose your soul is very distressed by something right now. Maybe you’ve done something morally awful in the past which your soul feels very guilty about. If your soul’s personal business is focused on negative topics, then the more focused it is on its own business, the more upset it will become, and the more upset it will seem to your other elements.

Imagine that you are sitting on a couch, reading a book. Suppose a friend is sitting next to you, engrossed in her book as well. Maybe you know that your friend is having a hard time in her life right now, and you feel bad for her. In other words, her stress causes you to feel stressed, but only when you focus on her. Right now you are focused on your book. Since your book is very interesting, and not boring, it really holds your attention–so much so that being in the presence of your friend and all of her problems is not causing you any distress. In this moment, thanks to the positive distraction of your book, you are temporarily forgetting about your friend and her issues.

But now suppose your friend suddenly starts writhing about on your couch, screaming that some huge bug just landed on her. She’s now trying to visually locate the bug to kill it. What happens to your focus now? The fact that your friend is acting so upset has caused you to forget about your book and focus on your friend instead. What emotional impact is her personal crisis having on you? Well, it happens that you’re afraid of bugs–especially big ones. And since it sounds like the critter that attacked your friend is still alive, very close by, and quite able to jump onto you, you now feel personally threatened by what is happening to your friend.

In this second example, we can see that the details of what is happening to your friend are very important. Not only is her crisis negative, but it also feels directly threatening to your personal well-being. In this case, the more you focus on your friend, the more upset you will feel.

Let’s use some charts to illustrate how your focus changes in this scenario.  This time I’ll put in some faces to show the mood associated with each focus.  In this example, we’ll assume that you feel pretty content with your own life. 

Here we see you engrossed in your book while you’re hardly thinking of your friend and you’re only a little focused on your own life.  Because the yellow and blue sections are associated with a positive mood, overall you feel very happy as you read your book.  But then the bug crisis begins and instantly you experience a drastic change in focus.

Here several interesting changes have occurred.  First, the book has been forgotten, which makes sense.  Most of your focus is now on your friend, and because she is a negative distraction, focusing on her so much has caused your mood to swing in a negative direction. You now feel upset, anxious, fearful and stressed. But notice what’s happened to our yellow section.  In the first chart, that section had a happy mood associated with it, because you feel generally content with how your life is going right now.  But because this bug crisis feels threatening to you personally and not just something that is happening to your friend, it has changed how you feel about your own life.  As you leap off the couch and keep searching your own clothing for signs of an invader as well as searching your friend, your subconscious is rapidly making plans for how it might handle a whole number of scary situations: the bug crawling on you, the bug biting you, the bug getting inside of your clothing, the bug turning out to be some freakishly venomous species, etc., etc..  Because this highly threatening situation causes your subconscious to no longer feel safe, it has changed its opinion about how well your personal life is going.  Because your subconscious is sounding a “red alert” to your other elements, your body and conscious now also feel distressed about how your life is going.  This sudden change of focus by three of your elements has flattened that yellow smiley.  It’s not a frowny yet because the bug hasn’t actually attacked, but the possibility of being attacked has temporarily dampened your joy about your own life.

In these last two charts, I’m really oversimplifying things by talking about your “overall” focus.  In real life, that “overall” focus is the result of combining four individual viewpoints.  If I wanted to be more accurate, I’d make four different charts showing how each of your elements is reacting to each situation.  As I said earlier, this is really complicated stuff because you are such a complex creation.

These principles I’ve been explaining work in a positive direction as well. Suppose you are feeling depressed about your own life. Then you get a call from your best friend, announcing that she is moving into your neighborhood after living on the other side of the world for 10 years. This is very happy news for you, and focusing on it really lifts your overall mood.

Just Focus on the Bright Side?

The key point I want you to grasp in all of this is that focus is strongly linked not only to mood but also to internal stress. Does this mean that we can solve all of our problems simply by “focusing on the bright side”? No. Those peppy mantras that flood the internet create a lot of false hopes that get quickly dashed in application. A key problem with efforts to “focus on the bright side” is that such efforts are often only targeting one element’s concerns. In the Christian community, for example, people who feel stressed are often told to “Focus on how loving God is” or “Focus on His Presence with you” or “Count your blessings.” Sounds great, right? And for some people, this kind of advice is very helpful. But for many others, it can actually make them feel worse, which then makes them feel like spiritual losers in addition to their other problems.

So why do we see such mixed results? Well, in the situation I just mentioned, there are several issues with trying to calm people by telling them to focus on God. First, your soul is the only part of you that is designed to have a personal relationship with the non-human who created you. God simply doesn’t matter to your body, conscious or subconscious so it won’t do anything for them to focus on Him. God designed each of your elements with different functions and needs. While there are a few subjects that interest all of your elements, God is not one of them.

Now let me be clear: trying to help your stressing elements by giving them something positive to focus on is an excellent idea. But to do this effectively, you first need to consider which of your elements is stressing and what kinds of things that element finds helpful. You also need to be honest about that element’s current concerns.

To a stressed out soul, focusing on God’s positive qualities can indeed be very calming. But how effective this will be largely depends on that soul’s current beliefs about God. Many souls are very afraid of God, believing Him to be a volatile Personality who gets sadistic delight out of seeing them suffer. To tell a soul with those kinds of beliefs to “focus on God” is going to result in an increase of stress, because there is so much soul fear associated with the topic of God. Before you start pressuring your soul to focus on some generic mantra that your religious community handed you, you need to be honest about how your soul is reacting to that mantra. If your soul instantly feels upset by a phrase like “God is good,” then trying to ram that concept down its throat every day is only going to make it feel worse instead of better. To deal effectively with an element in distress, you need to be willing to listen to what that element is expressing through its reactions and behaviors. You also need to be open to the idea that your own soul might need a different kind of help than the popular cures you come across online. The same is true with your subconscious. It’s often very unhelpful to pressure a traumatized subconscious to sit around saying things like “I am the captain of my own ship” or “I can do anything I set my mind to” or “Fear is just an illusion.” Instead of trying to make your subconscious suppress its fears while you keep handing it a bunch of peppy statements that it doesn’t believe, you’re better off trying to listen to what your subconscious is trying to express about why it feels so upset.

Internal Stress Management

You are a very complex little being, with complex problems that require complex solutions. Happily, the God who designed you also programmed you with an extensive array of impressive self-management tools. Without even realizing it, you are constantly monitoring your own stress levels and attempting to adjust them in constructive ways. Instead of looking at yourself from a single perspective, you examine yourself using four different perspectives. Each one of your elements is constantly assessing its own status as well as monitoring the status of its fellow elements. So your soul is not only tracking its own well-being, but it is also monitoring your body, conscious, and subconscious. At the same time, your body is monitoring itself and its other three companions. With so much checking and cross-checking going on, you are very sensitive to any changes in your internal stress load. As soon as any kind of problem is detected by any of your four elements, that information gets instantly reported to the entire community. The community then responds to that news.

Your elements have different abilities and different ways of responding to stress. Since your subconscious has the widest variety of skills, it automatically takes the lead whenever a problem is detected with any of your elements. Your subconscious is extremely intelligent and a brilliant analyst. Whenever a problem is detected with any of your elements, your subconscious not only determines what the core problem is, but it also assesses how that problem is affecting everyone else.

Suppose your soul is feeling very distressed by a moral dilemma. Your elements have different interests. While morality is very important to your soul, it is very unimportant to your subconscious. Because your subconscious doesn’t care about morality, when it sees your soul stressing over moral issues, it feels that your soul is acting rather ridiculous. Your subconscious will then try to calm your soul down by telling it to stop fussing over something that doesn’t matter. Well, that kind of advice is not going to do anything for your soul. Instead, your soul will keep right on stressing, while it also feels annoyed by your subconscious’ rotten attitude. In this scenario, your overall stress has increased by the way one element has responded to another. This is a common problem for humans: our elements each have their own personalities and they don’t always play nice together. Sometimes their attempts to calm each other down do just the opposite.

So what now? Well, since your subconscious can’t get your soul to stop stressing, it turns its focus onto your other elements. Your body and conscious are feeling very upset by the strong stress signals your soul is sending out. The more upset they become, the more difficulty they will have functioning. Imagine trying to drive a car while one of your passengers is yelling at the other two. All of that ruckus makes it hard for you to focus on the road, and that puts all of you in danger of getting into a serious accident. If your angry passenger can’t be calmed quickly, then for everyone’s safety, you will need to try to find some way to help yourself function better as the driver. Maybe you decide to use ear plugs to block out the noise your passenger is making. Your internal elements will often use a similar strategy to try to drown out the stress of their companion elements.

By now you’ve experienced many times in your life when you found distraction to be a very helpful tool in making yourself feel less stressed. But why does this work? When you try to escape your own depressing thoughts by burying yourself in a book or watching a funny YouTube video, what’s really happening is you are trying to change the focus of certain internal elements. Which kind of activity you find yourself attracted to depends on which element’s focus you are trying to adjust.

Your different elements have unique ways of functioning. When you try to relax by taking a warm bath, you are making drastic changes to your body’s focus and mood. A bath is a very sensual activity, and your body is your only element with physical senses. Sinking into a warm bath or a nice hot tub creates a massive distraction for your body. If your body is a main contributor to your current stress load, then giving your body a positive distraction can really help you feel better fast.

Your body likes to feel good and be safe. Your body also has a list of foods which it does and does not like. Feeding your body some of its favorite foods can be another way of giving it a positive distraction. This is what is happening in some cases of stress eating. When some people become very stressed, they instinctively start snacking. They eat large quantities of “junk food” because in the moment, eating those foods makes them feel a little less stressed inside. Often in these cases, the body feels stressed as a reaction to an upset soul or subconscious. In other words, the core crisis isn’t a body issue–it’s often a psychological or spiritual concern. In these cases, the body reacts like the child who becomes upset when he senses that something is really troubling his mother. The child doesn’t understand why his mother is upset, but since he feels dependent on her, the fact of her being upset makes him feel very distressed. As a stranger called in to help this situation, how might you try to calm the child down? You might give him a toy to play with. Why? Because you’re hoping that distracting him with the toy will cause him to focus less on his mother. The less he focuses on his mother, the less upset he will be. This is just a temporary fix, of course, but one that will certainly seem worth a try.

In many situations, your subconscious will use a similar strategy as you giving that child a toy to play with. The kind of “toy” that your subconscious comes up with depends on which element it is trying to calm down: your body or your conscious. Some distractions are designed to try to help both of these elements at the same time. These kinds of distractions only work temporarily, but since your subconscious is trying to prevent stress from building, it considers temporary solutions to be very valuable.

Strategic Distractions

Joe gets a text from his fiancee saying that she’s fallen in love with another man. This news greatly upsets Joe’s subconscious and soul. His soul is appalled by the immorality of his fiancee’s behavior. His subconscious is devastated by the betrayal as well, but for different reasons. Joe thought Stacy was “the one”–a woman who he could feel safe with and one who he could count on for many emotional resources. Now all of those high hopes have been cruelly shattered and Joe is reeling from shock. So what happens now?

Your subconscious is so invested in protecting your overall well-being that even in the midst of its own epic crisis, it will try to spend resources on protecting your other elements from harm. As soon as Joe’s body and conscious sense how devastated his subconscious and soul are, they begin to panic as well. This is not good. Your subconscious isn’t going to just sit back and do nothing while all four elements become crippled by stress. Suddenly Joe feels an overwhelming need to go for a drive. This prompting comes from his subconscious, which is now creating a distraction for his body and conscious. As Joe revs his car’s engine to life, he turns on one of his favorite rap artists and cranks the volume up very high. Once again, his body and conscious are following specific instructions from his subconscious. Soon Joe is roaring down a highway, traveling well over the posted speed limit, immersed in a bubble of deafening sound. In that moment, he feels much less upset than he did when he was sitting in his house, staring at the texts from his fiancee. This combination of high speeds and blaring music is actually helping Joe. To understand why, we need to break things down a bit.

Your body wants to feel good and be safe. Being propelled forward at very high speeds–whether you’re flying down a mountain slope on skis, bungee jumping off of a bridge, or racing down a highway–causes your body to feel in danger. Your body has limited coordination and response skills which become impaired with too much acceleration. Once your body senses that it is moving faster than it can handle, it goes into “danger alert” mode, which results in a flood of adrenaline coursing through your being. The purpose of the adrenaline is to enhance your body’s normal skills–to give it an extra edge. When your body senses that even that extra bit of help is still not enough to regain control, its mood shifts again into a kind of indifferent resignation. That second shift is often experienced as a kind of pleasant emotional numb-out, as your body temporarily feels released of the burden of trying to control its physical status. So first we have the common “adrenaline rush” as your body responds to an extreme situation. Then we have a second freeing feeling as the body essentially says, “I give up; this is beyond my control. Whatever happens happens.” Both of these shifts are intense distractions to the body, which will cause it to temporarily stop focusing on what its companion elements are doing. Your subconscious can strategically force your body to make these shifts by putting your body in certain kinds of situations. In Joe’s case, this is what is happening. As he roars down the highway at extremely dangerous speeds, his body goes through those two shifts, ending up in a rather blissful state of emotional indifference.

So what about the music? The music is targeting Joe’s conscious. The conscious has very limited concentration skills. Your conscious can be easily overwhelmed by too much incoming data. It can be very easy for your conscious to completely ignore soft music, but very loud music is impossible to ignore. Since Joe’s subconscious is trying to protect his conscious by distracting it from focusing on other elements, it wants Joe to blast his music. Volume is essential when trying to get the conscious to focus on music to the point that it stops focusing on what the soul and subconscious are up to.

Distracting vs. Venting

Humans are complex, and there is never a “one size fits all” explanation for a certain human behavior. It turns out that blaring music can be a useful tool to accomplish some very different agendas. In the example of Joe, since his subconscious is trying to lower stress by distracting his body and conscious from focusing on what his alpha elements are doing, the kind of music Joe is blaring will have nothing to do with heartache or being dumped by the love of your life. Instead, Joe’s subconscious will direct him to play other kinds of songs–ones focused on themes that are either the opposite of or unrelated to heartbreak.

The kind of strategy at work in Joe’s case can also result in a sad person turning on a comedy show or a depressed person signing up to skydive or a crying woman deciding to drown her troubles in alcohol while hanging out with some friends. In all of these cases, sad people are trying to get relief from feeling sad by engaging in distracting activities.

But what about when a sad person turns on sad music or when a person who seems alright keeps watching a show that makes them all tearful and depressed? What’s going on with people who pursue negative distractions that seem to just make them feel worse? How could that be helpful?

Your subconscious considers itself to be the most vital element in your system. It feels that it is the one keeping your body and conscious tacked together, while also blocking your soul from overwhelming the system with its soul stresses. Your subconscious’ high opinion of itself has some merit to it, because it does play a critical role in balancing your whole system and it has many unique skills which you simply can’t function without. Does your subconscious perhaps think a bit too highly of itself and put its own needs first a bit too often? Yes, but that’s to be expected. None of your elements are perfect. They all have some issues which negatively impact their community. But the fact that you’ve survived on the planet long enough to be reading this post speaks volumes about how well your system functions overall.

Once you understand how vital your subconscious is to your system, you can appreciate why it sometimes feels justified in putting its own problems first. After all, what would happen to a child if his mother became to ill to function? If the mother is going to be able to keep caring for her child, she has to take care of herself. Sometimes putting her own needs first today is the only way she can ensure that she will still have the resources to care for her child tomorrow.

An overwhelmed subconscious is one of the gravest threats to your ability to function. If your subconscious becomes too crippled by stress to do its job, your body and conscious will no longer be able to function properly. Your soul simply doesn’t have the skills to step in and take over for your subconscious. Because of the way you were designed, there are many essential tasks that only your subconscious can perform. Given these realities, if your subconscious decides its own stress levels are getting too high, it will start looking for ways to vent some of that stress out of your system. Often in these situations, the quickest way for your subconscious to get relief involve using methods that can be harmful to your conscious or body.

Blaring music at deafening levels can do permanent damage to your body’s ability to hear sounds. Getting plastered on alcohol floods your body’s delicate organs with a bunch of harmful toxins. Engaging in activities that involve reckless speed is a great way to introduce some horrible new trauma into your life through injury, collision, or the accidental killing of some innocent bystander. Since your subconscious’ top priority is to protect you, why would it direct your body and conscious to engage in any activities with a high risk of harm?

There are many folks in the world who are obsessed with highly dangerous sports. The stronger the internal obsession is, the more miserable a person is whenever they aren’t engaging in their preferred activity. In these situations, the activity being focused on is highly symbolic to the person doing it. Mental associations are why Fred is addicted to skiing down steep mountain slopes while his buddy Jorge is obsessed with parasailing. Both of these sports are extremely dangerous to the body and stressful to the conscious. If you strip away the symbolic meaning that humans attach to all of their activities, it becomes obvious that we do a lot of really foolish stuff. But once certain mental associations get formed, people can honestly feel that they must engage in certain activities in order to stay sane. In these cases, the internal stress load is so high that the whole system feels dangerously close to a total collapse. The activity the person is obsessed with becomes like the aspirin that gives you temporary relief from a horrific headache. Once the aspirin wears off, it feels like someone is slamming your skull with a sledgehammer. You simply cannot function in the midst of that kind of pain, so you will do anything to get another dose of aspirin. If you can’t get your hands on it legally, then you’ll resort to illegal methods because you must have relief. In this headache analogy, you are treating your own ability to function as your top priority. The more desperate you personally feel, the less you will care about how your attempts to help yourself affect anyone else. This is how God designed humans to function: we all have an incredibly strong self-preservation instinct. That instinct is part of our subconscious, and once it kicks into high gear, we become tunnel focused on helping ourselves, everyone else be damned.

In many countries it’s a crime to drive at high speeds through residential areas, yet people do it all the time. Our friend Joe understands that if he is caught speeding, he could receive a hefty fine that he can’t afford. He also understands that he could get his driver’s license revoked if he gets caught multiple times. He knows that there are little kids playing in the neighborhood who could suddenly dash out in front of his car. Just the other day, Joe read in the news about a man who accidentally ran over a little kid and ended up in jail for manslaughter. Joe certainly doesn’t want to end up in jail. Jail scares him. Yet despite understanding all of these risks, Joe is roaring through a residential neighborhood at 80 mph with his radio blasting. He’s not only committing a crime, he’s drawing everyone’s attention to his criminal activity, ensuring that plenty of angry people will be ready to testify against him if something serious happens. If we stop our analysis here, Joe’s behavior seems inexcusably stupid and Joe himself seems like a total jerk. Yet is that really a fair analysis?

Until you understand what’s going on inside a person, you’re not in a position to judge them fairly. There is no such thing as an unintelligent human. Joe’s subconscious understands the risks it is taking by pushing Joe to do what he’s doing. Yet despite the odds that are stacked against him, Joe’s subconscious has decided this activity is worth it. Your subconscious’ top priority is to protect you. In a case like Joe’s, his subconscious has already run a complex risk assessment of what he’s doing and decided that this speeding thing is worth it. In this situation, Joe’s subconscious sees a benefit to the speeding which outweighs the risks.

I understand that it’s hard for a lot of people to accept that a truly intelligent mind would ever choose to engage in reckless activities that don’t seem to have any real purpose. We can all get behind the fireman who dashes into a burning house to try to save a child. That kind of reckless, self-harming behavior has a heroic feel to it, doesn’t it? But Joe roaring down the street at night, disturbing the whole neighborhood with his obnoxious noise–who is that helping? It’s helping Joe–at least temporarily. And Joe is not just acting like a jerk to put his own needs first–he’s acting human. This is how humans are designed to function. Externally, it’s easy to hate Joe because he doesn’t appear to be in any kind of distress. But internally Joe is not fine at all. In fact there is a direct link between how internally desperate Joe feels and how obnoxious and self-harming his behavior becomes.

Your body is designed to care most about feeling good and feeling safe. Once you understand this, you can understand that bodies are never going to decide by themselves that being flung out of a plane with some flimsy balloon strapped to their backs is a good idea. When you see people engaging in activities that put their bodies at risk of feeling bad or unsafe, you should assume that their bodies’ personal preferences are being overridden by commands from their subconscious, soul, or both. After all, why does a man charge into a wall of flame to search for a child who may or may not be saveable? Certainly his body is not going to be a fan of that idea at all. But if the man’s soul is demanding that he do the right thing by trying to save that child, his body will feel it has to obey, because the body feels outranked by the soul. It’s also possible that the man’s subconscious is the one driving him forward. If this is the case, the subconscious won’t be focused on doing what is morally right (because your subconscious doesn’t care about morality), but it will have its own reasons for feeling that the child’s life must be saved. The point is that firemen, police, soldiers, bungee jumpers, high speed skiers, stunt skateboarders, speed racers, deep sea divers, astronauts, and all other folks who engage in physically dangerous jobs or activities are being driven by agendas from their alpha elements: either their souls, subconsciouses, or both. While those agendas can be quite different from person to person, they are all share a common goal of satisfying one or both of the alpha elements. This is why I refer to your soul and subconscious as the “alpha” elements–because they direct most of your activities in life while your body and conscious generally obey the orders they receive.

With all of these principles in mind, let’s now get back to the question of why some people who already feel bad seek out activities that make them feel even worse. While Joe is finding temporary relief from stress by engaging in his reckless activity, Tasha is doing just the opposite. Like Joe, Tasha just got dumped by someone who she thought was “the one.” Like Joe, Tasha is now reeling from shock and pain that is starting to feel overwhelming. But instead of jumping in her car and going for a high speed drive, Tasha pops in some headphones and starts listening to the saddest songs she has in her collection–real downers about people feeling devastated, lost, and driven into suicidal despair after being dumped by their lovers. The lyrics feel so relevant to Tanya’s situation, that soon she’s bawling her eyes out. And yet in the midst of all of this wallowing, Tanya is actually feeling less stressed. If Joe had done this sort of thing, he would have felt much worse internally. Yet right now, Tanya can’t get enough of this wallowing activity and she spends the next four hours listening to the same three songs play on a loop. By the time Tanya finally turns off her music, she has a pounding headache from crying, but she actually feels lighter inside, as if a heavy load of pain has been temporarily lifted off of her.

One of the many fascinating things about the human design is how we have the capability to vent spiritual and psychological stress through physical activities. Crying and laughing are two excellent examples of this. These two physical activities are incredibly efficient at venting stress from your system, regardless of which element that stress is coming from. When you accidentally ram your toe into a piece of furniture, pain explodes in your body. Seconds later, your eyes start moistening with tears. In this case, the tears are forming as a means of venting your body’s stress. Unfortunately, we are often taught to resist crying once we become adults, so we often miss out on the amazing benefits that come with letting the tears flow naturally. Years of fighting back tears can cause us to become unable to cry, which is a real loss from a health perspective. Happily it’s often possible to regain this ability if you use the right techniques. Meanwhile, people who have lost the ability to cry will often try to compensate by laughing instead. This is what’s happening with people who always try to make a joke out of their own distress, chuckling at things that aren’t really funny at all. All of that extra laughing that often feels very inappropriately timed is an attempt to vent stress in the face of having the crying tool banned. Ideally, we will allow both of our God given stress tools to function normally instead of trying to take one of them offline.

Venting stress from your system is vital to maintain your ability to function. While things like crying and laughing are some very handy and highly efficient tools that we are all born with, we gain many more stress relief options as we collect life experience. Once certain internal associations get attached to a certain activity, sensation, or environment, that thing becomes a stress relieving tool that we can add to our collection and use as needed.

Personalized Stress Relief Tools

Because humans have such different personalities, they vary quite a bit in the things that they find stress relieving. To Carol, mountain scenery always makes her feel sad. For William, sunflowers are strongly linked to feelings of sorrow, grief, and loss. There are no limits on the kinds of associations your soul and subconscious can form, and that gives you endless options for creating stress-relief tools.

Okay, so William has a bizarre view of sunflowers. How does that help him relieve stress? Well, first we have to understand the tone of emotions that William associates with those flowers. Symbolic connections like this always have a backstory. In William’s case, sunflowers were his mother’s favorite flower, so when she died young, her coffin was covered with them. As a young boy, William was devastated by the loss of his mother. Since he was surrounded with sunflowers when his grief was the most intense, both his subconscious and soul formed strong associations with those particular flowers and their intense feelings of loss, sorrow, pain, helplessness, and fear. Forty years later when William loses his daughter in a tragic accident, he finds himself pulling up pictures of sunflowers on the internet. Staring at those images triggers the intense grief he felt when he lost his mother–feelings which he is now going through again over the loss of his daughter. By seeking out pictures of sunflowers, William is trying to help himself vent stress out of his system. When he is with other people and trying to help his heartbroken wife and son, William feels immense pressure to be “strong” and not burden others by expressing his own grief. Trying to be the rock that everyone else can lean on forces William to keep suppressing his own emotions. All of that suppressing is causing his internal stress to build to desperate levels. So when he finally gets a moment alone, William stares at pictures of sunflowers and lets tears stream down his face. If he just tries to cry without the visual aids, he can’t, because his constant efforts to suppress his emotions hamper him. But thanks to the strong symbolism he has attached to sunflowers, the mere sight of them always pushes him over the edge and helps him vent stress from his overloaded system.

Your subconscious and soul can turn anything into a stress relief tool. For many people, activities involving a lot of noise, speed, or risk are some of their most effective stress relieving tools, which is why they will turn to them whenever they feel a need to vent internal stress.

Conclusion

In this post we’ve learned that humans always have logical, self-serving reasons for doing what they do. We’ve also learned that when it comes to high risk or self-harming activities, one or both of the alpha elements are the ones pushing for that activity to happen. Here’s another helpful principles to bear in mind: when we talk about risk, we are talking about a possible outcome that hasn’t occurred yet. To your soul and subconscious, their current problems always feel more important than what might happen. Yes, you can permanently damage your hearing at some point in the future if you listen to too much loud music. But in the face of crushing psychological stress, the distant possibility of physical harm simply doesn’t mean much. Your subconscious is focused on how it can get you through today. If strong mental associations are causing loud music to be a good option for instantly lowering your stress, your mind is going to go for it. After all, what good is protecting your hearing today if an overload of stress is going to pitch you into a nervous breakdown? While it often appears like minds and souls are making hasty, foolish decisions, they’re really not. The risks they decide to take are based on extremely complex situation analyses which include realistic assessments of your available resources. When your own mind finds no therapeutic value in roaring through a neighborhood, it’s easy to feel that the fellow who is doing that is an obnoxious twerp who obviously has better stress relief options. And yet this isn’t necessarily true. Your mind has a different personality than the mind of the fellow who is exasperating you with his obnoxious noise. Your soul sees life differently than his soul does. While his music choices are nothing but irritating noise to you, to him, they could feel like the only tool he has to stay sane in his current life chapter.

So what does this mean? Are we supposed to just sit back and eat it while other people harass us with their obnoxious, intrusive, and dangerous activities? No. What I want you to take away from this post is the importance of compassion. We can have compassion for our fellow humans without being doormats. We shouldn’t just fluff off the fact that many of the self-help strategies humans come up with are very harmful to themselves and others. But we shouldn’t be so quick to give up on people, either. People aren’t born with a desperate need to engage in obnoxious activities. These are learned associations, and just as your mind learns to associate stress relief with a destructive activity, it can learn to associate stress relief with a positive activity instead. One of the goals we counselors work towards is to introduce minds and souls to new kinds of self-help strategies: ones that are more effective and constructive than the ones they are currently using.

In cases where people are obsessed with negative coping methods, they often haven’t been exposed to any better ideas yet. If they were to be given some fresh ideas, their minds and souls would have the chance to adjust their strategies. At the end of day, your mind and soul want strategies that are highly effective and very low risk. Many of us simply haven’t had the opportunity to discover these kinds of options, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested. By getting more educated about how humans are designed, we can learn to see each other and ourselves through the eyes of compassion. Yes, humans can be train wrecks of trauma. They can act truly monstrous and do epic damage to each other. But given the chance, they can also flip from being the worst to being the best: from dragging the world down to raising it up and inspiring us all to become the best version of ourselves. So while we are actively drawing healthy boundaries with each other, we never want to give up on each other. Humans are amazing creatures who were designed by an awesome Creator with an endless ability to surprise us.

This post was written in response to Curious.

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