Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions and Thrive in the 21st Century

Updated March 25, 2013, 7:23 p.m. ET

Healthy Reader


Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions and Thrive in the 21st Century

Marc Schoen
Hudson Street Press, $25.95

From primitive times, the survival instinct has enabled mankind to handle major threats to existence. In the modern world, we have become such creatures of comfort that even the slightest annoyance—such as facing a long line at airport security—sends our self-preservation programming into overdrive, resulting in dangerous levels of stress.

‘Discomfort may very well be the most powerful change agent we have in our arsenal for becoming all that we can be.’

Think Differently

Dr. Schoen’s tips for quelling uncomfortable ‘inner survivalist’ feelings

Expand your comfort zone: Drive to a less-familiar location without GPS or a map.

Embrace discomfort: Delay or refrain from use of medications to fall asleep or cope with pain (if medically safe to do so).

Commit to the present: Fully engage with people without responding to texts or emails.

Delay gratification: Sit with hunger before reaching for food; forgo that drink after work sometimes.

That’s the theory put forth by Marc Schoen, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Geffen School of Medicine, in “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You.”

A specialist in mind-body medicine and hypnosis, he says modern societies suffer from the “Cozy Paradox”—where, despite all our many comforts, we have become increasingly oversensitive to even subtle adversity and general uneasiness. And our subsequent inability to cope feeds a wide range of maladies, including poor work performance, overeating, insomnia, relationship troubles, road rage, fear of flying, sex addiction and panic attacks over public speaking.

Dr. Schoen blames the culture of instant gratification that started with the introduction of the microwave, fast food and the Internet. Another culprit: a societal shift toward praising kids whether or not they succeed, which has led them, as adults, to put in less effort and expect more in return.

He does offer a prescription. By reprogramming the brain to no longer equate discomfort with imminent danger, he suggests, we can achieve a state of ease despite life’s inevitable hardships. Dr. Schoen offers stories of patients he has treated, such as the student who suffered crippling panic attacks before tests and had become reliant on antianxiety medication. He helped her modify her need for constant, distracting stimulation and to experience discomfort as a “performance enhancer.”

Rather than turn to habits like medication, alcohol and avoidant behaviors, he suggests techniques like finding your inner gladiator so you can welcome the challenge of conquering adversity. (Listening to the music from “Rocky” might help.)

Other strategies include taking a time out from technology (including compulsive email checking) and keeping a regular schedule. He suggests giving up anger and embracing forgiveness. One tactic he employs: a special breathing-relaxation technique originally developed for hospital patients in acute stress.

He also urges “embracing duality”—by, say, consciously practicing gratitude at times of anxiety. By simultaneously experiencing both emotions, he says, we can train ourselves to manage future stress more effectively.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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