Feel Better

Balancing Ourselves Through Our Instincts

Think of the last time you felt balanced and integrated, thriving and “well” within yourself. This feeling usually denotes a sense of balance or equilibrium in all three zones of our human-beingness: body, heart, and mind.

Body, heart, and mind can also be mapped onto the three ways in which our life force signals its presence to us in consciousness through three core instinctive energies.

The Self-Preservation Instinct: our oldest instinct which goes back to the beginning of life on earth (3-4 billion years ago). The Self-Preservation Instinct helps us meet our need for 1) physical well-being 2) self-regulation and 3) acquiring and maintaining resources, assets and foundations (home, work, family, and a lifestyle) that contribute to our well-being. The Self-Preservation Instinct is all about our physical well-being, financial security, and mental health.

The Sexual/One-on-One Instinct: our second oldest instinct (showing up around 1.2 billion years ago) and predicated on the need for a particular kind of connection or “chemistry”, on finding and having creative/exciting/enlivening possibilities in ourselves or through others. This is often accompanied by a loss of self or self-renewal as in “flow” states. The Sexual Instinct is thus focused on creating and maintaining a sense of “juice” or “sizzle” in conscious experience through intense, intimate interactions and encounters with people, or things (books, games, music, sport).

The Social Instinct: our youngest instinct (100 million years old) with its focus on relatedness, belonging, and context/vocation. The Social Instinct is focused on creating and maintaining our relationships so as to build a sense of personal value, accomplishment, and community.


Having read through these three instincts, take a moment to consider which is your dominant instinct. In other words: which instinct takes up most of your life-energies at the moment, as well as which instinct doesn’t get enough instinctual energy to fuel it. This under-utilised instinct could be considered your repressed or blind instinct.

Below you will find 3 ways to connect with each of your instincts, as well as a way of sensing if the instincts are over-energising or under-energising your system.

Remember, these are not conscious realms of our being, so it’s vital to not judge yourself on this score, but rather use the TUNING-UP process described below to help you assess as well as bring your life into greater harmony.


Consciously focus on each aspect of the following three instincts that are currently present in your body, heart, and mind right now and sense whether each instinct is “in-tune” or “discordant”.


  1. Grounding – Seeking foundations and sources of stability. 

Tuning in: Take a few deep breaths, feeling the support of the earth beneath you. Bring your awareness to the sensation of your feet touching the ground. Feel the stability and support they provide. Visualize roots extending from the soles of your feet, anchoring you to the earth.
Reflect on what foundations and sources of stability in your life are serving you well or may need adjustment.

Signs of Overdoing it: Overly-stable, predictable, fearful, stagnant, over-exertion.
Signs of Under-doing it: Ungrounded, scattered, unstable, frenetic, sloppy, uncontained.

How does it feel for me when I am well-grounded in my body?

2. Sensing – Attuning to optimal states and environments and responding with sensitivity.

Tuning in: Begin to bring your awareness to your physical senses, one at a time. Notice what you can hear, smell, taste, touch, and see. Pay attention to any sensations or feelings that arise in your body as you engage with your senses. Reflect on how your environment supports or hinders your well-being and sensitivity.

Over-doing it: Hypersensitivity, overly comfort seeking, insulated. 
Under-doing it: Uninhabited, numb, desensitized, unaddressed physical problems.

How does it feel for me when I am sensing and attuned to my body (also when not)?

3. Direction – Focusing on the the pursuit, care, and development of resources and instinctual needs.

Tuning in: Tune into what you have just been doing, or are about to do in terms of utilising your time and energies to meet your needs. Do you feel on-track and balanced in terms of how you are scheduling and working through these tasks? If not, set a realistic goal and work out a few manageable steps towards meeting your needs whilst also ensuring enjoyment and self-care along the way.

Over-doing it: Heavy, hyper-serious, meticulous, effort without enjoyment.
Under-doing it: Helpless, dependent on others, incapable, self sabotaging.

How does it feel for me when aligned to the right direction for my self-preservation instincts?



1. Pursuing – Moving directly to what attracts you and locking on with your attention.

Tuning in: What are you currently focused on, here and now (in terms of your interests, energies)? Does this feel in line with your overall goals and life journey? Ask yourself what truly attracts you and what you genuinely desire. 

Over-doing it: Obsessive, craving, possessive, addiction, insatiable. 
Under-doing it: Scattered, dispersed, repetitive, indirect, formal, overly-stable.

How does it feel for me when I am pursuing something in a way that contributes to my well-being?

2. Magnetism – Attracting, broadcasting, creating tension, displaying energy and attractive features.

Tuning in: magnetism is about being authentic, genuine, and creating positive connections. It is not about manipulating or forcing attraction or interest. In what ways do you create or hide this aspect of yourself?

Over-doing it: Provocative, alienating, exhibitionistic, creating spectacle.
Under-doing it: neutral, self-rejecting, hiding oneself, bland. 

How do I tend to dial up or dial down my magnetism so as to serve my well-being?

3. Intensification – Galvanizing energy, urgency to overcome boundaries.

Tuning in: In what ways are you currently setting yourself goals aligned with activities or tasks that are meaningful for you? How are you harnessing your inner-motivation, embracing discomfort (when needed) and staying on course?

Over-doing it: Violating, discharging, destructive, self-annihilating. 
Under-doing it: Frigid, passive, stale, puritanical, “dry”.

What areas of my life could do with some intensification or reduction of this instinctual aspect?



1. Availability – Opening attention and boundaries to invite and include others.

Tuning in: Where am I utilising as well as under-utilising active-listening skills and welcoming body language/facial expressions so as to show my social availability?

Over-doing it: dispersed, unfocused, no boundaries, scattered. 
Under-doing it: inaccessible, cold, closed, unapproachable, lacking sensitivity to others.

What areas of my social life or interactions with others might benefit from the expression of more (or less) availability?

2. Signalling – Sharing, expressing, communicating, and bridging subjective experiences.

Tuning in: How am I utilising (or under-utilising) authentic sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences with others, as well as empathy and understanding to signal my willingness to connect?

Over-doing it: Chatter, over-sharing, gossip, impersonal, self promoting.
Under-doing it: non-participatory, impersonal, without a “voice”, socially awkward.

What areas of my social life or interactions with others might benefit from more (or less) signalling?

3. Navigating – Understanding context and interpersonal dynamics. 

Tuning in: In what ways am I currently using my emotional intelligence to deepen or reduce my ties with others? In what ways do I try to pay attention to emotional cues and signals in social interactions? Am I able to take-in and make sense of non-verbal communication, group dynamics, and social norms, as well as understanding the context in which interactions occur, so as to adapt my behaviour accordingly.

Over-doing it: Overly-bound to structure, formal, role-oriented, self conscious.
Under-doing it: Missing cues, inappropriate, rude, obtuse, unplugged, purposeless.

What areas of my social life or interactions with others are suffering from a lack of navigation?


Perhaps one way to bring ourselves into greater alignment throughout the day is to simply check-in with ourselves for a couple of minutes, starting with our bodies and moving up through our hearts and minds, in order to maintain some kind of balance or equilibrium within these three instincts/spaces.

To do this, all you have to do is memorise the three aspects of each instinct and bring these into consciousness now and again throughout the day, sensing how balanced/imbalanced the nine different instinctual energies feel at any given moment.

Here’s the cheat sheet for doing this:

BODY (Self-Preservation Instinct):

Grounding: Am I present? Feet on floor, anchored to Here and Now in a tangible, physical way?

Sensing: Look around, step out of my mind/heart. What can I see, smell, taste, touch, hear, in a simple and uncomplicated way?

Direction: How can I meaningfully use some of my energies right now to do something I value or is good for myself?

HEART/SOUL (Sexual/One-on-One Instinct)

Pursuing: What am I currently giving my attention to? Is this beneficial or not for me overall right now and going forwards?

Magnetism: Can I bring more authenticity, positivity, or focus to this moment, task, or interaction?

Intensification: What do I need to communicate to myself so as to stay on-track, or move forwards?

MIND (Social Instinct)

Availability: How available am I currently at the moment (to myself, to others, to my surroundings)?

Signalling: Do I need to increase/decrease my signalling (to myself/others) to show my availability or create boundaries?

Navigation: What verbal/non-verbal cues do I need to take into account so as to align myself more to this person/situation, or myself in the moment?

If you are interested in reading more about these three instincts and how they interact with our personality styles, I’d recommend John Luckovich’s book on the topic: The Instinctual Drives and The Enneagram (2021)

Being more in tune with our instincts can also help us when we are struggling with procrastination.

Have a read of this Wait But Why post on procrastination, replacing the three aspects of Self suggested here with the three instinctual counterparts above: Rational Decision Maker (Social Instinct), Instant Gratification Monkey (Sexual Instinct), Panic Monster (Self-Preservation Instinct).