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The Self-Preservation Instinct

The Self-Preservation Instinct is our survival drive that encourages wellbeing and growth. It attunes us to our bodily energies and the state of our existence, promoting wise use of time and resources. It highlights discrepancies between our beliefs and actions and inspires adaptability and resilience. Ultimately, it supports a mindful lifestyle, fostering congruence between body, heart, and mind, cultivating conditions for unconditional presence within us.


  1. How would you describe your sense of well-being and how you maintain it?
  2. Do you feel in tune with your body and its needs? Can you give some examples of when you have listened to your body’s signals?
  3. How often do you think about your own mortality? How does this affect your daily decisions and lifestyle?
  4. Do you feel like you are living in accordance with your body’s real state and need. What does this mean to you?
  5. What activities or experiences make you feel alive or vital?
  6. Can you describe your lifestyle? How does it reflect your conscious and unconscious values?
  7. Can you identify any contradictions between what you think you value and how you actually live?
  8. How do you spend your free time? Do you feel you make good use of this time?
  9. Are you able to say “no” to things that are harmful to you? Can you provide some examples?
  10. How do you take care of your basic needs in a balanced way? Are there areas where you could improve?
  11. How would you assess your quality of life, both materially and emotionally?
  12. Do you feel you adapt well to changing circumstances, both physically and mentally?
  13. How congruent do you feel your body, heart, and mind are? Are there discrepancies you’ve noticed?
  14. How do you nourish, support, and grow your “soul”, similarly to how you attend to your body?


Simply put, the Self-Preservation Instinct is the drive for well-being. It is the drive to survive and to work in support of what makes one thrive in both the short- and long-term. As our basic drive of survival, it supplies energy to endure in the face of existential challenges. It is the most compelling and powerful drive, shared by all forms of life, from which the other drives, functions, and capacities of our organism flower.

If we think of life and survival in terms of strict categories of “alive” or “dead,” “surviving” or “dying,” then we fail to really understand something fundamental to life; namely, that life is better understood as a range of energy and vitality rather than as a static state in opposition to death. To be connected with the Self-Preservation Instinct means we directly sense and experience that we are living and growing, that we are constantly in development or decline. The Self-Preservation Instinct is aliveness itself, and therefore our relationship to this instinct reflects our feelings about being alive.

How closely one keeps to the visceral, moment-by-moment sense of the energies of the body, especially sensation, is a measure of how present and willing we are to make intentional use of our limited time on Earth. The Self-Preservation Instinct maintains a healthy awareness of death, a source of strength that urges us to use our time wisely and fully, to be intentional with how we live and where we invest energy. What might it mean about the value we place in our life if our breath is routinely poor and shallow? What does it reveal if our bodies are often numb or simply being used like an object to get us from point A to point B?

The Self-Preservation Instinct continuously monitors and gauges the immediate physical state of the organism. It’s sensitive to the body’s direct feedback, providing discernment for what conditions encourage growth and well-being. Listening to this instinct means living in accordance with the body’s real state and need, rather than imposing ideas onto it. It means following the unfolding of our life’s energy. This is the drive that motivates us to test and express our physical capacities and our aggression, but also to rest and foster the conditions that support the optimization of our quality of life force.

Self-Preservation extends its “eye” to include the overall shape of our lifestyle and a “schematic” overview of how life is lived, how much our style of living is a reflection of and foundation for the things that matter to us. When we’re in touch with this instinct, we see how our lifestyle is a reflection of our conscious and unconscious values.

Seeing the patterns we live within shines a great deal of light on the unconscious assumptions and psychological forces motivating us that we may have little awareness of. Very often, the way we actually live stands in contradiction to what we think we value—we might, for example, believe we cherish presence while spending most of our time on mental autopilot. If that’s how our time is used, then what do we truly value? What we spend our time and attention on expresses what we truly value versus what we want to believe is important for us, so the awake Self-Preservation Instinct invites us to look at discrepancies between what we believe versus how we’re really behaving and impacting others.

Practically speaking, this means valuing our lives and bodies such that we make sure to treat it well, to build on and exercise our capacities, to breathe fully, to say “no” to things that are toxic for us, and to take care of our basic needs in a balanced way, like not over-eating or over-exercising. This includes how we make use of our life even in the “in between” moments, the times when nothing is required of us. Is our “off” time spent in distraction, self-numbing, and wasted moments, or are we actually letting ourselves rest with intention and not use time off as another opportunity to check out? Is the way we live guided by waiting for the next thing to grip our attention or by intention? How do we make use of what we have—time, resources, our physical capacities?

A major Self-Preservation concern is our quality of life, both materially and emotionally, and how it is optimized. It brings awareness to how our life is structured, including how we materially support ourselves through each progressive step, challenge, and setback. This instinct’s focus extends to cultivating the conditions in life that allow us to not only live in a way that feels good, but can help us to develop something meaningful and intentional. It encourages us to be economical about where and how our energy is invested, not out of fear of waste or effort, but from choice and purpose. It provides the energy and discipline to get a job or start a business, to get us into the gym on a regular basis, to develop certain skills, and to begin to build for the future from the present.

Adaptability is a key aspect of the healthy Self-Preservation Instinct. Any system that’s too fixed is susceptible to collapse under strain. If our lives are too rigidly limited within habitual patterns, as soon we find ourselves outside familiar conditions, we could face a neurotic breakdown or find our bodies lacking the physical capacity to handle challenging circumstances. Likewise, a system that’s too languid has no resiliency. If we’re physically attacked, for example, it does no good to freeze. If you receive a punch when you’re rigid, you’ll incur far greater damage than if you are able to be flexible and move with it. Being grounded in the body and in touch with the sensations of Self-Preservation means you’ll be able to stand your ground, process your reactions, defend yourself effectively, and endure whatever literal or metaphorical hits you may need to take without freezing or fainting.

Inner life also requires a solid foundation in a well-regulated and conscious Self-Preservation Instinct. Authentic self-awareness begins with seeing how we’re really living, how we’re really treating ourselves, and whether there is enough congruence between our body, heart, and mind, so that how we express ourselves in the choices we make are in accord with what will make our life a fertile soil for essence to thrive. It supports us in consciously self-regulating and being intentional toward valuing our present state.

The awake Self-Preservation Instinct helps us to live and to create the external conditions that allow an unconditional presence to thrive within us. How we nourish, support, and grow our soul in the same way we attend to the body is what the mature Self-Preservation Instinct calls us to confront. This deep well of resilience, fortitude, and sensitivity to our present state is the root system that deepens in direct proportion to the capacity to reach higher.

Fortifying our self-preservation instinct involves both physical and mental practices. Here are some suggestions.

1. **Mindful Awareness of Our Bodies**: Tuning into our physical sensations and needs can help us with self-preservation. We can do this by practicing yoga or meditation, or any other activity that helps us focus on our bodies. We can also check in with ourselves regularly about how we’re feeling, and not ignore signs of stress, fatigue, or discomfort.

2. **Healthy Living**: A strong self-preservation instinct starts with taking care of our physical health. This means eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, ensuring we get enough sleep, and avoiding harmful habits like excessive drinking or smoking.

3. **Emotional Awareness and Self-Care**: Taking care of our emotional health as well as our physical health can benefit us in many ways. We can do this by journaling, seeking therapy, practicing mindfulness, or simply taking time out of our day for relaxation and leisure activities.

4. **Setting Boundaries**: Learning to say “no” when we need to can protect our wellbeing and prevent us from over-extending ourselves physically or emotionally.

5. **Adaptability**: Developing resilience by putting ourselves in new and challenging situations can help us cope with change and stress.

6. **Lifestyle Examination**: Reflecting on our lifestyle and making changes as necessary can improve our physical and emotional health. We can ask ourselves if we are living in a way that supports our values and needs.

7. **Quality of Life Evaluation**: Regularly assessing our quality of life can help us identify areas that we’re unhappy with and make a plan to address them.

8. **Time Management**: Using our time wisely can enhance our wellbeing and happiness. We can make sure that we’re dedicating time to things that truly matter to us, and that we’re not wasting our life on activities that don’t contribute to our overall wellbeing.

9. **Purposeful Rest**: Allocating time for rest and relaxation can rejuvenate us and support our wellness. However, we can try to avoid using this time for mindless activities that do not truly refresh us. We can aim for rest that is intentional and meaningful.

10. **Life Skills**: Developing skills that can help with self-preservation can empower us and increase our confidence. This could be anything from learning first aid or survival skills to financial management or cooking healthy meals.

11. **Self-Reflection**: Regularly reflecting on our actions and decisions can help us align them with our values and goals. We can also look for areas where we can improve and grow.

Remember, fortifying our self-preservation instinct is a process that takes time and consistent effort. We can be patient with ourselves and celebrate our progress along the way.