The resource-seeking system Part 1

So far, we’ve looked at the first of Paul Gilbert’s three emotional systems – the fight/flight system. Over the coming two weeks we will explore the second system, which he calls the ‘drive- and resource-seeking’ system. While the fight/flight system is all about here-and-now survival (trying not to become the tiger’s lunch, so to speak), the second system is also survival-based, though not quite as immediate. We’ve managed to avoid becoming the tiger’s lunch, but we still need to find lunch for ourselves, as well as shelter, medicines to keep us healthy, protection for our children, and so on. This second system is all about ensuring we get the resources we need in order to survive and prosper. When our distant ancestors lived in the savannah, food and shelter were the main priorities. Nowadays, in order to thrive in our society, we may also need a car to get to work, a smartphone to stay in touch, a computer, a house and so on. While there may be legitimate debate about just how much ‘stuff’ we actually need, the reality is that we can’t hold down a job if we only have one item of clothing made of old sacks, can’t wash ourselves, have no way of getting to work, or can’t keep in touch with the world around us. And of course we also want the best for our children, and to give them every opportunity to feel safe, to thrive, and to belong.

The resource-seeking system is what motivates us to get out of bed each morning, to work hard, to accomplish our tasks, whether small or large, and to strive for excellence. We can derive a great deal of our meaning in life, as well as joy and a sense of achievement, from this system. It is based on rewards – each time we achieve something, or get something, whether it’s a promotion, a like on Facebook, a new car, or praise from a family member, our brain releases a little rush of dopamine to help us feel good, and to motivate us to keep trying. The resource-seeking system is a very active and engaged system, and it can be highly energising. It’s certainly a wonderful part of our life, and, like all three emotional systems in Paul Gilbert’s model, it plays an important part in helping us live well. However, there are also some potential pitfalls when we invest too much of our life into this system – when our life becomes out of balance. Next week, we will look at some of the shadow sides which the resource-seeking system can bring with it.

Weekly practice idea:

Write down a list of potential problems that an over-reliance on the resource-seeking system might bring about in our life.

Anja Tanhane