Week 47: Chemically Designed by God

I read a book, recently, that introduced me to the subject of biological chemicals in our bodies that controls behavior and moods.[1] Among them are four primary “happy” chemicals that cause positive feelings, a sense of well-being. They are: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. This information gave me greater insight into how the function of these chemicals can impact the social interaction between leaders and community. First let’s examine how they work:

Endorphins­—mask our pain in response to stress or fear. Its purpose is for physical survival. It provides us with the incentive to endure the strains of physical labor and exercise. It enables us to push beyond the next level of pain. Endorphins encourage us to go further, to ignore the pain and experience the rush of euphoria we feel when we’re done. Athletes particularly experience this after a hard workout. That’s why they want more, to get back to the gym, the bike, or to running those many miles.

Dopamineincentivizes us to accomplish things. We feel good when we’re tracking that deer or catching that fish. We get dopamine releases when we’re part of an athletic team that has won first place among our rivals. The same release happens in projects, in school or college, in business ventures, battles, or building things. Dopamine is released through the “progress” of every small achievement toward the bigger prize. It’s the chemical that drives us to be goal-oriented and push through to the end. It feels good to complete a thing we’ve started. That positive feeling is the release of dopamine.

Serotoninis the chemical release we receive when we feel valued by others. It requires “others” for this release to occur, because only “others” can affirm and value who and what we are. People liking us, approving of us, respecting us, applauding us, complimenting us, needing what we can bring to the table to accomplish a community goal—all releases the serotonin chemical into our bodies—that warm, fuzzy feeling. This gives us a sense of pride and self-confidence. It makes us want to be a part of community, to socialize and feel safe among people who care about us and we about them.

Oxytocinis the chemical released through relationships that go deeper than the acquaintance, community, or casual levels of friendship. Oxytocin is the “love” chemical that comes about through our closest friends, where love and trust go deep. It incentivizes us to be vulnerable with people we trust, those we can safely open up to about our deepest concerns and fears. It also gives us an instinct to look for these people, starting at the community level and working down to the safest circle of friends who have our backs and would lay down their lives for us and us for them.

These four chemicals fall into two categories—the self-oriented and others-oriented chemicals. Always keeping in mind that their function is to incentivize us with the instinct to survive.

Self-oriented Chemicals

Endorphins and Dopamine are the chemicals that cause us to take care of ourselves. Example: hunting, finding something, gathering, eating, working, physical training, building, achieving personal goals, etc. Whenever we do these things, short bursts of the E & D chemicals are released—not for long periods, but temporarily.

From these doses, we experience a sense of well-being; a positive feeling about ourselves. It feels so good we’re stimulated to repeat the behavior for more doses of these “happy” hormones. To do nothing, however, triggers nothing positively and can lead to depression.

God designed our bodies to have these chemical releases to make us look after ourselves. These chemicals in our physiological make-up ensures our survival and get things done. You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself. This can apply biologically to the teaching of Jesus when he said: “Love your neighbor as [you love] yourself [first].”[2]

Others-oriented Chemicals

Serotonin and Oxytocin are the chemicals that incentivizes us to form bonds of trust and friendship in a social environment. God designed us to “need” community. He created these chemicals to make us socialize and cooperate with others for our survival as well as theirs.

Whenever we pull together to accomplish something mutually beneficial, something greater is accomplished and we receive a release of these “selfless” hormones. We feel good in our circle of safety. We experience a sense of well-being when we love our neighbor as ourselves. To do nothing socially—in a community of friends, fellowship, or co-workers—is to lose out on the chemical release from these hormones.

Both Categories Need Each Other

The self-oriented (E & D) chemicals are necessary for the others-oriented (S & O) chemicals to work. People who don’t take care of themselves are filled with anxiety and depression from what is NOT happening. They receive no bursts of the happy E & D hormones and, therefore, feel unhappy.

This self-loathing prohibits their desire to socialize. So they miss out on the chemical release of the S & O hormones that makes them feel good when they do good to others. Again, a teaching of Jesus to do to others what you would have them do to you.[3] They’re unhappy with themselves, unhappy in their detachment from society, and look for the temporal dopamine high through self-destructive means of addictions.

God designed our bodies to require all four chemicals to be released—in a balanced way—for our survival. This makes the command to love your neighbor as yourself carry a much deeper meaning. No wonder it is the second greatest commandment behind loving God.[4]

When we understand this physiological component, we’ll begin to understand another important step toward effective leadership. You can’t be an effective leader of others if you’re not taking care of yourself first.

[1] Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek, Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2014—p. 44-52

[2] Matthew 22:39a

[3] Matthew 7:12 – The golden rule.

[4] Matthew 22:39b

Posted on March 13, 2017 in Leadership

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