by William D. Anton, Ph.D., Founder of CEO Effectiveness

National Wildlife Day was established in 2006, in memory of wildlife conservationist and rescuer, Steve Irwin, for his eternal love of all animal species and all he taught about the amazing animals we share this planet with.

Animals in the wild have evolved pre-wired patterns of behavior that greatly reduce the element of choice in many situations, especially those involving individual and genetic survival. These patterns interact with ecosystems and influence their individual and collective actions in most situations. But, as Steve Irwin fleetingly discovered too late, unpredictable responses can and still do occur with all life forms and we can never reduce unpredictability to zero.

sunset-893849_1280Humans are among the very few animals that eat without being hungry, drink without being thirsty and make love in all seasons. Although humans are equipped with a few hardwired tendencies–mirroring, interpreting ambiguity as danger, and doubling down in familiar habits in the face of threat– we enjoy unique freedoms and are confronted with a greater burden of choice than other species. As described by the late M. Scott Peck, we are like “eternal embryos” in our capacity to change and adapt. Unlike many wild species, this creates a unique and perplexing burden. We are reared in smaller groups that result in greater individual uniqueness and variation in beliefs, mental models and habits than other species. Hence, growing out of narcissism into maturity is primarily an individual responsibility for humans.

This greater freedom to revise our original programming can be perceived as a blessing or a curse. Those who experienced little validation and limited freedom in their history are less likely to appreciate and realize what is most human about them: that as humans we retain our original allocation of brain cells much longer and as a consequence can acknowledge invitations to transform into our truer self throughout life.

For those who clamor for the “how,” here are a few suggestions:

In Return on Character, Fred Kiel has listed six steps to gaining greater self-awareness. My recent book, Business Success Through Self Knowledge, shows how to transform greater self-awareness into self-knowledge. Those who want to enjoy the journey illustrated in story form will have to wait until our new book, Ascend: Forging a Path to Your Truer Self is published in late fall of 2015.