Unnatural Acts

Chapter 79 of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works

by Adam Khan

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED why your coworkers complain so much? Or why you find fault with people so easily? Or why you watch the news even though it's depressing? Why?

Our species evolved during the Ice Age (the Pleistocene epoch). In the last one or two million years, there have been four glaciations - four times when the ice advanced southward for a hundred thousand years or so, and then receded, changing the climate dramatically again and again. These ice invasions caused the extinction of many animals. But not humans. Our species lived through the harsh and radically-changing weather, famines, floods, fires, plagues, and the threat of deadly carnivorous animals walking around hungry. Lots of people died. Natural selection had a field day.

Let's speculate for a moment. During dangerous times, what kind of human do you suppose would evolve? Would a happy-go-lucky, everything-is-groovy attitude help one survive? I don't think so. Under those conditions, the best survivors would be those who compulsively noticed what was wrong and were constantly on the lookout for possible danger. In other words, conditions would have selected for a critical, negative, worry-wort. A relaxed, easygoing positive thinker probably wouldn't last one winter. Those people who survived are our ancestors, so those traits are built into our brains and hormonal systems. Even yours.

It is completely natural to notice what's wrong, what doesn't work, and what you don't like. It's somewhat unnatural to see what's good, what's going well, and what you like and appreciate. But it's also unnatural to be toilet-trained. It's unnatural to have good manners. It's unnatural to delay gratification. What comes naturally (like being negative) is not necessarily best. It might have been absolutely essential for survival a hundred thousand years ago, but times have changed.

Luckily, we are capable of doing things we don't naturally do - if we know it's in our best interest and if we firmly and definitely make up our minds to do so. One of the greatest talents of our species is that we're capable of doing what we don't naturally do.


You can learn to notice what's going well. It takes a deliberate, conscious effort. It'll probably never come naturally (that is, without thinking about it). No matter how many years you make that conscious effort, whenever you look around, chances are the first thing you'll see is what's wrong. And that's perfectly okay. It's useful to be able to see what needs fixing. But it also helps to notice the good stuff.

Today, deliberately notice something you like about the company you work for and tell somebody. Then take a good look at your coworkers and find something you honestly appreciate about someone and tell that person you appreciate it. Then talk about someone behind her back - talk about what you admire and respect about her. Make this effort a couple of times a day and your relationships will work better. You'll also be in a good mood more often.

Set a goal at the beginning of the day. How many sincere acknowledgments will you give today? Don't make your goal too big - you have work to do too. But create some way of keeping track. For example, you could put five pennies in your left pocket and every time you make a good acknowledgment, move one penny to your right pocket. Try to move all of them that day.

Make a regular practice of this and the atmosphere where you work will change. The people around you will feel more noticed and appreciated and liked. And they will treat you with more appreciation in return. All you need to do is commit some unnatural acts.

Notice something you appreciate and tell someone.

Does it bother you that some people where you work complain all the time? Do you wonder what you can do about it? Check this out:
Complaint Compunctions

Would you like to learn more about the fine art of positive thinking? Would you like to behold the power of positive thinking? How about the power of anti-negative thinking? Check this out:
Positive Thinking: The Next Generation

No matter what happens, you can determine your disposition by an act of will. Consider the fact that, no matter what the circumstances,
Maybe it's Good

Dale Carnegie, who wrote the famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, left a chapter out of his book. Find out what he meant to say but didn't about people you cannot win over:
The Bad Apples

An extremely important thing to keep in mind is that judging people will harm you. Learn here how to prevent yourself from making this all-too-human mistake:
Here Comes the Judge

The art of controlling the meanings you're making is an important skill to master. It will literally determine the quality of your life.
Read more about it in:
Master the Art of Making Meaning

Here's a profound and life-changing way to gain the respect and the trust of others:
As Good As Gold

What if you already knew you ought to change and in what way? And what if that insight has made no difference so far? Here's how to make your insights make a difference:
From Hope to Change

next: The Shortest Distance

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 15). Unnatural Acts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: March 31, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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