Thursday, March 13, 2014

saying yes

Do you make choices to avoid bad things, or to move towards good ones?

In social psychology terms, are you more sensitive to punishment, or reward? Depending on which tends to influence your decisions, you may be relying one of the following motivational systems...

Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) Behavioral Activation System (BAS)
"Avoidance" -- NO "Approach" -- YES
Responsive to threats Responsive to opportunities
Motivated to avoid punishment Motivated to gain reward


These systems (first proposed by Gray, 1981) are governed by distinct brain processes. Each of us actually has both systems, which get engaged at different times -- e.g., as a kid, you might stick to one side of the playground (behavior) to avoid a fight (punishment) -- BIS; or, you might sit down next to someone at the lunch table (behavior) to make a new friend (reward) -- BAS.

Each person is different in terms of how often the BIS vs. BAS systems get activated. For example, can you pick out the people in your life who tread carefully at every step, watching for potholes? And, do you know people who always jump at every opportunity without much thought to the consequences? There are also people in between, who bounce between both.

There is no "superior" system -- BAS sounds like a fun, exciting way to go, but high-BAS individuals, if not careful, may take risks that are harmful to themselves and others (and are more likely to develop addictions!). At the same time, high-BIS individuals may seem fearful and neurotic at times, but this can also allow them to be dependable, achieve goals, and... stay alive.


Knowing that we may be lugging these two systems around in our heads, how can we be most effective with them? Today I want to speak to those who sometimes find their BIS system turning on loud & strong, like me.

I'm the kind of person who sees a lot of opportunity and am energized by possibilities (BAS), but am also quick to spot potential threats and be influenced by them (BIS), i.e., this-may-not-work-out-so-let's-just-cut-losses-and-play-it-safe.

While I've made plenty decisions out of hope and excitement, I can also think of many times where I completely missed the boat on great opportunities to learn, grow, develop -- because I was waiting... watching... afraid.

I don't know about you, but missed opportunities hurt. Where to go from here?
(1) Know yourself: are you always listening to your BIS?
(2) Has it brought you any closer to your valued life?
(3) If not, why not give the BAS a chance?
Say yes,

and see where it takes you.

Would love to hear what you think! And check out a related post on Showing Up.


  1. I think the key is definitely a balance between the two - developing an intuition (based on experience, wisdom--sometimes gleaned from others, and faith) for which situations call for which approach.*

    1. that's a great point *, balance is so necessary. i think that intuition develops from all those sources you suggested, esp. EXPERIENCE -- maybe it starts with saying yes and then learning along the way when/how to say no...

  2. I concur: balance is the key! We only live once, why wait & check so much? But since we only live once, why rush & jump around? I used to be affected by BAS in the first part of my life, I got rewards as well as wounds, but still no regret!

    1. rewards + wounds = part of a full life :-)

  3. I'm definitely more BIS, so this was a good reminder to not let fear always dictate my decisions. X)

    1. yay, glad it can be a reminder to both of us !