RAGE v SEEKING Pathways In The Brain

Picture of By Jesse Engelbrecht

By Jesse Engelbrecht


There is some really powerful neuroscience discovered by the late Jaak Panksepp, about how our brains respond to sudden, unexpected change and challenges.

And how these sudden, unexpected changes influence our thoughts and, therefore, our actions.

One of these pathways, called the RAGE pathway, is activated when our sense of self and stability are threatened. 

This leads to reactionary responses like anger or impulsivity.

For example, imagine a squash player who finds out last minute that they have to play a tougher opponent, someone they don’t like, and have lost to before.

Their brains RAGE pathway activates leading to anger and frustration. 

This heightened emotion can now lead to impulsive reactions like negative self-talk or blaming the organisers.

Furthermore, this can negatively affect their performance making them more likely to make mistakes and lose focus during the match, as the RAGE pathway is in full swing. 

The RAGE pathway is the neural circuitry triggered in response to threats.

Think of the brain as a complex system, with the amygdala at its core, which lights up in moments of upheaval.

This is an automatic response to threats that can lead to impulsive reactions and heightened emotions.

While this mechanism served us well in ancient times, modern complexities of competitive sport demand a more thoughtful approach.

The seeking pathway is the brain’s mechanism for problem-solving and planning.

This neural circuitry, fuelled by the release of dopamine, empowers us to confront challenges with agency, purpose and intention. 

Picture it as a multilane highway connecting different areas of our brain, facilitating deliberate responses and strategic thinking.

The RAGE and SEEKING pathways compete for resources in the brain.

This is like a tug-of-war between two teams.

Engaging the SEEKING pathway can help turn off the RAGE pathway, promoting rational and deliberate responses.

This fact is supported by neuroscience research.

These two pathways involve different neural circuits and mechanisms that compete for resources and attention. 

When the seeking pathway is engaged through deliberate responses, problem-solving, and planning, the rage pathway is effectively turned off.

This interplay highlights the importance of conscious decision-making in the face of adversity.

Studies have shown that activating the seeking pathway suppresses the activity of the rage pathway, creating what amounts to a zero-sum game. 

This competition for resources in the brain means that when one pathway is activated, the other is inhibited. 

It is nearly impossible for the brain to be simultaneously in a state of rage AND intense seeking or planning.

The brain responds to regular use of the SEEKING pathway, just like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.

Our brains adapt and evolve with practice.

Begin practicing deliberate responses in challenging situations to strengthen the ability to use the SEEKING pathway effectively.

Dopamine is the chemical fuel for the SEEKING pathway, which, in turn, motivates us to keep taking positive actions.

Behavioural activation is a tool to break the cycle of negative emotions and engage the SEEKING pathway.

Taking small, productive actions can help boost mood and motivation, even when feeling down or apathetic.

To apply, set small goals, practicing problem-solving, and using action to create motivation.

Dopamine is the lubricant for motivation.

Dopamine gets more readily released when deliberate and intentional actions are applied, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

Experiment with these tools and observe how your responses and emotions change over time.


Whenever you’re ready, here are 4 more ways you can consume SportMind content to help you train your mind:

  1. Check out the SportMind podcast. And this is my FAVOURITE episode to date
  2. Get your coach in your pocket by downloading the SportMind App on Apple or Android
  3. Ever wanted the tools to Unlock Flow? I have a workshop just for this
  4. Become a SportMind member and gain full access to mental training. Learn more here

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Jesse Engelbrecht

SportMind Founder,
High Performance Coach,
& Squash Professional

A professional and dedicated coach full of enthusiasm and passion for helping and teaching.

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