You’re Riddled with Conditioned Beliefs

But you can change

Your beliefs come from a variety of sources, one of which is conditioning.

Understand what your conditioned beliefs are (and why you have them) and you can change those that hurt you.

What are conditioned beliefs?

Imagine your parents reward you by laughing and showing their delight when you say something funny as a kid.

It’s good to get positive feedback from them, right? You like their praise and acceptance. So, you’re inclined to behave similarly again.

Each time you are punished or rewarded for a behavior, you decide if it serves you.

So far, conditioning sounds straightforward. But it’s more complicated. It can work against you and in your favor.

Not all conditioned beliefs are helpful

Now imagine you are angry in front of your parents as a kid and they dislike negative emotion. If they punish you with words or frown with contempt, you’ll get the message anger is unacceptable.

You’ll want to avoid their wrath. As a result, you might hide your anger from them.

You might also bottle anger rather than display it in front of other people as an adult.

See the problem? You won’t communicate well if you repress anger. Unexpressed anger can transform into depression and other stress-related illnesses too.

What has repetition got to do with conditioning?

Many behaviors, from brushing your teeth to driving — assuming you learned to drive — are conditioned responses. When you repeat actions, they become ingrained in your mind. Soon, you carry them out on auto-pilot.

Your conditioning is unconscious. Once you learn to ride a bicycle, you need not think about doing so anymore. You automatically balance and turn the wheels.

The same is true for conditioned beliefs.

If you believe you aren’t bright enough to command a high wage, you’ll always seek low-paid jobs. You’ll shrink back when it’s time to push forward for a promotion or grab an opportunity to climb your chosen career ladder. Your deep-seated belief will halt progression.

Your negative thoughts stem from conditioning

Study results vary, but scientists are pretty sure everyone has 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day, and the majority (as many as 95%) are the same as yesterday. Possibly, 70 to 80% are negative.

The chances are your negative thoughts have something to do with your conditioned beliefs. See why addressing them is important? You don’t want to spend each day of your life turning over the same old insecurities when you could be happier.

Simple conditioned beliefs can be a problem

What if you develop a belief you should reward yourself with unhealthy foods when the day goes well (or badly)? Your waistline will explode. Or you learn to reach for a cigarette during coffee breaks (but you want to quit smoking)?

Conditioning hurts. Yet, you can change. Tenacity is required though.

Why conditioning is hard to shift

As automatic responses live in the unconscious, they aren’t checked by your brain’s prefrontal cortex (the part that deals with logic and reasoning) so you don’t feel they are choices. They just happen.

When you try to alter beliefs and behaviors, repeating your endeavors rewires your brain.

All’s well and good.

However, when you come up against cues (triggers for your old ways) it’s easy to fall back into unwanted patterns.

Recognize triggers

Unhelpful beliefs don’t have to dominate your world. To change them, though, you must notice them.

So if you get angry when a friend’s 10 minutes late or you feel panicky whenever you and your mate disagree, conditioning might be to blame.

Maybe your father was always late when he picked you up from school and you felt he didn’t care. Now you are conditioned to feel resentful when people don’t show up on time.

Or your parents often walked out on each other after arguing, and your brain’s forged a link between abandonment and quarrels.

If you eat unhealthy foods after you’ve performed well at work (or badly) you are rewarding or consoling yourself, and your negative or positive experience is the trigger.

Similarly, if you always smoke during coffee breaks, coffee breaks are your trigger (or the idea you socialize during breaks as doing so helps you meet with other smokers to chat).

Even specific words can be cues for conditioned reactions. “Can I see you in my office,” “we need to talk,” and “not now,” might trigger conditioning if you link these phrases with anxiety.

Note what happens before unpleasant emotions occur. What transpires before you become upset?

Change your triggers

Choose (in advance) how to react differently when triggers occur. If you’ve got a promotion (and are conditioned to celebrate with unhealthy food) select a healthier, equally yummy celebration snack.

Keep a low-fat yogurt, walnuts, and honey in the fridge (if you like them) when you know a possible promotion is on the cards. (If things don’t work out, it will be healthy commiseration food).

You must override the urge to repeat old behavior patterns (iced buns, biscuits, fried food). Eventually, your brain connections will support new thoughts and behaviors.

If you’re conditioned to please, practice saying “no.” Start small. “I already have plans” or “no thank you” will often suffice when someone asks you to do them a little favor, and it doesn’t suit you.

Later (when you meet bigger requests) the connections in your brain supporting old patterns will have weakened and be replaced with connections that serve you.

How awareness helps

Some triggers aren’t as difficult to change. Say you’re conditioned to daydream when a certain person talks because they usually bore you. Your awareness can help you stay alert. You could also react differently to spice up the conversation.

If you recognize you’re conditioned not to show anger, as in an earlier example, get used to accepting your emotions. Write your feelings in a journal and say what you want to say. Let it out.

Visualize how to respond in positive ways in the future as well.

Even imagined events can help rewire your brain. When the time comes to express yourself, you’ll be ready.

Are you riddled with conditioned beliefs?

Yes, you are, but you have the power to change.

Recognize Triggers

Plan new reactions

Practice (to rewire your brain)

Copyright © 2018 Bridget Webber. All rights reserved

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Independent content creator, ghostwriter, author mental health advocate, and poet.

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