How to Overcome a Conditioned Mind

Imagine if all of us were to come with an operating manual. Everything would be scripted. Our lives would be at the mercy of the one with the manual and we would be mere puppets, strutting around the stage of life. Bickering with our emotions, fighting our demons, and at the end of the day, wondering what’s wrong with us?

Life would be encapsulated by a single word. Monotonous.

With the introduction of systems, institutions, and hierarchies, we are constantly served with mandates and ultimatums. So, are we already living based on a manual? 

Most of us are asked to get a degree and settle down with a job. Living from paycheck to paycheck our entire lives. Trading time away for money and then, satiating our egos by buying a big house or an expensive car or a new piece of technology.

But why does material bought with money determine our identity? Since when did money become an identity marker?

Well, it all comes back to creating a safety net so that we can fall safely. Like it doesn’t really matter where we fall as long as we fall within the given guidelines.

Speaking of safety nets, let’s imagine that a person is about to go sky diving. He’s excited but scared to death at the same time. After mustering a lot of courage, he finally decides to step towards the edge of the plane, ready to launch himself into infinite. The feeling is exhilarating! But right before he jumps, he is told that there is a safety net a hundred feet above the ground to make sure that he lands safely.

Not only does this deny him the opportunity to land on his own feet, but it also takes away the thrill and joy of the sport. Nullifying the entire experience and an important lesson – That one can overcome his fears.

Subsequently, this brings us to our next gawking understanding that these safety nets were literally designed to condition us. In fact, most of us spend our lives looking for safety nets and coddling ourselves in their comfort. In turn, leading us to an anchor called “mediocrity”.

Yes, that vicious thing that most of us hate, yet settles in like an ice cube in a tray. And then, we wonder why life is so hard?

So, coming to the most important question – How to overcome a conditioned mind?

1. Acknowledging that we are Bound by Conditions

Most of us live without realizing the fact that we are bound by conditions. We skim through it just because we’re told to do something or live in a certain manner. Or worse, sometimes in absolute denial. Well, nobody wants to accept that they were wrong, especially when the condition has become a habit. It’s something that we’ve been practicing for a very long time and it’s hardwired into our system.

So, would it be easy to let go of something that we’ve done for a very long time?

Absolutely not. But it’s worth the shot! 

It all starts by taking that step towards acknowledging that we were conditioned. While we cannot completely reverse what’s been done, we can certainly take responsibility for our choices.

Maybe, it is time to quit that painstaking job and start a different venture. Or to end a toxic relationship. Or to tell parents that we can make our own decisions.

Or sometimes, just to tell ourselves that it is okay – It’s okay to be wrong sometimes…

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2. Replacing the Habit 

Now that we’ve taken responsibility for our choices by accepting that we were conditioned, it’s time to change those habits that render us conditioned.

That’s right. Habits create man. Warren Buffet once said that “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”.

Now, can we simply change a habit? Well, let’s just say that it is easier said than done. But the human brain is accustomed to a wonderful phenomenon called Neuroplasticity. This means that we can mold our thoughts and shape perceptions. 

So, now we can rewire our habits and unshackle ourselves from those conditions. But first, we need to identify what’s going wrong. Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves important questions like, “Where does it happen?”, “How does it happen?” and “Can I do something to change this?” 

For instance, something as innocuous as watching television late at night can be a habit that one has developed. Perhaps, he is trying to replace the habit by falling asleep a little earlier. Or perhaps, he wants to rewire his habit by replacing it with reading.  

Of course, it’s hard. However, it gets easier with time. The easiest way to adopt a new habit or replace habits is to couple the desired habit with a micro-habit. It can be something as small as making a cup of chamomile tea or writing a one-minute journal.

Another instance is when we’re trying to start exercising or going to the gym. Our micro-habit could be as small as wearing gym gear and stepping outside our home. 

grayscale photo of a person looking at his mirror reflection
Photo by Amine M’Siouri from Pexels

The micro-habit could be any activity that we would do just for two minutes. In this process, we’re reconditioning our minds to think that the new habit is easy to develop and not become overwhelmed by the task. 

The idea is to introduce our minds to a change through priming. Priming is a phenomenon that would allow us to rewire our habits. The reason for this is that our minds are meaning-making machines. So, we’ve got the power to write the code, and reprogram our habits according to our requirements. 

Although, it must be reiterated that it’s hard and mostly comes down to how badly one wants it. We’ve got to remember that we can either coddle ourselves in that safety net or take that leap of faith (a calculated leap) towards the change we seek.

3. Practicing the New Habit 

So, now that we’ve rewired our minds through micro-habits, it is also important to become consistent. As Will Smith once said, “You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.” 

The idea is known as Kaizen; taking a small step every day to develop or improve our habits. 

Also, we must understand that there is a possibility of a relapse… And that’s alright. Well, it’s not wrong to be “wrong”. However, we need to be conscious enough to get back on track by reminding ourselves about the reason for all our efforts. 

One of the best ways to recover from our relapse is to tie our desired habit down to something important to us. We need to tell ourselves that our efforts are to achieve a bigger mission.

Now, for an alcoholic giving up alcohol is probably one of the hardest tasks. However, when it is tied down to a deeper mission, it becomes easier to achieve. For instance, it could be to actively support our family or reclaim our health from the jaws of diseases. 

Remember, our minds are meaning-making machines? So, associating meaning with our actions or a higher purpose to our habits could be pivotal. 

Now, most importantly in any endeavor, there will be challenges. If things go south, we must not let it discourage us. Rather we must consider it as a segue way towards a higher mission.

Remember the time when we were infants and we were trying to walk? Of course, we don’t. But one thing is certain – we did not succeed in the first attempt. Most certainly, we fell down repeatedly but ultimately learned to walk.

So, imagine if we were told that it was not safe to walk because we might fall. We’d probably be crawling on our knees all our lives.

“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”

– Will Smith

Now, let’s acknowledge safety nets for a moment – Safety nets and guidelines are important. In fact, in some cases, they can save a lot of time. Although with that said, they can as well deter us. In most cases, it can be detrimental to invest ourselves in building them because we run the risk of sacrificing new experiences. It is new experiences that lead us towards growth and our desired changes.

So, what if we fall down sometimes? – We can’t rise if we don’t fall. So, what if we’re wrong sometimes? – we can’t be right, or rather less wrong if we’re not wrong at all.

So, what if we die tomorrow? Ultimately all of us are going to die someday. Would it be wise to tie ourselves down to yet another conditioned safety net or walk away from them in pursuit of freedom? The choice is always with us – We can reconcile and lay low with yet another condition or step up to un-condition ourselves.

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