Conditioned Responses

I want to talk today about conditioned responses. Conditioned responses are the emotional reactions that we seem to automatically feel when experiencing an external event or situation.

The amazing thing about conditioned responses is that they are based on a subjective perception of reality. What I mean by this is that 2 people can be faced with exactly the same situation but react to it in a totally different way. Have you ever wondered why that is? And which person is right? They both believe how they see it is right but who actually is? Neither, Or Both. It depends on which way you choose to look at it. The most obvious example is being "stuck" in traffic: One person will be complaining and getting really stressed out resisting the situation saying to themself something like "This shouldn't be happening to me" or "This always happens to me when I'm in a hurry". This person is clearly playing a victim role and denying the present moment by resisting it. The situation is what it is but they make it so much worse for themselves by the way they have unknowingly conditioned themselves to respond to it. Yes, that's right. They may have learned how to react by society or other people but ultimately they are the ones who choose to respond this way, the only reason it seems automatic is because it has become habitual for them. Think about it, do you think the first time that person was in a car in traffic they reacted that way? No, they didn't. But somewhere along the course of their life they adopted this behaviour from observing it as normal and then made it into a habit that became automatic.

Now take another person faced with the exact same situation who has more awareness and has trained themselves to observe reality more objectively. If they were "stuck" in traffic they would probably say something to themselves like "Ok, I'm waiting in traffic. It's not the end of the world. I'll get there when I get there. The situation is what it is so there's no point in getting stressed out, instead I'm just gonna relax and enjoy the free time I have to gather my thoughts and plan what I'm going to do when I get there". Isn't that a much more beneficial way to react to being stuck in traffic? Of course it is. Some people might say "Well that's just the way I am, that's how I react to being stuck in traffic. It's perfectly normal, plenty of people react in the same way". Ok, it may be generally perceived as normal to behave that way but does it do you any good? No, it doesn't, and if you were honest with yourself is that really the way you would want to be if you had a choice? Probably not, why would you choose stress over relaxation? Exactly, but most people do it all the time without even realising. You say that's the way you are, but it's not the way you are it's the way you've learned to react to that specific situation. But you do have a choice and you can learn a more beneficial way. If someone tells you a lie and you believe it and then one day you find out it isn't true, do you still believe it? No, of course not. It's the same thing. Just because you believe that this is the right way to react doesn't mean its true. Objectively, the right way to react would be one that benefits you instead of harms you. The fact is stress is very bad for your health. It causes high surges of adrenaline and cortisol to flow through your system which creates anxiety and high blood pressure which can eventually lead to a heart attack. The incredible thing is that this health hazard can be avoided by becoming more aware of how you react in certain situations that seem to cause you stress and by changing how you talk to yourself about them.

Learn to give those situations a different meaning, one that doesn't victimise you. Avoid thinking things like "Things like this always happen to me" or "Nothing ever goes right for me", these generalised statements can be very problematic to the way you perceive the world because they become self fulfulling prophecies and a core part of your belief system which then cripples your happiness and sense of self worth. Anytime you place blame on something outside of yourself you are automatically assuming the role of a victim and this habit can make life very difficult. So anytime you catch yourself complaining ask yourself "Do I really want to be a victim of my own viewpoint?" If you ask yourself this question, you will undoubtably answer "No". This is where you will have taken the first step in empowering yourself in the situation. The next question to ask yourself is "How can I change my viewpoint to one that empowers me and what meaning can I give to this situation to help me in doing so?" So for example if somebody glares at you walking down the street, instead of thinking "What's his problem?" or "He doesn't like me" you can think "He must be having a bad day today and he just happened to look in my direction" or "Wow, it must be hard work holding that front up against the world all day long, it's a pity that he feels the need to do that" or something along those lines.

Again, objective reality is still the same, you saw someone looking in your direction with an irritated expression on their face but how you interpret it makes all the difference in how it will affect you, if at all. I remember a time when I would have been extremely offended and phased by someone supposedly giving me a dirty look but now I just say to myself "There could be an infinite number of reasons for that event so why bother looking for one?" And then I just get on with my day like it never happened, whereas before I used to spend the next few hours ruminating over it and trying to figure out a reason why. The only thing that's changed in that situation is my perception, but that's all the change I needed to be free from my own habitual victim mentality.

And that's all anyone needs to empower themselves in those types of situations.

Until next time, stay conscious.