Tag Archives: conditioning of the mind

It’s just the difference between acting and reacting

A change is always tough. Most of us are sure that there are certain things that need to change in our lives. But when we attempt to change, there are all kinds of problems; uneasiness, fear, agony and depression. Even if we are able to change some thing (like a habit), there is a high probability of relapse after a period of uncertainty. I have wondered about it; often triggered by my attempts to stop smoking. When I did quit finally (rather easily), it gave me a new perception about the issue.

I think the problem is fundamentally with the point of change. Here is the theory : The difference between success and failure (or misery and happiness) is a simple choice between acting and reacting. Look at the picture below:

Action and Reaction

Say you are at the point Z and need to take a decision. You have two choices. One is to go by the patterns (or mind) which is usually the reactive path. The moment you align your mind in this way, mind starts further strengthening and reinforcing the point of view. You are then lead in one direction as indicated by the green line (the lines around it indicate the reinforcing mind patterns). There is another choice. That’s not to go by the patterns (mind), but to be aware or listen to your consciousness. This is the path of action, indicated by the red line. Even here, the mind does strengthen and reinforce the thinking.

Every moment in life we are actually at the point Z. If we can be aware and not get carried away by the mind, perhaps we can take right decisions for the future. This is rather simple.

But when it comes to change, the problem is more complex. The decision point is actually somewhere in the past and we have say taken a reactive approach and proceeded in one direction. Assume, it has taken us to Y. Now we want to change. We want to be at X. So we take a decision and convince ourselves to be at X. But this is just temporary. Soon the old patterns become dominant and you are mercilessly dragged to Y. When that happens the reinforcement is further strengthened and you are more convinced that you cannot change.

So where is the problem? You should actually be first moving to Z (and not X). This will demand that you work through the conditioning of the mind slowly and remove them. When you are at the point Z, look at the decision again. With the correct mindset or awareness, you can take the right decision and take the path towards X. Since the conditioning has been taken care of, they don’t trouble you hard and in no time new patterns are formed.

 Let’s understand this with an example. Take smoking. Assume you are a smoker (because at some point in your life, you decided to try it apparently for no reason) and you are trying to quit now. You are at Y, and have lot of stuff built already around it in the mind like – Smoking helps me relax, It reduces my stress, it’s difficult to stop this etc. You also want to escape and you want to be, say at X ,where you are free from the habit.

Action and Reaction eg

Now you project yourself to be at X (whatever method you use – Cold turkey, cutting down etc). For a day or two, you are better off (at X), but soon the patterns become active (and there are things going on in the mind like – perhaps this is not the right time, I should actually cut down etc..)  and you feel miserable. And soon you are pulled back to point Y (you relapse). The more this happens, you are even more convinced that you can never escape, because every failure reinforces your conviction that you cannot quit.

Why this happens? You were at the point Z, several times in your life; say whenever you are smoking or whenever you tried to resist the temptation. And when you decided to smoke, you actually said: This is enjoying and relaxing. This has taken you in one direction and all the conditioning is built around it. Even if you are successful with this approach to quit, you are likely to be depressed and miserable, because the basic decision is in question.

So in order to really escape, you need to go back to the point Z and rephrase the mindset. An example could be : “ This has been a dreadful disease that’s taken control of me, I am now stepping out. It feels so great to be free”.

Now there are three elements. You, Smoking and the act of Quitting (or not doing it). So at the point Z you have to use these three to construct a direction statement. You know what most smokers do? They construct it something like this : “ Though smoking helps me to relax, now because of my bad health, I have to somehow stop it. I am going to try it real hard. I am not sure if I will succeed, I have failed many times before. But I will try it hard this time”. This takes them straight to the path of misery. 

But if you can construct a direction statement like “ I am escaping from this dreadful disease, it is so great. I do not need to do this again”. You take the other direction.

It’s not just a simple affirmation statement in the mind. You need to use awareness (and reflection) to go deeper and deeper till you find the basic decision making point and make the change. And this change will be easy and permanent.

This might rather look simple, but if you understand it, it is the key to change.

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Self-help mantras leave you unhappier than before

Many newspapers today carried this study of self help mantras (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197430/Revealed-Self-help-mantras-leave-unhappier-before.html) The study by some psychologists found that those with low self-esteem who repeated self-affirming statements (like I can win) actually ended up feeling worse about themselves. They suggests that unreasonably positive ‘self-statements’, such as ‘I accept myself completely’, simply remind individuals with low self-esteem how much they believe the opposite to be true.

I think this is not surprising, if you have read some of those best selling self help books. Each of them claim that you need to look no further to become the next Bill Gates or Barack Obama. You read them and spend the next few days ‘transfoming your life’, soon to find you back at sqare one. This ideal goal really widens the difference between what you are and what you should be. This process leaves you with a bad self-esteem and you are now more convinced that you cannot change.

I am not blindly accusing, could be there are books that are really valuable. But in general, I find some issues:

  1. Some of these books create those false definitions of success for you. In reality you are searching for happiness and freedom. And they tell you about success, and there is the assumption that success leads to happiness. It might seem appealing to our mind, but soon the self (sub concious or whatever you call it) realises that you are on a false trail.
  2. Many such books are written by people who do not have first hand experience. How many of them have been miserable, depressed and failed in life before they understand the truth? I think very rare. Instead they lay out those ideal life for for you, missing some very important points such as fear, ego etc.
  3. Most them talk to your concious mind. And any change you need to do in life with your concious mind needs lot of discipline. Anyone who is not accumsted to discipline can never sustain such a change. I think the real change need to happen deep within and it can only be the result of a true search.
  4. As a practice, we look for precriptive solutions. But every one is unique; your mind, thinking, attitude, response to a problem – everything is unique and personal. Very few prescriptive stuff will work for you, unless you are going to be disciplined. The change doesn’t happen at the mind level. But the mind makes us believe that it is supporting us in the change. (That’s why when we begin to practice Mindfulness, we end up giving a self commentory of what we do – I am now walking, I should not get angry now…)

These days, there is a huge market for self help books (OK, atleast they are successful), because everyone wants to change. We are 100% certain that we need to change in order to be happy and successful i n life. Let’s start with questioning that belief.

I liked a quote from Father De Mello You don’t have to do anything to acquire happiness. The great Meister Eckhart said very beautifully, “God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.” You don’t do anything to be free, you drop something. Then you’re free”.

How many self help gurus teach us the art of dropping?

Related Posts: Being true to yourself