What is Conditioning?
Learn about conditioning and how it impacts your mental well-being.
From the moment we are born, conditioning begins. We constantly have experiences that give rise to thoughts, feelings and emotions. Based on these we form conscious ideas, and subconscious or even unconscious mental patterns, which in turn drive our behavior. At any given moment, we are the sum total of all we have lived—this is the reality of conditioning.
At its best, conditioning is a means of survival. At its worst it is extremely harmful and limiting. Certain neuroscientific research suggests that we don’t actually make decisions the way we think we do. What we believe to be conscious actions may largely be predetermined by our conditioning, as new situations trigger us to react the same way we did to old ones. Lab experiments have shown that people’s choices can be predicted by monitoring their brain activity before they actually decide. So, while certainly we have free will, our actions often stem from thought processes that we aren’t even consciously aware of, much less in control over. Meditation is one way to take back that control by putting us in touch with the subtle undercurrents lurking just below the surface of our conscious thought process. This awareness is a powerful tool to take us out of destructive behaviors that we keep on blindly repeating.
Much of our strongest conditioning happens in early childhood when we lack fully developed minds to form a rational understanding of what happens to us. This often creates lifelong emotional triggers. For example, if someone was constantly yelled at by a parent for making mistakes, they may wonder later why they shut down in front of an abusive boss. Their conditioning tells them that they are powerless, since that’s how they felt as a child, and decades later they fall blindly into the same pattern. Even as an adult this process of conditioning remains so powerful. Perhaps someone has gotten their heart broken repeatedly, so now each time they enter a new relationship they begin to unconsciously play out the same scenario with disastrous results. If we instantly react to each new situation the same way we did in the past, we rob ourselves of the opportunity for growth.
Although conditioning would seem to make us seek after experiences that have provided pleasure in the past, and avoid situations that have brought pain, the mind can be deceptive. Very often we are not aware of how we run toward the very things that are harming us, even as we close ourselves off to what could be of benefit. Examining our conditioning honestly, thoroughly and compassionately is a means to open our eyes and move toward what is truly in our best interest.
What are some of the major life events, or subtler ongoing situations, that have shaped who you are today? What are your triggers and where did they come from? Why do you react negatively to certain situations, and how can that be reprogrammed? You can journal around this or explore it with a counselor who may be able to identify patterns that you can’t see. But the practice of honest self-examination remains essential. Wherever you find your mind becoming imprisoned in negative behavior patterns, you need to rewire it in a way conducive to happiness.
The simple power of awareness is the first step toward positive change. By going through the Ultimate Well-Being program, you will learn to understand your conditioning and behavior patterns through tracking, reflection, group discussion and personalized feedback. “Know thyself”—we all have a duty to undertake this lifelong, continually evolving journey so that we can live our most conscious, truth-affirming lives.