Chapter Five

WHY THE HELL DID I DO THAT?


He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. - Confucius


Have you ever wondered why seemingly intelligent people persist in self-destructive, irrational behaviors like smoking cigarettes, drinking and driving, and road rage? Why your neighbors and coworkers harbor such infuriatingly asinine political and religious views? Have you ever witnessed someone you care about (yourself, perhaps?) play the fool under a spell of lust or infatuation? Ever wonder how a charismatic leader can persuade groups of mundane individuals to perform atrocities, or even die for a dubious cause?

Although we like to believe we are in conscious control of our destinies, a vast amount of our decision making takes place far beneath the surface of our conscious mind. Our consciousness has a limited role in our decisions, and is often the servant of unconscious mental processes.

When first learning to drive a car, you must concentrate on all of the separate acts simultaneously – the amount of foot pressure needed to brake and accelerate, the sharpness with which to turn the wheel, the ability to judge distances and the speed of other vehicles, etc. Once these skills have been learned and internalized, they no longer require full conscious attention, and we often find ourselves driving on auto-pilot.

The same is true for life. We learn social skills through imitation, trial and error, reward and punishment. These skills - or liabilities, as the case may be - become internalized, an unconscious second nature. We judge, and pre-judge, partially on hard-wired instinct, but also upon learned perspective and prejudice. We “learn” from the world who we are, and accept the conclusion as immutable fact.

And so we find ourselves, the sum of our hardwiring and our programming. Yet we possess the ability to change our conditioning, by consciously changing our thoughts and our environment, by forming new mental habits and thought patterns, and by rejecting learned, but false, limitations. More often, we merely continue to muddle our way through life, ticking off years as our subconscious beliefs and prejudices confine us to the same, narrow path we have always known.

A solid understanding of how our subconscious mental programming controls our actions is also a prerequisite to break free from the control of those who would wilfully control our thoughts and actions. Parents, teachers, the media, employers, professors, politicians, judges, and all other types of authorities will intentionally dole out rewards and punishments in order to gain our obedience. Many of those in closest contact with us may be well meaning, but have been unwittingly duped into programming us for the benefit of their “superiors.”

You have the power to end the cycle of control and abuse. You do not have to be who you are now, you can choose to be something different. Something radically different, if you wish. You do not have to accept the limitations or prejudices that have been indoctrinated into you by your environment. The future is unwritten, and you can use it to do or be whatever you like, the moment you cleanse your mind of your conditioning. It only feels like you are losing your identity. The truth is, you must lose the artificial clutter and the externally-inflicted thought patterns before you may truly find yourself.


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