Once you learn a habit or behavior, it’s damn tough to unlearn.
When I traveled to Japan, I drove on the left side of the road.
It felt completely off.
Used to the turn signal being on the left side, whenever I attempted a turn, I flipped on the windshield wipers instead. Brain was confused.
To practice, I flipped the turn signal with my right hand several times…and I’d still fuck up. I’m so conditioned to driving on the right side of the road, that it’d take dedicated mental and physical effort to change my habits.
This story sets up a question that haunts me:
If we have all the information already, then why do our problems still repeat?
Losing weight should be simple: “Burn more calories than what you consume”
Being good with money is straightforward: “Earn more than you spend and invest the rest“
We’ve had the world’s information at our fingertips for decades (!!) already. With ChatGPT available, we should be perfect now.
And yet, problems remain. Is it due to laziness or simply lack of awareness?
A more compassionate take, in my opinion, is this one thing we’re all subject to…
Condition is EVERYTHING
Conditioning shapes behavior.
- Eating inordinate amount of Hot Cheetos, because that’s what had as children
- Overspending in response to stress #retailtherapy
- Believing investing myths, like the stock market is a scam (beliefs = conditioning of the mind)
Conditioning is also beautiful: a belly laugh in reaction to a funny GIF, a natural tendency to say bless you after sneezing, and the innate desire to be helpful.
It’s what makes us human.
Anything we repeat also creates conditions, for better or worse.
The dirt tracks of your mind
Imagine that you drive over a dirt path as part of your daily commute. Every time you drive over it, you condition that surface. Tracks develop. Grooves get deeper. It’s easier to drive over these tracks than avoid them now.
One day, it rains and the tracks get sloshy, making the road tough to drive on. Even if you try to avoid it, the wheels naturally go towards the tracks. Then you get stuck.
You’re experiencing the results of the road you conditioned.
Call it a habit, pattern or way of being, but I like “conditioning” because it’s less judgy.
A new question arises
When I’m ruminating or find myself in a self-critical mood, I try asking:
- What about my conditioning is show up here?
- Have I been conditioned to react in a certain way?
- Am I interested in conditioning myself otherwise?
It’s a more forgiving alternative to Why am I like this?
It also suggests that change doesn’t have to be dramatic or wholesale.
Change can start by driving over a new set of tracks.
Just for fun
I’ve long wondered why the hair product “conditioner” is called a conditioner. Conditioners, rather than cleaning hair, conditions hair follicles with moisturizing agents.
Also, hair conditioner used to be called cream rinse back in the day.