Uday – Stress Book independent Articles

Conditioning

- Uday

Natural fears are inborn, not learned. As babies, we instinctively tense up at the loud noise of crackers bursting. We respond to our caretaker’s absence with fear of abandonment. We respond to our parent’s angry voice with ‘fight or flight’ response. Fear is a natural and healthy response to threats to our life and limb. Fear is wired into our DNAs.

However, most of our fears are learned fears. Fear of darkness, fear of falling, fear of getting burnt, fear of insects, fear of crowds – we are not born with these. These fears are picked up over time – we learnt to fear them by experiencing the consequences like being lost, injuring a leg, burning a finger, getting stung, or getting hurt in a fight.

Conditioned fear is learned and inculcated. As children we learnt to fear the cane – for cane was associated with canings that came as punishment for our wrong doing. We learned the fear of exams – for exams were associated with failure and unpleasant consequences. We learn to fear policemen and bosses for the same reason – by associating them with authoritarian parental figures. They remind us of the threatening father or mother whom we were afraid of as children.

Conditioning also occurs by observing others’ behaviours. Many of my fears have come about by observing and copying my parents’ behaviours. My social anxiety, fear of crowds, fear of darkness, were reinforced by watching my mother respond to such situations. Conditioned behaviour becomes extremely powerful because it is continuously reinforced by experience and example. We grow up with our fears until they becomes second nature to us - we become one with our fears.

Conditioning is further reinforced by many of our beliefs that are self fulfilling. Many of our beliefs are a product of conditioning, for instance, “Do not trust or talk to strangers”

and “Do not argue with your superiors” generally are messages that have become self fulfilling. The more we believe, the more we avoid strangers or submit to the boss, and cause our expectations to come true. To complete the picture are the corresponding beliefs that the strangers or bosses have about us! We fulfil each others’ expectations and reinforce the conditioning.

Conditioning have its positive merits and negative side. Conditioned thinking sidelines our conscious logical thinking and allows us to respond to situations instantly. This is especially useful when we do not have the time to think out the steps, and our safety or comfort depends upon our instant response. Martial arts and sports education conditions us to respond with discipline and quick reflexes. School education conditions us to obedience. Our culture conditions us to identify with our roots and community. All this behaviours becomes integral parts of our personality.

However, conditioning makes us respond in one way to many diverse situations and is not necessarily the necessary response required. We may act too aggressively or too timidly and create problems rather than solving them. If we experience more problems than satisfaction in our dealings with the world, it means that we are relying more on our conditioned thinking rather than using our learning mind to process changing situations.

We can use the learning mind to look into what goes into our conditioned thinking. We can process the logic on which our responses are based. Our learning mind acts as a counterbalance to our automatic thinking, and helps us arrive at better responses. We can identify helpful and unhelpful behaviours and choose to act more thoughtfully wherever necessary. We can also look into the logic of the problematic behaviours and replace it with well reasoned logic.

Most of our conditioned beliefs are based on childhood logic which is limited at best and fancifully unrealistic at worst. As adults, we can learn and subscribe to realistic and helpful thinking. We can motivate ourselves to move out of past ways of thinking and behaviour. We can do problem solving using our creative faculties, and make commitments to change through determination and will power. We can encourage ourselves to emerge from disappointments and defeats by focusing on our purpose. We can use our adult awareness to take stock of situations and our own capacities. We can trust ourselves as adults to take necessary steps to act appropriately.

As human beings, we have been wired to survive and thrive. We have survived over a million years, and have thrived and prospered. We are adult human beings, capable of observing, learning, understanding, thinking, deciding, acting. We have been handling stress through decades, centuries, and millenniums, as part of our routine that is called life. We need not be prisoners of our conditioned thinking. Our destiny is for us to choose.

Thank God, we are adults !... (or adults in the making.) Thank God, we can cope with stress!