Aug 31 2008
Sometimes I think my behavioral guidance system is wired up as a mystery or a puzzle. Like the movie GroundHog Day, every 24 hours I attempt to resolve my own idiosyncratic “craziness”. Sure, I see the outward patterns clearly, but whatever deep inside me is launching those patterns (as I don’t experience consciously choosing them) has been obscured from direct viewing ever since I can remember.
When it comes to changing my habitual thinking, both my own tradition and “the “literature” get abstract and philosophical too quickly. Do I need more philosophy? No. What I need is a simple, practical, written-just-for-me instruction manual that shows me step-by-step how to reprogram my own auto-pilot . . . (Yes, of course there are hundreds of books and courses that aim to do that but I haven’t found one written just for me yet — hah hah!)
From Freud’s ego & id, to Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, to Eckhart Tolle’s “pain body”, it’s common knowledge that the ever-expanding fields of psychology, coaching, professional development and management, have been evolving the concept of mental programs to help people like me understand and improve our internal guidance systems. Whatever words I use, I’ve come to understand that a “program” is a core thinking process which, consciously or unconsciously, a person uses to function — that is, to survive (get by) or thrive (succeed). I have yet to actually see such a program, but I sure experience their effects.
I’m talking about thought processes that forms the platform for conscious attitudes, beliefs, habits and motivations. Though they’re quite under the surface you can almost see such programs in the faces of Olympic athletes. The idea that mental programs determine our outlook and behavior isn’t new, but our collective willingness to talk about these programs is still only emerging.
Several factors make these programs difficult to discuss except in broad generalization: 1) We may not be consciously aware of our programs even though we experience their influence over us. 2) Given these programs are invisible, intangible, and coded “differently” in our unique mind-body systems, they are difficult to articulate. 3) The programs are often painful, irrational and don’t make sense, which further increases one’s own or other’s potential judgment, embarrassment and shame.
The result is that people (and I’m certainly an example) can live in a state of denial or ignorance about their programs — condemned in effect, to live by them until they expose them to the light of day and then reprogram themselves. This is sometimes what therapists and coaches can help their clients do.
After working with core programs for twenty plus years as a change agent and consultant, I’ve come to identify two categories of programs: conscious and unconscious. The first type constitutes what we can call our beliefs — the ideas that we “take-on” through decisions that we can talk about. We can describe our beliefs, associate them to specific events, memories or people, understand and explain them to each other. They are the subject of countless books, articles and seminars.
Unconscious programs, in contrast to beliefs, however, are not coded in our minds in words or sentences or concepts. They’re coded as sensations, emotions and strange formations in our unconscious memory. They’re often negative, aren’t rational, and don’t make sense, so they’re difficult to identify — let alone talk about. They’re buried like that crate containing the ark of the covenant which gets hidden in the giant warehouse at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie.
My experience is that generally speaking most people don’t like to talk about their unconscious programs unless those programs make them feel good and produce success. Over the last thirty years, however, with the vocabulary of popular psychology, the human potential movement, divrese forms of therapy and self-development, mind-brain technology, retreats, yoga, meditation, etc., there’s a greater willingness within the mainstream for people to openly reveal their inner workings regarding their beliefs and programs.
I see these programs as a kind of successfully-camouflaged addiction. As in any problem-solving process, the first (and essential) step of clearing such a pattern, is acknowledging that there is a problem, and then correctly identifying it’s real cause. Of course, there’s nothing easy about doing that when you’ve spent a lifetime of covering-up one or two. Needless to say, such limiting or self-defeating programs can be seen operating below the surface in every kind of organization, too. I can observe them popping up and into play in meetings.
One way to facilitate transformation — for individuals or teams — is by making the invisible visible — any way you can. Doing a “white board process” is a tool/process I am developing that anyone can do. Here’s an example.
These days I’m willing to own and talk about my own and others’ unconscious though I wonder how much anyone’s actually interested. What I know does interest people is the experience of liberation, empowerment, and creative energy that gets triggered with real clarity. This is what’s possible when we get to the root of our self-misunderstanding — i.e. our programs.
If you’re working on yourself in this way — I acknowledge you. It’s not easy and you’re not alone. If I can offer a tool or distinction that helps you in some way, that would be rewarding, and this is what my own life process has been about. I will be sharing more.