The Power Of Conditioning…

I was sitting vaguely listening to the news this morning when I had an urge to pick up my phone and look at it. It was quite immediate and compelling – a text, a WhatsApp message, a Messenger ping…. all at once? Really? I suddenly became aware that the noises I had heard in the background were part of the reporter’s clip on the television. But I knew them instantaneously and had a reaction to respond to them there and then.

It made me conscious of how conditioned I, and all of us, I imagine, have become to these calls to attention whether it be noises, alerts popping up, adverts we see which we weren’t even planning to look at. Of course these are relatively harmless, if annoying at times but nonetheless they do influence our behaviours.

So what about the other things we are conditioned to respond to?

When I am working with clients, I often hear language used like “should”, “ought”, “must”, “would be better if…” and I am curious about where those words come from; whether they belong to the person or to someone else.

Often as young children, we become used to hearing certain phrases, or being told we are “good” if we do this or that or “we don’t do that here…” Whilst these comments are meant with the best of intentions – to encourage us or to keep us safe, they also shape how we become and how we view ourselves in relation to the things we do, choices we make about the people we are around and ultimately the relationships we create.

Ingrained habits are hard to break out of – hard to even notice sometimes. Therapy gives an opportunity to unlock some of the unhealthy thought processes we have adopted throughout our lives which may have been very useful “back then” but are perhaps not so helpful now. By looking at behaviours, feelings and the automatic thoughts underneath, we can gently challenge them and see if they are indeed still valid for the here and now.

CBT is helpful with this process as well as re-framing our view of the world around us, discovering patterns of behaviour, challenging our belief systems, working through fears and anxieties and changing our responses to things. It is a practice that I find invaluable when working with my clients.

Next time you hear yourself say “no I shouldn’t…” ask yourself “who’s rule is that?”