4 steps to identifying & re-framing your own learned beliefs
Childhood conditioning is the process of beliefs, thinking patterns or behaviours being learned and reinforced over time. These beliefs are imprinted into your subconscious by the age of about 8 and will form the foundation of what all other information gets filtered through.
We learn these things through observing and interacting with our main care givers. Up until the age of about 8 or 9 children we like sponges as our brain is in the impressionable Theta state when we have the closest access to our subconscious brain (also the same state you are aiming to achieve in meditation and the brain state that happens just as you wake up and just as you fall asleep). At this age we are also egocentric, believing things happen to us and for us.
The beliefs, learned behaviours and thinking patterns you have will almost certainly be subconscious, that is to say you won’t necessarily be aware of them.
When can conditioning become problematic?
You will without realising it lean on this conditioning, it will be your filter. For example; If you grew up in a household where your parents tended to only give you attention and show you love when you achieved something, you would have learned that attention and love is conditional and has to be earned. As an adult this could drive you to continually push yourself to achieve in order to gain external validation and feel “good enough”.
Why? Because this is what is familiar to you and the way you have been conditioned to behave.
Conditioning is not always bad and can be an important way as children we understand how to behave and function in our society. But, being aware of your own childhood conditioning can bring these filters into conscious awareness and give us the opportunity to change our behaviours, beliefs and thinking patterns.
Where do I start?
Unlearning learnt behaviours and or thinking patterns can be a tricky process and one that can take a degree of determination and patience.
By following these 4 steps you will begin to bring to light and awareness your conditioning, so that you can choose an alternative way forward.
Step 1 — Identify and acknowledge
Identifying and acknowledging learned behaviours and thinking patterns is the first step. Start by allowing yourself to be open to what comes up without judgement or at this point trying to manipulate anything. Here’s a few ways you can identify your own conditioning:
1- What phrases or inner thoughts do you often have when you face a challenge or something doesn’t go the way you’d hoped. E.g. I’m just not cut out for this, I’ll only ever just manage and not thrive, I don’t deserve this etc. Just brain dump out all and any ideas that come to mind.
2- What beliefs do you hold close to you about the world? E.g You only get what you put in, Money can’t buy happiness, There are the haves and the have nots. Again mind-map, brain dump or note down what comes up.
3- What reactions (in the moment, knee jerk responses) are familiar to you? Are there particular situations that will create a certain reaction from you? If you are familiar with journaling use this time to journal around this.
4- Accept what does come up, it is important that you don’t place blame or fall into an inner dialogue around these realisations. They are not inherently good or bad, they just are.
Step 2 — Explore them further
When you have identified some of your thinking patterns, behaviours and beliefs allow yourself to explore them more deeply. This is when journal practice comes into it’s own and can support you learn more about your conditioning in a safe way. Where did these thought patterns, beliefs or behaviours come from? What is your earliest memory of thinking this way or behaving this way?
You will no doubt want to try to “fix” what comes up, at this stage just colouring in what you have already learned with more detail is the goal.
Step 3 — Is it True?
Take one of your identified thinking patterns, beliefs or behaviours and ask yourself ‘Is this true?’ (You will find the work of Byron Katie very supportive in this process). Can you say 100% that this is true?
Then ask yourself does this belief, behaviour or thinking pattern support me? Or, does it constrict me, hold me back or affect my wellness in an un-resourceful way? Look out for your emotions, this is where developing the self awareness muscle can help. If you get a pit in your stomach when you think of your patterns or beliefs then more than likely you know on some level it’s not serving you anymore.
Step 4 — Create an alternative
How would you like to behave, think or feel instead?
To change a learned behaviour, belief or thinking pattern you need to be consistent in how you challenge the old un-resourceful one. There are several ways to do this, here are a few to get you started:
1- Pattern interrupt — Use this strategy to stop an un-resourceful pattern before you hit that spiral. It is simply snapping yourself out of a particular state by actively and drastically changing your focus. This can be by changing your current environment, shouting no loudly, putting on music to shift your focus or if you need to calm your energy it could be a meditation practice.
2- Use affirmations — Affirmations are positive statements that are supportive to you. They will likely be the opposite of your identified un-resourceful thought or belief. Interact with them in as many ways as you can. As we know ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’, that is to say the more you use a neural pathway (thought, pattern, belief) the stronger it will become.
3- Visualisation — How would your ideal self respond? Imagine how in an ideal world you would like to think, feel and behave. Taking a few minutes each day to visualise this will support both your subconscious and conscious brain in integrating the new changes you are bringing in.
Conditioning is a learning process. In the case of childhood conditioning it is the belief systems, behaviours and skills we learned as children. Although some of these beliefs can be deeply ingrained they were ‘learned’ and therefore they can be ‘un-learned’ or more accurately replaced with more supportive belief systems and behaviours.