Our Programming

“Our ideas are conditioned by the prejudices instilled in us by our parents, by our culture, and by the historical period we live in. They are further limited by the increasing rigidity of the mind. A bit more humility about what we know would make us all the more curious and interested in a wider range of ideas.” - Robert Greene from The Laws of Human Nature

The person that we have become today is not the person that we chose to be, nor is it the person that we would have chosen to be (most likely), if we were given the choice. But it is who we are, and it is who we have to live with for the rest of our lives. We are not just who we are, we are who we were conditioned to be. We have all experienced this conditioning since the day we were born (and maybe earlier). This conditioning has been reinforced our entire lives by our parents and extended family, our schools and the teachers they employed, the media, our neighbors, and our workplace.

The person we have become has been molded by the decisions we have made throughout our life. It may feel like we were consciously making those choices, but in reality it was our subconscious working covertly behind the scenes that was directing our decisions. And our subconscious is a direct product of our conditioning. This is our programming.

This programming has been so pervasive that we never even suspected it was happening. Every time we did something “wrong” we were scolded, and every time we did something “right” we were rewarded. Quite often we were judged on our behavior, ridiculed for some of the things we said or did, and even envied for our successes. And while these were some of the tools of our programming, we became pretty good at using these tools ourselves. We could blame the people that programmed us, both directly and indirectly, but this judgment would ignore the fact that they too are just products of their programming.

"Day by day, at home, at school, at church, and from television, we are told how to live, and what kind of behavior is acceptable. The environment we grow up in teaches us how to be human. And we learn to judge: We judge ourselves, judge other people, judge the neighbors." - Don Miguel Ruiz from The Four Agreements

Who We Are

The person who we think we are is not who we really are. There is a belief that our conscious mind makes up only 5% of who we are and that our subconscious mind accounts for the remaining 95%. There is a lot to debate about these numbers, but the early years of psychology, going back to Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, was largely based on the premise that much, if not most, of our true self comes from the subconscious part of our mind. The conscious choices we make everyday, the choices that make us who we are and who we will become, are guided in part or in whole by our subconscious.

So, who we think we are is based on how we consciously act, think, and feel, but all of this consciousness is determined by our subconscious and how it was programmed to think, act, and feel during our early childhood.

We need to do whatever we can to crack open the protective casing around our subconscious and take a peak. If we can get a glimpse into that hidden part of our mind, maybe we can recognize and start to understand how this hidden part of ourselves can have such a profound effect on our everyday lives. 

While it may be unrealistic to believe that we can make wholesale changes to our subconscious mind, by recognizing who we are at the unconscious level through our inner beliefs and our outer behaviors, maybe we can gain control of our unconscious through its integration with our conscious mind.

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” - Aristotle

Knowing that there is something in our past, some event, that could be causing us to act a certain way in the present may help us understand that behavior and break free from it if necessary. Will we let the fears of a child, the five year old past us, determine how we act today or how we act in the future? Probably, but knowing the cause at least gives us something to work on.

Are We Just Victims?

If we have been programmed to be who we are, then we are not responsible for all of the questionable things, all the mistakes, or all the wrongs that we have committed in our lives. This may be true, but we also cannot take credit for all our successes, or all the good things that we have done either. Does this make us just onlookers in our own lives, beneficiaries of good luck or victims of circumstance? Only if we allow it.

"The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain." - Colin Wilson


This process of self-discovery will not happen overnight, in fact it will probably take a while, maybe a long while. It will probably be an ongoing process that should last a lifetime. It seems like the more stuff we uncover, the more other stuff that appears as a result. The proverbial can of worms. But we must figure out who we are and how we got here before we can start to design the life path of our choosing that we so desire to be on.

It has been said that if we don’t take control of our lives, someone else will. The course of our lives may seem to have been guided by a series of circumstances, events, and actions that were not of our choosing. And while many of these circumstances may have been, and continue to be, beyond our control, most were the result of decisions we made prior to those circumstances or from our reactions to prior circumstances.

We have been programmed to be who we are today, but whatever that programming was, it is in the past and it doesn’t have to be permanent. We have the right and the responsibility to make the necessary changes. In fact, we are the only ones with that right and responsibility. The challenge is for us to figure out what that programming was, why we do the things we do, and why we fail to do the things we need to do.

Accepting that we were not at fault for this part of our programming, might just give us the freedom to recognize and correct, or just accept these bits of code that make us who we are. But, whatever we choose to do, we must understand that it is now our responsibility, we cannot blame anyone else from this day forward. To do so just makes us a victim.

Digging Deeper:

Some Recommendations:
Watch - The Century of Self - For an eye opening look at how we have been programmed for the past hundred years.