Early on, human beings develop programs for dealing with things in life.
You don’t realize what programs are running until they are exposed, which usually means they are causing problems.
When you develop these programs, there is not a lot of conscious discernment going on. You don’t say, “hey, that seems like a good idea” and then adopt that way of handling life. Your unconscious mind just calls the shots. It just develops strategies on the fly to manage situations.
These programs might be about finding ways to get what you want, dealing with emotions like disappointment or frustration or protecting yourself when you feel you are in danger, even if it undetectable to your conscious mind.
There are factors that play into how these programs develop such as circumstances, your natural temperament and disposition, what your parents model and how they interact with you (which, of course, relates to the programs they have developed).
Here’s the thing: while the programs are created super fast and get the job done so we can survive in the world, the programs can lack sophistication and finesse.
Think about emergency surgery. The focus is not on a beautiful incision, it is about saving a person’s life.
So, how do you know if you have a program that needs to be updated?
Unfortunately, it is when you are experiencing something unpleasant. Sorry. Just like the heart moves blood through your body or your lungs have to breathe air rather than water. It just is.
You do have a little bit of choice in exactly how unpleasant it needs to be in order for you to get motivated to update the program. If you are aware, willing, and receptive, you will likely catch it sooner rather that later and have an easier time. I promise.
The programs that are the biggest operators in your life are the ones that are exposed through your triggers.
By triggers I mean the things that set off a disproportionate reaction. That means you get more upset about “x” than most other people.
Let’s look at an example:
I used to really hate when people call me (I still don’t love it, but it is not as bad). Unless the phone call is expected or I know what is about, I usually won’t answer. I used to answer and get really pissed. Mostly when my mom called me. After getting angry so many times, I realized there is probably an outdated program running. I experienced my mother’s phone calls like an intrusion I had to tolerate.
I remember my therapist asking, “Do you have to answer right when she calls?” In the dinosaur days of home phones only? Yes. We’d get in big trouble for not answering the home phone. With cell phones? No. I remember being kind of astounded by the possibility that I didn’t have to answer every time she called.
I know that is a pretty benign example, but it is relatable and short.
How do you know if you have any outdated program running?
Identify the program that is no longer working:
This is probably the easiest step. Why? Because there is unpleasant emotion involved and it is a great big arrow to the program. If you are not sure what it is, ask your best friend or your partner. They know.
Another way to think about it is: where do you find yourself reacting in a way that is out of the norm of your character? I’m not a generally angry person, so being angry about a phone call doesn’t matter my normal behavior.
Look for the primary feeling and what it is accomplishing:
So, if you look at my example, the primary feeling was anger and it was working to help me protect myself from an intrusion. Anger wants to let you know that something is happening that is not OK and wants to create space. If you are not sure about the noble intention of the feeling you have is, download my free guide to the 5 Basic Emotions here.
Look for the thread to the past:
Where in your life have you experience that feeling before? If you look at what the emotion is accomplishing, where in your life would you have needed to do that to survive?
Consider how current situations are different from the past:
When you developed the program, your unconscious mind did you that favor because you needed a strategy to survive. Given that you are an adult, you likely have the ability to handle these things differently. When I was a kid, I had to answer the phone or my mom would get super angry. As an adult, as my therapist suggested, I could choose not to answer.
As an adult, you can speak up, you can hold a boundary, or you can leave if that is what you need.
Develop some thoughts and behaviors that can replace the old program:
You want to come up with a sentence that reminds you that you no longer need to use the old program. Remember, the old program runs unconsciously. It is a habit and does not require your conscious approval. So, even though you know about it and have the intentions to change it, it doesn’t mean that it will totally stop. That is where the work comes in. You want to create a thought that you can return to and some new ways you can behave that are in alignment with what you decide is best for you now.
You are not going to get it perfect every time now that you know the program, where it comes from and how to handle things differently. A lot of the power will be taken out of it because it is no longer residing in the unconscious mind. But, like I said, it is a habit that does not require your conscious approval to run.
You need to give yourself space to practice the new way. You will get plenty of chances. But you won’t do it perfect every time.