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From Surviving To Thriving: Overcoming Our Programming

Updated: Apr 19

As Darwin and others have made us aware, all

living things are subject to evolutionary pressures. According to evolutionary theory, in order to ensure the continuation of the species, organisms must prioritize survival and reproduction. Humans may be the first (and only) species that has been able to judge these mandates and ultimately find them lacking. If you ask anyone, it is unlikely that they would say their purpose in life is to survive long enough to produce as many offspring as possible. However, most of us have strong, ingrained, biological processes that still drive us towards these goals. Our unconscious mind is designed to conserve energy, avoid danger, and seek pleasure. It is these characteristics that keep us alive, but prevent us from thriving.

One key element in overcoming this ingrained programming is self-awareness. By understanding our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we can begin to untangle ourselves from the grip of evolutionary pressures. We can consciously choose to prioritize our well-being and fulfillment over mere survival. Self-awareness does bring about another problem. The term itself indicates the problem. Self-awareness implies that there is a self to be aware of; that we are somehow separate from the rest of the world. We then start to define ourselves by our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Since our feelings and actions arise from the thoughts behind them, we are defining who we are based on the thoughts we are having. If we see ourselves as separate from others, then judging ourselves and others becomes an easy trap to fall into. We judge our thoughts, and the feelings, actions, and results that arise from them, as good, bad, right, or wrong. We also tend to judge others in the same way. 

How do we avoid this downside of self-awareness? It may seem like semantics, but it is awareness of the self. Take a step back and observe with real curiosity that part of you that categorizes thoughts as right or wrong; that judges them as good or bad. It can sound a little woo woo, but becoming aware that you are the consciousness that is observing the judge in your head and not the judge itself can be incredibly freeing. You start to see that you aren’t even creating most of your thoughts. Unconscious thoughts are just messages that pop into your brain based on the preprogramming of previous experience. They tend to have very little to do with what is actually happening in the moment. The judge in your brain categorizes them into good, bad, right, and wrong among other categories. Then these lead to feelings which impel us to take certain actions (or inaction). Again, stay curious about your thoughts. Here are a few questions you can ask: Is this thought true? Can I absolutely know that it is true? Are there other thoughts that might be just as true in this situation? Is this thought serving me? Will this thought produce the feeling(s) I need to take the actions I want? Am I willing to stay with this thought for a little bit and feel the emotions it produces without needing to act upon those emotions?

As we practice this level of awareness, we slowly start to reprogram our automatic thoughts and the judge in our head. This doesn’t mean that we will ever be able to stop keeping an eye on our thoughts and the judge in our head. But, we will get better at it. Also, once we really understand that we are not our thoughts, nor are we the judge (our ego), they both have less hold upon us. We can start to inject our own conscious, productive thoughts that will take us where we want to go. To my knowledge, few people have reached the stage where they no longer perceive the judge, but some people claim to have gotten there. Some even claim to have little or no unconscious thoughts popping up in their brain. How nice it must be to turn on the flow of thoughts when needed, and then to shut it off and experience true peace the rest of the time. The ability to experience the world without the constant interruption and interpretation from that part of us is something I am getting better at, but would love to expand.

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