Consciousness – Self Possession – Conditioning Reflexes

Friday, April 18th, 2008 at 6:15 pm.
by pre.

Last week we talked about reflex action, and helped you to develop techniques which enable you to practice not giving in to that reflex. Techniques to help you notice when you’re not thinking and slow down enough to think.

This week, you will learn how to undo unprofitable reflexes, retrain yourself to automatically take the best course of action even without having to pause and think.

The first thing you’ll need to be able to do is to recognise situations where your reflexes are inappropriate. Often this will happen when someone points it out to you, and your natural reaction will be to become defensive and explain why it’s not inappropriate at all. But that in itself is a counter-productive reflex and you should probably use these systems to work on that reflex too.

You should spend some time considering which of your reflexes are helping you the least. Spend a few minutes doing that now. Close your eyes, and meditate for a few minutes on your breath. Think back over the last week or two, and try to remember a situation in which you reacted quickly, and later came to regret your action. We’re using the same examples as last week: Smoking, over-eating, becoming angry, but you should meditate on the question until something specific from your own life drifts into view. Imagine we’re talking about that.

Once you have such an occasion in mind, you should allow yourself to relive those events as best you can. Visualise the things you saw, let your body react the way it reacted at the time and feel how it felt, remember what drove you to your unprofitable choice. Hold that in your memory for a while. Experience it again. Feel the desire to react wrongly, as you felt it originally.

Next, you will decide what would have been the most profitable reaction. What you would have done if you’d cooled down, sobered up, slept on it for a night and then decided. If this is the same thing then, well done! You’re reflexes served you well.

Just as often, however, you’ll find that if you’d had time to reconsider, you’d have done something differently. So you need to relax again, and watch images drift through your mind, solutions suggest themselves, until you grasp what kind of action would have been best.

Then you need to associate those things together in your mind. So, while still relaxed and receptive, replay in your minds eye the situation in which you went wrong, in which you made a mistake. Reach for those same feelings again, but instead of going through, watching yourself make again the mistakes you made last time, instead imagine yourself doing the most profitable action. That which brings the most joy, to you and others.

As you watch yourself doing the right thing for a few minutes, over and over, in vivid technicolour surround-sound with amplified cartoon emotion, take the time to see how much better it feels. How the results help you, how they benefit those around you. Remember to enjoy watching yourself reacting as you would like yourself to react.

Doing this exercise frequently will increase the chances that you will, in a similar situation, take the more useful course of action.

You will, of course, slip up. Very often to start with and occasionally even after you’ve been trying to change for a while. When you do this, if you notice quickly enough, you may decide to try to condition yourself against it. Associate some pain with your mistake. If you notice you’re smoking that cigarette you swore you’d never smoke again, slap that cigarette our of your face. The harder the better. If you notice you’re pigging out on yet more midnight cake, throw it away and punch yourself in the stomach. Really. I’m serious about this. If you start to associate following misguided reflexes with receiving real, physical, pain you’ll be surprised how rapidly that reflex recedes. If you find yourself angry, perhaps having just slapped someone, slap yourself harder.. These training methods may be cruel, they may be unusual, but they do work. If they’re applied consistently. Even if you apply them yourself.

It’s probably more effective, perhaps because it’s also more pleasant, to reward good behaviour rather than punish mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of assuming a reward is just anything you enjoy though. It’s no use rewarding yourself for not eating that toast by eating a cake. A cigarette is no kind of reward for anything. But lucky, in conscious human brains, a reward doesn’t have to be anything so physical. You can make yourself feel happier with a smile, even a forced smile. If you’ve acted on reflex, and you’ve acted right, learn to notice that and give yourself a smile. Spend a moment to breathe in your victory. Imagine the cheers, the applause, the adoring crowds. Nod, even bow a little. You will consciously know that you’re doing this to yourself, but it will build those neural connections all the same.

This punishment or reward reinforcement must be more or less immediate though. If you’ve changed mental context, if you’ve been distracted, it’s too late. You must build a new reflex which punishes you for your old reflex. A new reflex to reward the ones your trying to build. Once the context has changed, it’s too late, and only visualisation and imagination are worthwhile tools. Things that can help you to re-live and yet change the moment.

Your brain is, of course, already doing all this on some more or less unconscious level. But by doing it consciously, by paying attention to it, by doing it more you’ll not only do it better but you’ll practice it so be able to do it better next time. By observing the process you learn to understand the process, and get quicker, more efficient, more transcended.