Negativity is a Conditioned Response

Mental activity strengthens the neural pathways in your brain associated with what you focus on with your thoughts and feelings. If you focus on negative thoughts and feelings, you strengthen negative neural pathways. Every thought you think and feeling you feel, strengthens the circuitry in your brain known as your neural pathways.  This strengthening process is called ‘conditioning’. Neural pathway conditioning is the reason for your habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. A common example of neural pathway conditioning is the use of profanity, or swearing. Psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen refers to these as ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). After repeated use, profanity becomes an automatic negative conditioned response and it happens without our thinking about it. (See Understanding Neuroplasticity)

Neural pathway conditioning controls much of our daily actions, our emotional mindset, and our decisions. Some experts report ‘neural pathway conditioning’ controls 94% of our conscious activity because our belief system and our conditioned unconscious thoughts are on auto pilot all the time. We control only 6% of our actions. Take for example, a child that grows up arguing with a parent. Whenever the parent criticizes the child, the child responds by arguing with the parent. This neural pathway conditioning goes on month after month, year after year. By the time the child is an adult, the person’s neural pathways have been conditioned to respond to criticism from anyone by being defensive and argumentative. This negative emotional conditioning later shows up at work and within relationships. It’s because of this negative conditioning (the defensive mindset) the person becomes their own worst enemy by being hostile to criticism from anyone and, thereby, becoming the cause of their own unhappiness and shattered relationships. Although they may have thought they were in control, they were controlled by their neural pathways that were conditioned to react to criticism with an automatic negative emotional pattern. We are so used to seeing another person’s emotional patterns that we accept it and say, “That’s who he is.”

Our neural pathways are conditioned to respond all the time. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to respond with negative emotional patterns whenever we are confronted with any negative situation. This neural pathway conditioning happens to us throughout our lives.  It’s the result of repeated negative conditioning that creates our negative behavioral patterns. Our neural pathways are conditioned by our parents, by our relationships with others, by our culture, by our entertainment and the daily news media  – any time we experience mental/emotional activity, we are using our neural pathways and thereby conditioning those neural pathways. Take, for example, a baby one or two years old. If someone hurts the baby, the baby cries, but he doesn’t try to respond in a negative way because his neural pathways have not been conditioned with a negative response pattern. Then as he gets older, he does something wrong at home. His parents yell at him and spank him. He feels physically and emotionally hurt and he cries because of the physical and negative emotional pain he is feeling. His neural pathways are being conditioned to respond with negative emotions whenever something negative happens to him. Then he grows older and he upsets a friend. The friend responds by arguing (or worse) with him and that conditions his neural pathways with a negative emotional response pattern. He may enjoy listening to negative music that further conditions a negative emotional response pattern. Then, as he gets older, he may enjoy entertainment like watching Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies. All Die Hard movies are basically the same. In the beginning we are introduced to this guy, Bruce Willis, who is basically a nice guy, just like us, who has a few flaws. In one movie, he has relationship issues and in another movie, he has substance abuse issues, and we can relate to him. Then some dude comes along who offends him. For the rest of the movie, Bruce Willis is trying to catch-up with the dude to get even. And in the end, Bruce does catch-up with the dude and he ‘kicks his ass’. Again the young man’s neural pathways are being conditioned to respond in a negative way (getting even) whenever he’s confronted by a negative situation. If he is like most young people, he plays video games that requires him to respond in a negative way to the negative stimulus presented in the game, which further conditions a negative emotional response pattern.  And the news media that he encounters every day (murder, crime, environmental destruction, struggle, strife, division) continuously shows him one negative response after another to most negative situations.  It’s this repeated ‘negative response pattern’ when confronted by a negative situation that conditions people’s neural pathways to respond negatively and get themselves into trouble and thereby causing their own (and others) unhappiness. 


The solution to negative neural pathway conditioning is to condition our neural pathways to be positive when confronted by a negative stimulus. We can do this by being ‘the observer’ of our thoughts and feelings. This was best explained by Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth when he wrote “Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel. See the link between your thinking and your emotions. Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them”. Today, most everyone is aware that they should monitor what they feed their physical body in order to be physically healthy. I know that if I eat unhealthy food, I will either be overweight and/or under nourished. I should deliberately choose to put only healthy food into my body. In the same way, I should learn to monitor what I feed my mind in order to be mentally healthy. I know that if I think negative thoughts, I will either be angry, upset, depressed, worried or worse. I should deliberately choose to think only healthy, positive thoughts in order to be mentally healthy. The enemy of happiness is ‘negative conditioned emotional response patterns’ that prevent us from feeling happy because we have conditioned our emotions to have a negative default mindset. That’s why people respond so frequently with anger.

To condition my neural pathways to respond with a positive response, I must be aware of what I’m thinking/feeling. Then, once I am aware, I must decide to deliberately respond in a positive way.  For example, if I spill something on my shirt that stains it, rather than responding with a negative response and think ‘Oh Damn! My shirt is ruined’, I can condition myself to respond with a positive response and think ‘Oh great! Now I have a reason to buy a new shirt’. The truth of the matter is, whether I respond with a negative response or with a positive response, it’s not going to change the situation, but it will effect  how I’m emotionally experiencing the situation. Either way, the shirt is ruined. Responding with a positive emotional response will not change the situation, but it enables me to feel better and it conditions my neural pathways to be positive. An important point should be recognized. When I respond with a negative emotional response, I’m conditioning my neural pathways to be negative, and I’m causing myself to experience emotional pain. I’m causing my own emotional suffering. I’m getting myself all upset, causing me emotional suffering and it doesn’t change the situation. Recognize that doing so is a form of emotional self-abuse! I’m abusing myself emotionally by thinking negative thoughts that cause my own unhappiness. The suffering I am experiencing is self created, and by repeating this negative emotional conditioning, it will become my default state-of-mind.

The steps to condition my mind to respond with a positive response are very basic. First, I must become ‘the observer’ of my feelings. This can quickly and easily be done by setting my watch or cellphone to ‘beep’ a few times each day. Every time I hear the ‘beep’, I answer the question: “Am I feeling positive or negative?” Next, when I recognize that I’m feeling negative, I ask myself “How do I want respond?”, and I try to respond in the most positive way that I can. Recognize that the word ‘positive’ is a synonym for the word love. When I respond in a positive way, I’m responding in a loving way. When I respond in a negative way, I’m responding in an unloving way. Therefore, I want to respond in the most positive, loving way that I can. This isn’t always easy and the very first time may be extremely difficult because I’m stuck in a negative conditioned response pattern, so I may have to ‘fake it till I make it’. Even though I do not want to respond in a positive way, I force myself to do it anyways. Lastly, I allow myself to fail, but I keep trying. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle: it takes practice. The wonderful thing about conditioning my neural pathways to be positive is that after a while a new conditioned response pattern starts to form and change becomes easier. Within a few weeks, the new positive conditioned response pattern will start to dominate and become the new default response pattern. Unfortunately, information is not transformation, so just knowing and understanding neural pathway conditioning is not enough. However, repetition is the secret to success at anything in life, including a new positive conditioned response, and by having your cell-phone ‘beep‘ during the day, you will be ‘the observer’ of your thoughts and feelings often. Remember, when you have nothing but emotional suffering to loose, and a happy, contented life to gain, it’s always worth trying. And if you don’t succeed, no problem. Just try again, when you’re ready. What’s there to think about?
(Please see: ‘Condition Your Thoughts & Emotions To Be Positive’ )

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