August 12th, 2008

Breaking Free from Genetic Programming

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Genetic programming is the set of instructions each of us was born with. It gives us instinctual drives such as fight-or-flight that are meant to motivate us toward activities which ensure our survival. In modern day society, if we are to take control of our consciousness and pursue our own goals, we must learn to break free from genetic programming:

Submission to genetic programming can become quite disastrous, because it leaves us helpless. A person who cannot override genetic instructions when necessary is always vulnerable. Instead of deciding how to act in terms of personal goals, he has to surrender to the things that his body has been programmed (or misprogrammed) to do. One must particularly achieve control over instinctual drives to achieve a healthy independence of society, for as long as we respond predictably to what feels good and what feels bad, it is easy for others to exploit our preferences for their own ends.

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

People who submit completely to their genetic programming, and mistakenly believe that anything which feels good equates to happiness, live by the maxim “seek pleasure and avoid pain.” They are constantly trying to fill their genetic drives in the present, while ignoring the long-term consequences. They are also easier targets for societal organizations that take advantage of an individual’s instinctual drives.

Do you respond predictably to what instinctually makes you feels good and bad? Are you constantly seeking pleasure and avoiding pain? If so, your genetic programming is being used against you:

Ways Your Genetic Programming Can Be Used Against You

Fight-or-Flight– “React to perceived threats”

  • Getting stuck in “survival mode” due to excessive stress at work
  • Having an argument with your spouse, resulting in stress

Food- “It tastes good”

  • Overeating
  • Using food as a form of self-medication due to being unhappy with your life

Sex- “It feels good”

  • Constantly being preoccupied with sex, distracting you from your personal goals
  • Using pornography, strip clubs, or prostitution as a form of self-medication due to being unhappy with your life

Drugs and Alcohol- “It feels good”

  • Needing alcohol to let loose and have fun at social events
  • Using drugs as a form of self-medication due to being unhappy with your life
  • Getting your fix by frequenting bars, liquor stores, or drug dealers

How to Break Free from Genetic Programming

If you cannot resist what feels good, tastes good, or control the way you react to perceived threats, you are not free to direct your consciousness towards the path you choose. You are living your life without taking conscious control of it. But there are some easy habits you can adopt to change the way you respond to genetic programming-

1) Use mental rehearsal to practice taking control of your consciousness

Spend 20-30 minutes a day mentally rehearsing situations in which instinctual drive is taking control- this is when you are reacting to things that taste good, feel good, or responding to perceived threats. In your mind’s eye, take conscious control of the situation, and respond in a positive manner.

For example, if you tend to overeat during meals, mentally rehearse yourself at a restaurant, eating a reasonable portion of food, and leaving the rest, or getting a to-go box. But don’t stop there- mentally rehearse every possible situation in which you need to take control. Visualize yourself responding positively to all sorts of possible scenarios, such as friends bringing snacks to work, or going to a buffet restaurant. You are practicing your self control, the same way a sports player would practice before a game.

You may start to think your time is being wasted, but give this a try for at least a week and you will be surprised. This is because you are tricking your mind- you will begin to notice that it will be easier for you to take control of yourself when the actual situation occurs. Your brain cannot actually tell the difference between mental rehearsal and reality. Keep this up for 21 days and you’ll find yourself much closer towards having complete control of your genetic programming.

2) Create a mantra to use whenever you lose control

Repeat a phrase to yourself every time your genetic programming would typically take control. For example, if you normally get stressed out when you have a lot on your plate at work, you can use the mantra “I’ll handle it.” Then, whenever you feel your muscles get tense and feel yourself slipping into survival mode, repeat the mantra to yourself “I’ll handle it.” Like mental rehearsal, this is a way of tricking your mind. On a subconscious level, your mind will believe your mantra, and you will distract yourself from the typical stress response.

3) Stay in control by staying accountable to yourself and close friends/family members

Find a way to track your progress, such as a daily log showing how many times you took conscious control over your genetic programming. After a month of progress, reward yourself in some way. For example, if you made progress by no longer using alcohol to self-medicate for a month, reward yourself with a nice dinner (note: if you are an alcoholic, I recommend you begin attending AA meetings as a support group).

Tell close friends and family members about your goal of taking control. Make sure you only tell those friends and family members which have been supportive of your personal growth in the past. Otherwise, instead of keeping you accountable, they may hold you back. After you’ve told your supportive friends/family members, ask for their help in keeping you accountable.

Breaking Free is a Life-Long Process

Your genes instruct you on what feels good and bad, and society bribes you on how to expend your energy. To take control of your consciousness, you must be fully aware of social and genetic programming, and make yourself independent of it as much as possible. By taking control of your consciousness, and resisting instinctual drives, you will be free to direct your energy towards the path you choose.

Breaking free is a life-long process, not a one-time effort. But I promise you, based on my own personal experience- the quality of your own life will improve drastically when you begin the process of breaking free.

Part of the Breaking Free Series

Creative Commons License photo credit: beckita115

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