August 13th, 2008

Breaking Free from Social Programming

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Be Yourself!

What does it benefit to man if he gains the entire world, but loses himself?

-Jesus Christ

Social programming is the set of instructions each of us learned to fit in with society. Our family members, school teachers, and peer groups were all part of the socialization process. The long-term affect of this socialization is that we seek external approval and external goals in our lives. If we are to take control of our consciousness and pursue our own goals, we must learn to break free from social programming:

Caught in a treadmill of social controls, that person keeps reaching for a prize that always dissolves in his hands. In a complex society, many powerful groups are involved in socializing, sometimes to seemingly contradictory goals . . . Schools, churches, and banks try to turn us into responsible citizens willing to work hard and save . . . merchants, manufacturers, and advertisers to spend our earnings on products that will produce the most profits for them . . . gamblers, pimps, and drug dealers . . . promise rewards for easy dissipation- provided we pay. The messages are very different, but their outcome is essentially the same: they make us dependent on a social system that exploits our energies for its own purposes.

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

Society tries bribing us at every opportunity. People who submit completely to social programming, and mistakenly believe that their happiness is obtained only by achieving external goals, are “rat racers” who never enjoy the present moments of life.

Do you constantly delay gratification to the future? Are you always looking to others for approval, and setting external goals? If so, your social programming is being used against you:

Ways Your Social Programming Can Be Used Against You

Money– “I want to be rich”

  • Falsely believing that you will be happy when you make more money
  • Becoming a workaholic to make more money

Status– “I want to be popular”

  • Falsely believing that “once I obtain status, people will like and respect me”
  • Trying to “keep up with the Joneses”
  • Becoming popular with lots of people, but not building close relationships with individuals

Approval– “I want to be liked”

  • Working at a job you hate to pay for your family’s high consumption
  • Pursuing a career path that Mom or Dad told you to go after
  • Not speaking up at work when you have a good idea, for fear of getting shot down

Power– “I want to dominate”

  • Using others only as a means to achieve your goals
  • Trying to one-up others, dominate conversations
  • Pinpoint other people’s weaknesses and failures

How to Break Free from Social Programming

The key to breaking free from social programming is not to eliminate all external goals. Instead, it is to create goals that are meaningful to you personally, and then enjoy the day to day process of realizing those goals. Here are some tips for breaking free-

1) Choose your own values, principles, and goals

To assume responsibility for choosing our values, principles, and goals, relying solely upon our own reason and understanding- to honor our internal signals to that extent- is to practice the ultimate form of intellectual independence, the one most difficult for the overwhelming majority of human beings and for which their upbringing has least prepared them.

-Nathaniel Branden, Honoring the Self

It’s easy to adopt external goals that society gives you- after all, those are the goals you were programmed to adopt. It’s more difficult to create your own set of values- this requires intellectual independence and aloneness from society.

2) Follow your own vision

You follow your own vision by moving forward with your own personally selected goals, and not letting any external circumstances circumvent who you are. Following your own vision can leave you feeling alone in the world, and requires courage. But the more you are able to become independent and think for yourself, the higher your own self-esteem will be.

3) Accept your aloneness

You must accept your aloneness in order to truly be free of social programming:

We can learn from one another, but we cannot share the act of being conscious or of thinking. We can share the results- namely, our thoughts and perceptions- but consciousness, awareness, thinking, reasoning is, ultimately, an individual, solitary process, not a social one. And many people dread independent thought and judgment precisely because of this factor of inescapable aloneness; it makes them aware of their own separateness as living entities; it makes them aware of the responsibility they must bear for their own existence.

-Nathaniel Branden, Honoring the Self

4) Be honest with yourself

Here is a poem which emphasizes being honest with yourself:

The Guy in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

-Dale Wimbrow

Note: The word pelf in the first line means “wealth.”

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 following your own vision, you will become better at thinking for yourself and more independent of others.

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: Arbitrium

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5 Responses to “Breaking Free from Social Programming”


August 17th, 2008 - 6:46 pm

Down with the pre-packaged life! Socialization into corporate slavery must end!

Matt Santi

August 17th, 2008 - 8:39 pm

The Sedona Method taught by Hale Dwoskin out of Sedona, Arizona is a pretty powerful way for breaking free of limitations. And he shares a lot of how to let go of the resistance when it comes to changing things in your life. for more info.

Derek Ralston

August 28th, 2008 - 9:39 am

@ZaggedEdge: Well said (=

@Matt: Thanks for the tip, I will have to look into the Sedona method.


March 30th, 2009 - 9:49 am

It is sad that so many people are fooled by social programming and think that material possessions and success will bring them happiness. I like your tips for how to break free and the poem fits well in there. I listened to an interview from the happiness show with a happiness expert and it explains how important mind programming is, that we should program our minds to think happy thoughts and not let the world tell us what to think. Find the interview at

Frank B

January 11th, 2010 - 5:40 am

Excellent post!! (and excellent site, btw).

In my own pursuits, I realized that in order to break free, number (3) was one of the first things I stumbled upon. Spending time alone, away from friend’s influences helped me a great deal, as well as meditating.


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