Stellar Chariot

By Arun Neelakandan

Conditioning: Shape Your Life

Automatic Ticket Gates at a Sydney Train Station - Copyright CityRail
Automatic Ticket Gates at a Sydney Train Station

I’ve been hit by faulty ticket gates at the train station a few times. These gates are meant to open after you insert your ticket, and close when you exit — but sometimes they’ve closed prematurely and struck me in the process. As a result, I’ve been intuitively feeling uneasy as I walk through them, bracing myself for impact, expecting the gate to land another blow on me — although I hardly ever get hit.

So all it took to trigger this subconscious response were a few random hits? Powerful stuff.

It reminded me of the groundbreaking (albeit, cruel) Pavlov experiments:

It also got me thinking how I’ve been shaped by so many conditioners throughout my life (Head & Shoulders notwithstanding).

You’ve been shaped by conditioning too. Think about it. You study at the library because you normally go to the library to study. You wear a suit and you automatically behave more professionally. You see another person yawn, and you yawn back subconsiously. You talk a lot because you think you’re typically a talkative person.

Anecdote Time: I Can’t Dance

I used to believe that I wasn’t a dancer. “I’m too awkward and shy to be a dancer”, I rationalised. “I’ll make a fool of myself.” But then I hit the dance floor a couple of times, then this belief began to slowly dissipate away. There’s just something about performing actions viscerally that helps mould your beliefs.

(Incidentally, while I’m on the topic of dancing, here’s a bro-tip for you: men aren’t expected to be good dancers in most situations. All you gotta do is the basic left-right strafe — the one where you move your feet left-and-right with your arms to the side — and you’re well on your way to dancing superstardom adequacy.)

Human Sprinkler Dance - Arun
Here I am, making a fool of myself again.

It’s funny, because when I was little, I’m told I used to dance well and in front of people (at birthday parties, events and what not). Apparently, I was often compared to the venerable Prabhu Deva (aka Benny Lava). Here he is busting some moves:

But then I grew up. Something changed. I harvested some inhibitions along the way. I’ve noticed kids are often this — so carefree, and *poof*, they become much more bashful.

Conditioning congealed into my inhibitions. But conditioning also helped me break through (together with a dash of courage and perseverence).

With enough conditioning, I daresay I can begin to accept and believe pretty much anything. As Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do.

However, it’s not so simple as just conditioning yourself. There is also the challenge of focusing our conditioning efforts in the right direction. Why? Because it’s easy to stray from your course. Consider criminals, for example. They might be conditioned to rationalise their actions. Initially they might be hesitant to commit crimes, but as they commit more and more crimes, their resilience erodes and they begin to accept their actions as ‘normal’. It becomes part of their identity. This analogy can be extended to many other areas, like fanaticism and workplace behaviour.

Putting Conditioning to Work

So how do you put conditioning to work? I see two ways:

1. Exploit existing conditioning. Use your current habits or tendencies to drive you to your goal. Examples: People say that dressing as if going to work (e.g. wearing work shoes, shirt and tie) helps them concentrate and just work. Using your fear of public speaking to put in more practice. Adding a flossing routine while also brushing.

2. Establish a fruitful conditioning routine. Decide what you need done and just repeatedly do it (easier said than done, of course). You might also like to set up a rewards system to help you get conditioned. Examples: Go to the gym regularly and you’ll see yourself as a ‘gym goer’. Draw a lot and keep drawing, and eventually you’ll identify as being an artist. Walk through train station gates to reinfornce the notion that you don’t have to brace yourself for a collision.

The Point of All This

I’ve been rambling a bit so let me make my point. The point I want to make is this. No, not the pronoun ‘this’, but this: conditioning is a powerful tool to shape your life. It can help take you to where you want to go. You might get stuck and you will suck. But it’s okay. Keep at it, expose yourself in the environment you wish to be in, and it’ll just rub off on you. It might take decades and several failed attempts, but that’s the nature of the beast.