“The thoughts that keep us up at night, the thoughts that make us lose focus. The thoughts that make us feel insecure. The thoughts that make us feel not good enough. The thoughts that tell us to doubt ourselves – this is the noise in our minds.”
Where do these thoughts come from?
Have you ever asked “why am I the way I am?”
Of course you have. That’s exactly why you’re here now, reading these very words. Don’t stop reading. If this is something you have never asked yourself, and you landed here by change, then YOU my friend, are in for a treat. Either way – don’t stop reading!
This article is about change.
If you are at a place where change, serious change, is something you are considering, then I welcome you to these words. They were written just for you.
In life, there is one very specific pit stop we visit. Some of us are lucky. We learn fast. We visit it only once. Some of us are not so lucky. We learn slow. We visit this place more than once in our lives.
What is this place?
It’s the place where we ask: “Do I change, or Do I stay the same?”
This article is not about deciding to stay the same. No. If you are reading this right now, and you are in a place in your life, where you are okay with staying the same, if this still suits you, and works for you, then save a link to this article. Save it, so that you can come back to it in the future when the pain of staying the same, has started to outweigh the fear of change. Read this line again. Remember it. It will happen. I promise it.
When we arrive here, to this place where the pain of staying the same, is fast becoming, or has already become, much greater than any fear we might have of change, the very next question we ask, is:
“How do I change?”
Before I continue, a word of caution:
Don’t take these words lightly. Be afraid of these words. They are serious. They are very serious. Changing, really changing, will be one of the single most rewarding experience in your life. It will also be one of the most challenging and difficult ones. You will have to be brave. It will take courage. In return – it will transform you.
What does courage mean for you? What about bravery – what does “being brave” mean for you? We mostly mis-interpret bravery and courage, thinking that are the same. They are not. Bravery, in its essence, is being afraid, but in spite of being afraid, still doing what ever it is that you are afraid of. This is hard. Very hard. Courage is something completely different.
Winston Churchill described courage beautifully: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
It will take both – courage and bravery – to change.
To really change, we have to face everything that made us the way we are now. Everything. Not just the things we want and prefer to. Everything. This is extremely hard. For it’s usually the darkest, the most hidden, the purposely subconsciously suppressed memories and emotions that we hide from, that caused the patterns we are still stuck in. The same patterns that are hurting us so much now. Joseph Cambell put it best:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”
Before we can know HOW to change, it is absolute in its importance, to explore WHY we are, the way we are. For it is usually here, in this exploration, where all the answers to “How do I change?”, will also be found. The reason change is so hard, is because this is usually the place we all try to avoid visiting, at all cost. But it’s necessary.
You are brave. You are courageous. You can do this. I don’t doubt it.
The next question then, is:
“How much do I already know about why I am, the way I am?”
Why you are the way you are is a crucial piece of the information necessary in understanding the journey of self discovery and finding inner peace. The journey of changing one’s self. The journey of change.
Without understanding the WHY, the HOW will always elude us. These two go hand in hand. They cannot be separated – the reason and the result – the one cannot exist without the other.
The next part of the article – the main body – will focus on providing answers to the questions asked during this introductory dialogue. Here’s a quick reminder again:
“Why I am the way I am?”
“Do I change, or Do I stay the same?”
“If I decide to change, how do I change?”
“How much do I already know about why I am, the way I am?”
If you have any questions, or you’d like to have a private discussion, you can find my contact details in my profile page. My door is always open. This is what I do for a living.
I trust that clarity will become you, and then you, that you will become clarity.
Why am I the way I am?
A clay pot is only a pot, because something can be “put into it”. If the pot is dropped, and the clay pieces shatter, it is not a pot anymore. Now it is broken pieces of clay. Its purpose of having the ability to “provide a holding space”, was never determined by the clay itself.
It was always determined by how the clay was used, to mold it into a pot.
We are the same. As human beings, we exist as vessels for space, where information, knowledge, experience and wisdom, can be “put into”. Vessels in which life itself, can be carried, and experienced.
Most of our open space, is unfortunately already filled up by the time we start asking the important existential questions.
But filled up with what, and why?
That is what this article is about: what fills up our mental space, where does it come from, how can we clear it again and most importantly, how does all of this information help us to change ourselves into better people, better versions of ourselves, happier, calmer, more fulfilled and at peace versions of ourselves.
We can’t do much about the external, environmental noise around us – the world is full of it. What we do have some degree of control over however, is our own internal noise. Our own mental noise.
Let’s begin: Some current research
Current estimates indicate that an “average human being” think between 60.000 – 80.000 thoughts every 24 hours. That’s roughly between 2500 – 3300 thoughts either consciously or subconsciously, every hour. Read this again.
It is suggested that nearly 95% of all the thoughts we actually think, are a repetition of information that we have already thought of.
I’ll repeat this – 95% of what we think are thoughts we repeat in a constant loop!
Is this “the noise” we refer to when we talk about “mental noise”?
The thoughts that keep us up at night, the thoughts that make us lose focus. The thoughts that make us feel insecure. The thoughts that make us feel not good enough. The thoughts we think that tell us to doubt ourselves – this is the noise in our minds.
I still stop in my tracks every time I think about the above information.
It has become normal to be overwhelmed by our own mental noise. It would seem sometimes that we forgot about our innate ability to change this. To exchange the noise, with silence and stillness.
How bad can it get. What if nothing is done about this? What if the overwhelm gets more because the noise gets louder? What then? In the more extreme cases, the end result is that the noise just becomes too much. We take our own life. It’s tragic. I know. It happens much more than what it should. The “lesser” evils on the other side then, can manifest in areas like anxiety, depression, addiction, substance abuse, to name a few.
If we truly repeat 95% of everything we think, where will we end up if those thoughts are negative and self destructive? Ask yourself this question again, and this time think about the current state of your life. What are the thoughts that you repeat?
Where do these thoughts come from?
As I just mentioned, 95% of our thoughts are already in a perpetual loop. Thoughts either from our memory or our imagination. Repeated over and over again. Day after day. We are either thinking about something that happened in the past, something that should’ve happened, something that “might” or “must” happen or something we want to happen in the future.
Always thinking something. We think so much that we end up living in our thoughts, without realizing that the present, can only happen where the body is. Not where the thoughts are.
We spent so much time in our minds, and so very little time being in the present. Being right here, in our bodies, where we actually are.
When mindfulness practices talk about “being in the present”, it translates into being in a state where one’s thoughts are neither in the past, nor the future, but instead, right here, now. The time we spend in our past, or in our future, stops us from being here, now.
Robin Sharma describes it beautifully: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”
We forget that we are a consciousness in a living body. A living being, alive, now. Once our identity starts to believe the memory it has been repeating the most, the memory becomes our reality. It becomes our life. Our prison. Living in a memory of the past or an imagination of the future, all while our bodies are still continuing to age. Already dead, but still alive.
Life is a linear process. Birth, life, death. When the gap between mind and body becomes to wide, the end becomes the destination. There is no more journey.
Can it be changed?
First, lets look at how perception actually works. We are sense based organisms. This means our design enables us to perceive information (stimuli) from our environment, through our senses. What happens with the information once it enters our bodies, is where it really starts getting interesting. Below is a basic representation of what happens with information from when we perceive it, until it has been processed enough to become a subjective thought:
Stimuli ➡️ Perception ➡️ Identification ➡️ Justification ➡️ Thought
When environmental information is first perceived, for us to make sense of this information, we have to be able to identify what it is we are perceiving. We do this by comparison. We all have a huge library of information within our memory – every bit of information ever perceived and experienced – is stored here. The very first thing we do in order to identify what we are experiencing, is try and recognize it. If we recognize the information automatically, it means we have already experienced this particular information and we have already classified it.
It’s a straight forward “identification through the recognition of pre-labled information” process. Also how most stereotypes and subjective biases in global ethnographic cultural ritualistic traditions are formed by the way. Just a little something extra to start thinking about.
If we identify information by recognition, it’s a simple matter of retrieving the “label” we used to categorize the information in the first place. Let’s use something easy like; “How do we know what an apple is?” We know because we have seen it many times. We have experienced it hundreds of times. We classified the information as “this is what an apple is”. We stored this information in our library. So now, every time we see an apple, we don’t have to think about what it is, we automatically recognize the information, enabling us to immediately identify and recognise what it is we are perceiving. This is a basic example. More complex perceptual identification works on the same basis.
Once we have identified the information we perceived, our conditioning comes into play. This is where we justify the information we perceived. We subconsciously ask ourselves if we should or shouldn’t think this. The justification stage is possibly the most crucial part of this whole process related to interpersonal communication and relationship, because it is regulated entirely on our conditioning and it’s responsible for the internal narrative regulating our subconscious patterns. Both the good ones, and the bad ones.
Think of something you still do to this day, because during your childhood, a person who was valuable for you told you that this was important for them.
Let’s use a general example; Did your grandmother tell you how important it was to always be polite and say “please” and “thank you”? Mine did.
This is still one of my values up until this very day? This is what I mean by conditioning. It was important for my grandmother to instill good values in my. As a result her values were transferred to me. The result is that I have gone through life thinking and believing that it’s very important to be a polite person. More importantly – and this is the dark side of conditioning – when I’m not careful now, and I forget that everyone is conditioned differently, I sometimes negatively judge people who I do not perceive as being polite.
The same example can be turned around. What can growing up in an abusive environment teach a child? Parental instability and negativity can get transferred to children in many different ways; the child might grow up thinking that they don’t deserve love, the child might grow up thinking that no one will ever care for them, that they are destined to be alone. Or worse – they might grow up believing that love is supposed to hurt and unless someone hurts you, it means they do not love you.
Many more people have this as a pattern that what you might think. I see it regularly in my work. All our patterns, depend on the specific conditioning we were exposed to mostly as children, but sometimes, also as adults.
Remember this – there is nothing wrong with you. You just got stuck in someone else’s unresolved pattern, and no one has ever shown you that this can be changed (yet). Read this again.
This is why we justify what we think, because we have been conditioned by our environment to do so. We never did, nor do we now, get taught in school to simply perceive something for what it is. Instead, we get taught to always consider first what the “authority figure” said I “should” or “shouldn’t” think about what it is I’m perceiving. We get conditioned to second guess ourselves from the very beginning. We get conditioned to doubt our own effectiveness and wonder, as sentient human beings.
Unfortunately, the truth is more a fable of a self proclaimed authority institution, intentionally instilling fear in people for the last (at least) 2000 years, for the sole purpose of gain, power and control. We’re on a biological spaceship in space people. We’re on a planet circling a star.
Anyone that tells you that “this is the only way” or “this is the only truth”, either still think the stars are “above”them, they are either totally narcissistically delusional, or they have very dubious ulterior motives. Read this again.
We have been for a long time, and still continue to be, taught to be good tax paying robots. Sad, but very true. This is on a much more macro level though. I got a bit distracted, but I will leave it in none the less, as seeds for future gestation. This discourse is about us as individuals. We will only ever change our larger systems, through learning to understand ourselves better. It can only ever start with the individual. With me, with you – NOT THEM, but US.
Back to the article.
There are more steps to the perception and processing model I’ve designed for my work but for the purposes of this article, I’d like to stop here. If you’d like to go into the topic further, you’re most welcome to reach out and connect with me. For the purposes of this article though, and before I continue, let’s quickly recap:
Environmental stimuli → Perception → Identification by comparison → Justification by conditioning → Thought in the form of an opinion
These are the basic steps which information goes through from when we perceive it, up until it has been processed enough to be called “a thought”.
So far, we covered perception and thinking. The first main take-out so far, is that we think between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts every 24 hours, and that we repeat an estimated 95% of these thoughts. The second main take-out is where we looked at how perception actually works, and what some of the steps involved are, in how we end up developing our thoughts.
Now that we have a clear understanding of perception and the basic process of how thoughts are formed, lets move on to the part I really want to talk about: How our conditioning is responsible for creating our mental noise.
If I were to say that: “We are our conditioning” – what would you say?
Below is a diagram that shows exactly what I mean. As you continue to read the article, can I ask you to keep one specific thought in the back of your mind: “If a glass fills from the bottom up, when emptied, which layer comes out first”?
We work the same as a class that has been filled up.
You are an empty glass when you are born. In Latin, we call this the “Tabula Rasa”, a blank slate. The use of this term to describe a human being’s innate ability prior to conditioning, can be traced back to the writings of Aristotle when he wrote the treatise “De Anima” in 350BC. I would highly recommend you read even just the Wiki page about this particular concept. It’s incredibly reveling in how wonderful humans are, and have been, for a very long time. Especially when it comes to exploring causal determinism through deductive reasoning.
Even though you might be an empty glass at the very moment you are born, there is already a long line of culture, tradition, religion, institution, family, piers and friends, waiting to fill up your glass. Just waiting, to tell you how this reality you have just been born into, is. Waiting to tell you everything that makes it real, for them.
You are born into an already existing social structure, where thousands of years of conditioning already exist.
Let’s look at some factual information:
Religion is a very good example. The majority of human religious experience actually predates formal written history, which is estimated to be around 5000 years old. This is not taking any of the older proposed ancient civilizations into consideration. If you want to read more about that, check out some of Graham Hancock’s work on lost ancient civilizations. Hancock suggested that civilized history might actually be traced back as far as 12000 years.
The oldest of the Hindu Vedas were composed between 1700 – 1100 BCE. Early Confucean writings date back to 600 – 500 BCE. Buddhism is estimated to 2500 years old, Christianity is estimated to be 2000 years old, Islam is 1400 years old.
Religious dogma is one of the oldest cultural belief patterns that still exist. This is our baseline social conditioning, telling us what we should accept as being right, telling us what is wrong, telling us how to be, and how not to be, telling us how to treat people, and how not to treat people, even telling us how to live our very own life. Religion is just one example of very strong cultural social conditioning patterns.
Racism is another.
Transatlantic slave trading began in the 15th century when the Portuguese started exploring the West coast of Africa. Even though it was abolished in 1807 it continued for many decades there after. This is a pattern that started 500 years ago. Yet today still, do we look at people with a different skin color and automatically think of them with indifference and bias. Why do we still do this? If in reality it’s a pattern that was created 500 years ago, why do we still give it so much power?
Earl Nightingale said it as clear as it can be said: “We become what we think about”. It really is as simple as this.
These are two powerful examples of how strong socio cultural conditioning is. It has the power to make us believe that things are just the way they are, and that we should not question the way things are. We have become so used to being indoctrinated that we accept horrible, unfair, archaic and outdated rules, as absolute truths. We forget that even the oldest patterns still in existence today, were created by men and women like you, and like me. This means that men and woman like you, and like me, can also change and update them.
I hope while reading this, that you are starting to piece together why it feels so hard to change sometimes. Just never forget that change, is a choice, it’s in your hands, if you want it.
Social conditioning provide us with an already manufactured bias filter the day that we are born into this body, onto this planet. It is sad, but ignoring it as a truth, will never help you to change it. It will only make it a lot harder for you as an individual, to change.
We are born into pre-existing patterns that have existed long before we came to be. Just knowing that these patterns exist, can greatly help towards understanding one’s own mental noise.
The first step towards stopping the noise,
is understanding that we are born into patterns that have existed long before us
– this is social conditioning.
Our environmental conditioning is everything we experience during our lifetime – from birth to death. All the positive and negative, all the good and all the bad. All the role models and people that influenced us in any way or form. The tragic and horrible experiences that we want to forget, and the wonderful experiences we never want to forget.
Aristotle said “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” Aristotle died in 322BCE. That’s 2343 years ago this year. This same idea resurfaced in the 1500’s when St Francis Xavier continued along the same line of thought as Aristotle. St Francis Xavier co-founded the Jesuit order. The context within St Francis’s writings at the time, was that the optimum time for indoctrinating someone into a lifetime of belief and devotion to religious dogma, was when they were still young. Ideally before the age of 7. This was half a millennium ago, just to put some context in the picture. If you are interested in some after hours reading, there are some recent enough studies that show the link between the developmental growth stages and a child’s social development skills up until the age of 7.
If life is our gift, then mimicking and imitation are the tools we have to explore this gift. We learn everything during our childhood through mimicking and imitation. How to walk, talk, behave, what to eat, what to like, what to fear, when to do this, when to do that, WHO TO BE in order to fit in. These are a few examples, but it covers enough ground to make my point. We are conditioned by our environment from very early on to become the people we are today. I can continue to write a whole article about just this topic alone, but for now, I’ll stop here. If you want to have a chat about it more, you’re welcome to email me.
To close this part of the article, I’d like to quote the lyrics of an old show tune I came across a few years back. It blew my mind. It was first published in 1949, right after the second world war:
“You’ve got to be taught, To hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught, From year to year, It’s got to be drummed, In your dear little ear.”
“You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,”
“You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate,”
“You’ve got to be carefully taught!”
The second step towards stopping the noise,
is understanding that we have been taught “how to be” for a very long time.
How I see myself
Now that we covered the basics of what our socio cultural and our environmental conditioning entails, we can start talking about what influence it has on us, as individuals.
How do you see yourself?
Have you ever asked yourself this question?
It is quite powerful if addressed with total honesty and open-ness. To understand why we see ourselves as being different from each other, we must first consider the deeper truths of what it means to be a Homo Sapien.
Did you know it’s estimated that 99.9% of all species that ever existed on this planet are now extinct? We not only survived, but now we sit on top of the food chain. We extended our habitat to include the entire planet. In the last 500 years alone we experienced an exponential explosion of technological, societal, artistic and psychological advancements. We see ourselves as being different, because the fact is, we are different from every other species that continues to exist on this planet. It is only natural to bring this deeply ingrained epigenetic knowledge to a much more personal level, where we see ourselves as being different from other fellow human beings.
The problem isn’t being different, it’s the fact that we are conditioned to not accept being different. Just like we automatically compare the information we perceive from our environment, in order to be able to identify what it is we are in fact perceiving, so also do we compare ourselves to those around us to see if we fit in, or if we don’t.
Why do we do this?
Contemporary Educational circles commonly agree that Global societies as we know them today, originated from ancient Mesopotamia – 4,000 BCE. We estimate that this was the first time small groups of people started to discover the concept of agriculture and began to domesticate animals. Imagine how it must have been for our ancient ancestors – everyone had their part to play, everyone would have had their role, everyone had to fit in to ensure the survival of the group.
Today it’s not so much about survival anymore, but more about being accepted by others around us. Our identities are formed by how much, or how little our environment reinforces and validates our conditioning. The “self Image” that we developed, originally comes from being part of a group with a higher purpose of surviving environmental challenges. Today that higher purpose is no longer to survive, but to belong. To fit in. To be accepted. To be liked.
The view we have of ourselves, is subconsciously determined by all of our collective experiences. Everything we experience as individuals, from birth to death, builds the subconscious picture we use to define ourselves, to ourselves.
Remember this thought – conditioning only builds the picture, not the person. You are responsible for building the person you are, and will become.
The third step towards stopping the noise,
is realizing that you might be a product of your conditioning, but you have the power to decide what kind of person you want to be.
How I want the world to see me
I have to be honest with you. I was very tempted to leave this section of the article completely blank. An open space where you can ponder, and consider yourself, how you want the world to see you.
You see, I believe a very big part of the reason we are still unhappy as individuals, is because of our absolute stubbornness. Our perfectly developed ability to think we are right, and our even more perfectly developed ability to be lemmings. We continue to oh so diligently accept and follow the social norm of things. We are afraid or making mistakes, even though innately we realise that this is the only way of ever learning anything. We refuse to take responsibility, even though we perfectly know that things will stay the same, until we all stand together to start changing it. We are stubborn. Perhaps it is as Darwin said – survival of the fittest. Perhaps this is the only reason we are not yet extinct. Perhaps.
To change one’s own life take courage, bravery and continuous hard work. This is why it’s easier to point fingers, to blame and not take responsibility. That’s why it’s easier to stay the same. But if we all stay the same, nothing will ever change. I don’t know about you, but that is not a life I want to live. It’s not a life I want my daughter to live in. It’s certainly not a life I want to leave behind me.
Having read everything so far, you will know and understand now, how powerful the role of learning by comparison and imitation is. We learn how to become human beings by copying other human beings. We have been doing this for thousands of years, that’s why the strongest subconscious behavioral pattern we still have today, are so difficult to become aware of. It shows us how to fit in, how to be a part of the group, and above all, how to belong. But to belong and to be happy, are two very different things. We cannot expect to find happiness by copying others. Happiness does not come through copying someone else’s happiness. It doesn’t work like that.
True happiness is always an individual process. A personal journey. An inner exploration laying bare the reasons behind “This is why I am the way I am”, and “I am okay with that”. It takes a complete acknowledgement of everything we can become aware of, everything that constitutes us, in this very moment. It is not something that can be taught. It is something that can only be experienced, through self understanding.
It’s a journey into one’s self, an understanding of where you come from, where you have been, how you got here where you are, and how everything in your life has always been connected. Knowing this, is how we realise not just where we are, but also where we want to go from here. This is how we decide how we want to create the life we want to exist in.
The world will always tell you how it sees and perceives you – this is how we have conditioned ourselves. People are much more comfortable with giving their opinion, than what they are with listen to another point of view.
If you are secure in your own self knowledge, and you know your life experience, the definition you have of yourself, will always be stronger than the definition the world has of you. If the world’s definition of you on the other hand, is stronger than the definition you have of yourself, then now you know, where all the mental noise you have experienced all your life, comes from. It is because you haven’t yet decided who you want to be. Do you want to be how the world sees you, or do you want to become how you see yourself?
The fourth and final step towards stopping the noise,
is deciding what is more important – the world’s definition of you, or your own definition of yourself.
It all started with two powerful questions:
Why am I the way I am?
Because I have been born into patterns that have existed long before I was born AND these patterns have been responsible for “telling me how to be” for most of my life.
How do I change?
Through realizing that even though I might be a product of my conditioning, I have the power to decide what kind of person I want to be AND by deciding which is more important – the world’s definition of me, or my own definition of myself.
So, here we are. I am almost sad to stop writing this article. This is my passion – people, patterns, learning and teaching – helping people see that change is possible. As you can see, there’s quite a lot of information out there, but as I have hopefully shown, if the information is structured in a specific way it’s not noise anymore, it’s a story, a wonderful and valuable story.
This is that I do for a living, that’s why I wrote this. To help you. To give you some guidance, so that you can realise that you are not alone, so that you can know that there is a way out of the noise. You can change. We are born into the noise. The noise is the world we live in, the world we have created, and continue to create. If we want to stop the noise, it helps to understand where the noise comes from. To understand the noise, I have to understand myself, my life and my past. I have to understand, acknowledge and accept, that I too, am part of the noise. So only I, can change my own noise. Only I, can change myself.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Knowing where we come from, is the only way to learn where we can go. It’s not possible to make the noise go away, but by understanding it, we can translate it, and change it into a beautiful symphony.