Thoughts on Freedom and Behavioral Conditioning

Freedom means – freedom to resist conditioning so our conditions don’t condition us. 

We aren't as free as we like to believe we are. In fact, a lot of our behaviors and thoughts, are conditioned and happen whether we want them to or not. 

I teach people how behaviors are conditioning and trained up and how to resist that conditioning and how to stop unwanted behavior in yourself and others.

In a very utilitarian way, freedom really is the freedom to be free from your conditioned responses. After all, if you are responding in a way that is conditioned, it means, you are not choosing your response. 

Unlearning takes time

Think of the brain as a pattern recognition and prediction machine.  As you learn patterns, your brain cells create connections to contain that learning.  The more you practice, the more automatic whatever you are learning becomes.

This is one of the reasons why it takes ~30 days to learn a new skill. The brain needs time to learn the patterns of the behavior, recognize them and start to be able to predict based on those patterns.

Just as it takes time to learn a new skill, unlearning also takes time. You can't just say - ok - I will no longer recognize a patter that has become a physical connection in the brain. You have to practice ignoring the pattern and - basically - learn to ignore it and replace it with something else.

The good news, is - this is totally doable. The bad news is - it's REALLY hard to do. But knowing how to do this and how your brain works at least gives you a chance to change.

Critical Thinking is important

One of the reasons Humanists are so adamant that we teach people critical thinking skills is that in order to unlearn your conditioning so that you CAN choose your response to your conditions, you have to spend some time thinking about how you think.  And that is what critical thinking is. It's thinking critically about thinking.

Our brains get lots of things wrong. It takes a lot of energy to think so our brains like to do it as little as possible. It likes to recognize patterns and simplify things by automating our thinking.

There are tricks you can learn and practice that can help you interrupt the brain's automation. It's like learning a new skill and once your brain learns how to do it - it will self reward itself for doing it. I have a book and course on - Reality Based Decision Making where I teach some of these skills.

The point is - if you actively work at practicing critical thinking, you will get better at it and it will become more automatic and doing this - thinking about how you think - will help free you from your automatic brain processes so you can double check whether what your brain is thinking is true or not.


The reason I am writing about this is because - I'm watching people in cults believe they are free and - they clearly aren't. Specifically, I'm thinking about the violent extremists in the USA - the supremacist militias that are radicalizing young men to pick up guns and go on shooting sprees. These young men - are not freethinkers and they aren't free. They are being manipulated by others to do incredibly horrible and stupid things. 

What cults offer is community. The price? Conformity of thought. These men join cults because they have some idea of what sort of man they want to be. But - strong men don’t join cults. And they certainly don’t join violent cults. They are strong enough to stand on their own and don’t need a cult to make them feel safe.

Standing alone, takes more courage than standing in a group. If you want to truly be free, you need to think critically and learn how to choose your responses so that your conditions don't condition you to do stupid things.  

Mentoring and Purpose Based Leadership

Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing my colleague Aqeel Tirmizi for the Humanistic Management Professionals Lunch and Learn.  He had a lot to say about Responsible leadership, but he also talked about how important mentoring is for future leaders.

All leadership have a leadership philosophy. That philosophy is often derived from how they were mentored.  For good or for bad, their views were shaped by the people they learned from. 

He also talked about the importance of meaning and purpose as a leadership tool. He said, most college graduates want to do meaningful work. But … when followed up with  - only about 20% found meaningful work.  Is this because the work isn’t meaningful, or because the company hasn’t connected the work to mattering? 

I know that when I am asked to give talks about ethics in business that a big part of the problem is that people don't want to talk about ethics because they are worried about freedom of belief.  But we can't create meaning without talking about what is morally good and morally wrong. 

This is why I teach Humanism and a Humanistic approach to business and leadership. Our work needs to matter. This is as important for our mental health as it is for our customers. If whatever service or good we are providing isn't actually needed, then we won't have customers.  Business that do well over the long term, don't con their customers. They provide a practical good to their customers. Good - is a moral term. 

If you want to learn more - visit my website and take some of my online courses, or get my books.

If you want to learn about the International Humanistic Management Association - click here: 

How to keep going when the going gets tough

I was asked by reporter to share one of the most difficult decisions I had to make, this past year. My answer: whether to keep the company going or not.

I'm not going to lie, the last couple of years have been tough. My ability to concentrate on the work has ebbed and flowed and different times. I don't feel like I've been as effective as I have wanted to be. And the pandemic? Well, I've wanted to just - escape. As I think most people have.

The reality is, we are living through a global pandemic. And our primary job in a pandemic is to survive the pandemic. The instinct to insulate the family and just withdraw, is a protective instinct. It's healthy actually.

The problem is, that instinct is at odds with running a company with requires, not withdrawal, but engagement.  Finding the will to stay engaged has been really tough for me.

I have ultimately decided to stay engaged because, I really do feel that what I do matters and can make the world a better place.

Being a Humanist helps, because it encourages me to think - beyond myself into my impact on others. And it's honestly - only my feeling of responsibility to others that has kept me going. 

If you are struggling too - you have my sympathy. My advice? It's ok to feel like you are struggling when the reality is - you are struggling.  That's acknowledging reality.  It's also ok to take care of your own for a while. But for me, I always pair that with my concern and care for others.

Hugs regardless of what you decide to do for you. 

Facilitating Diversity? Focus on Inclusion - REAL inclusion.

 A reporter asked me: Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?

For me, the question is less about how we create diversity and more about how do we create inclusion. Even in homogenous organizations, there are people who are bullied and excluded.  

If we want more diverse yet cohesive work groups, we need to eliminate bullying and other behaviors that sabotage inclusion efforts. There is a reason why most of these efforts fail, and that is because – people sabotage them! We need to be more proactive about addressing and eliminating the sabotaging behavior so that people recruited in – are actively included in the group, so that they CAN create the working relationships and trust required for everyone to be productive. 

If all we ever do is try to recruit in diversity, regardless of the metrics we use, we will continue to fail. We must learn how and actively use the techniques we know work to eliminate bullying.  Why? Because bullying is all about creating exclusion.

Ending Exclusion

Humans are a tribal species. Our brains tend to see the world as our group and "others."  Bullies bully because it allows them to control who is in and who is out and that gives them a tremendous amount of power over any group. If you want diverse yet cohesive groups, you CANNOT allow bullies to exclude people and other them. 

The Future

What I hope for the future, is that we start applying the science of how to get unwanted behaviors to stop and we use that to stop bullying behavior so we can final wrestle control away from the office bullies and finally create inclusive support work groups where fear of being ostracized no longer dictates what happens or how problems are solved – or not solved.

Learn More

If you want to learn more - take one of my courses at:
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