Changing Conditioned Responses

It’s been said, whether true or not, that it takes 10,000 times to master a new skill.  So practice, practice, practice is the key.  I’m trying to master new thought patterns/new beliefs in order to modify my (often negative) conditioned responses.   Active awareness is the first step.

I’m a Thinker. I probably think too much (I’ve been told that anyway). Being aware of my thinking is the first part of changing my conditioned responses to situations. I don’t want to be comparing myself negatively to others, feel like I’m failing to live up to others expectations, feel incompetent, or constantly run negative scenarios in my head.  I do all these things almost automatically! I want to feel that I am enough, I am doing the things that are right for me, and I’m living in the moment and that’s what’s important.

How successful as I in changing my conditioned response?  I’m sharing a few of the past weeks thinking reactions so that others can realize that they are not alone with “failures” when attempting to change habitual thinking patterns!

 

  • Compare & Despair with J&B. During a dinner conversation with friends of friends the other night, all I could think was… they are DOING IT RIGHT and I’m NOT! Meaning retirement. They’ve downsized to the “perfect” age-in-place home with both a one-level living potential and great access to a downtown area where they have already found their “Cheers” place. They both have part-time jobs in their passion areas (their term in fact) as well as volunteering activities they love. All I could think was, “I’ve not got my act together at all. I’m once again not enough. I’m failing at retirement.” I knew I was doing “Compare & Despair” and just couldn’t stop it!

 

  • Disappointment and other negative emotions. I keep trying to find the right volunteer activity, because I SHOULD be volunteering. The Impact 100 (a woman’s collective philanthropic group) committee experience left me feeling incompetent and frustrated that I couldn’t make an impact – I couldn’t influence the outcome of the committee and I wasn’t aligned at all with the outcome. I’m worrying about what others will think if I join the steering committee of another philanthropic group (I’ve been asked) knowing I will miss half the meetings and at least 2 of the 4 events. I’m now second guessing the grant writing class I’m taking this summer because I’ve been told it will be more about herding cats to gather information than the joy of writing. I know I shouldn’t worry what others think of me…. but I continue to worry that others judge me for not being an active volunteer!

 

  • A Weekend of Negative Scenarios. I had a garbled call from one of my doctor’s offices late on a Friday and they said to call back as soon as possible. When I did, the office was closed. I spent the entire weekend running (negative, horrible) scenarios in my head, writing (negative) letters to the doctor about the office leaving that kind of message, and basically not sleeping much. I knew I was doing it. I knew that most of what I was thinking was not going to happen. I couldn’t just wait till Monday and call the office to resolve the entire thing (which I did). And even though I knew I was spinning negative, I couldn’t stop the negative scenarios. 

 

  • Positives turning Negative. I’ve been trying to do some book promotion with local Financial Advisors.   Personally I think my book would be a great add-on for them to help their clients who are getting close to, or just entering, retirement. I had three meetings the past few weeks, with men & women FA’s I had met or been introduced to the past few years. After all three meeting I felt good. But then days later (and no additional interaction from them) I have started second guessing every thing I said at the meeting. And I’m beginning to feel incompetent about promoting the book (and reaching my internal goals for selling it).

In each case I was aware of my thinking/belief and the conditioned (negative) response and in fact, I tried to stop the conditioned response! Maybe I minimized it. I hope I minimized it. I did minimize it.

Active awareness is the first step.

Are you trying to change conditioned thought/belief reactions?

 

Picture Credit: Me.  My summer flowers are in bloom, surrounded by yard art &  bringing me joy!

40 thoughts on “Changing Conditioned Responses

  1. I love the term compare and despair. I think it’s tricky finding what’s right for us in retirement but trying is the key word. I, too, have found some volunteer gigs not at all satisfying, and in fact, harmful. That’s the beauty of retirement – we don’t have to! Very interesting items – I look forward to reading your next blog, as I am more in the camp these days of being un-busy. It’s been a change for me but I like it!

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    1. I’m not sure who I heard that term (compare & despair ) from …or if it just came to me (I love playing with words), but it so fits how I approach things. And I am trying to stop it! And thanks for commenting…. you ended in “spam” but hopefully now will come in regular.

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  2. So good to read and we can all learn from each other. Thanks for your honesty.

    I do a lot more of stepping back from my negative go-to thoughts more than ever but I do think. being realistic it is hard to undo a life time habit.

    But the best bit is self-awareness!!

    Denyse #mlstl

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    1. Thanks Denyse. It’s actually been helpful to just acknowledge the awareness. I did it again yesterday with another Compare & Despair moment. Acknowledging I was doing it actually helped me stop doing it! Small steps forward.

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  3. Wow! Pat you are really aware of your negative thought patterns. That is the first step in overcoming them.
    I am having a similar less than successful experience with my volunteering. I like the people well enough but nothing gets done and I don’t think I am making an impact. We’ll see where it goes this year, but I may leave if I continue to feel unfulfilled.

    Like you, I sometimes worry that I am not relaxing into retirement. As if someone else has it all figured out! I still want to work and I love to work, but then I wonder why I just can’t sit around and “retire” with a good book.

    As for your book, do NOT second guess yourself. It is a worthy book! Have you considered asking retirement gurus if they would include a postcard with info about your book in their materials? It would be easy to create a post card if you haven’t already ready. Whatever you do, follow up! You could also host your own retirement seminar- not for financial planning but for retirement lifestyle planning! I don’t think there are a lot of people doing that. If I were near you I would do it with you! ( where are you? Florida? Ohio? ) I love teaching workshops! Then at the end you could sell your books!

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    1. Michelle, Thanks for the great idea of post cards! When I do my next follow-ups (yes, planned), I’ll suggest that. I don’t have one, but I know I can easily create and get them. I also figured out how to have books on hand — I just have to outlay cost ahead of time (direct from publisher) and hope to sell them. Doing a seminar/workshop was on the possibilities list with each of the FA’s I talked with.

      I split time between OH and FL these days… about 60/40. I love both my spaces and actually look forward to being in both. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly planning the move back & forth though. It does wreck a bit of havoc on any long term commitments like volunteering!

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  4. Wow, Pat, your negative spins in your “thinking too much” head sound just like mine! I agree, the first step is recognizing that you are doing it. The next is to actually STOP doing it, but that’s damn hard, I’ve tried and continue to try.
    I find the middle of the night particularly difficult. I’ll wake up to use the bathroom (another MidLife ritual, lol), not be able to go back to sleep, and the thoughts – often scary and negative – swirl for hours, it seems. Creates more of the anxiety that I struggle with. I think anxiety does afflict us “thinkers” more as we can spin scenarios like nobody’s business.
    Another thing that I continue to work on.
    The comparison game is a killer…let’s not do it!

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    1. Nancy, The doctor scenarios were 3 AM spins for sure! I do think I was able to not spin the Compare & Despair one as much as I might have in the past. It’s little steps. And I’m going to keep working on it.

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  5. Wow, Pat… “failing at retirement “? I don’t think so. You have a lot of interests, are active, have a summer and winter residence, friends, a published book, etc, etc, etc. Always good to continue striving, but I think the only thing you SHOULD do is relax and enjoy your well-earned retirement.

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  6. I think I’ve finally become comfortable in my own skin. As an introvert, I’ve always felt inferior even though I’ve achieved many things. Funny how our childhood experiences never leave us. But one thing I’ve learned with age is that it doesn’t matter what others think and comparing myself to them is a waste of valuable time. I am finally living my life for me and hopefully reducing the number of “shoulds” in it!! I’m far from perfect with that but at least I’m aware.

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    1. When I hear about other people achieving my goal of the “it doesn’t matter what other people think, non-comparison” state, it makes me confident that I too can achieve that reactive thinking response. I do know I am getting better at it with awareness!

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  7. I am a thinker too, Pat, and it’s a good/bad characteristic. Like you, I can start to second guess and over-analyze. But in the end, it’s my life and my decision as far as what I do, where I go, who I choose as friends and what occupies my time. It’s taken me many years to get to this point but I feel pretty good about who I am today. And…10,000 times to master a new skill? That’s why it took me 6 months of endless practice and 1,000’s of golf swings to finally learn to hit a golf ball and play the game. But I did it. 🙂

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    1. I think a friend of mine would say golf actually takes 100,000 times! But seriously, when I hear that folks have gotten to the point of knowing/ believing/ living the “it’s my life” mantra, it gives me hope that I will get there as well.

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  8. Pat you are very honest and it this honesty that resonates with so many of your readers. It is something to be proud of! Thinking is hard to change but you seem to be approaching it in a good way so I wish you luck! #mlstl

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    1. I appreciate your comment about my honesty resonating. I’ve been reading more of Brene Brown’s work about speaking out so others will know they are not alone in their feelings. That was my intent with this post. And yes, validating to myself that I am making small positive changes.

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  9. Pat, I wonder if we have these “failures” because we set ourselves up for them with unreal expectations? I’m finding that what I want from retirement is an “unbusy” life, I want to slow down and savour my days rather than filling them to the brim with self-imposed achievements to tick off. By doing this I find that I’m a lot less disappointed in myself these days – I’m living on my own terms and at a manageable pace – it’s a pleasant life indeed. Maybe you could be a little less hard on yourself and see all that you’ve accomplished – allowing yourself some breathing room in between?
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

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    1. Leanne, I had to chuckle. Of course I have unrealistic expectations for myself! My habitual “meeting others expectations” and perfectionism are hard things to break. That said, awareness is my first step. Getting these on paper allowed me to release them and get some good positive feedback. Yeah, that need for external validation – working on that too.

      The past few days I’ve been reading a bunch of blogs on “un-busy”. Did you know it’s a movement/ lifestyle/philosophy and there are people blogging about it? Slow Living (movement/ lifestyle/ philosophy) as well. I’m starting to draft a blog about it because many of the elements fit how I want to be living my retirement lifestyle. Of course, many of the folks in both of these movements are counter-culture millennials, but there are some retirees as well.

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      1. Hi Pat – I’ve been a big fan of the slow living, and minimalism blogging world for a long time and follow several on FB. I wrote a guest post a while ago about being unbusy in retirement and have a post on it scheduled in the next few weeks. I’m not sure how you’ll go meshing unbusy with all that you want to accomplish with your retirement? It’s easier for me because I have less on my to-do list and just want to cruise atm.

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      2. Leanne, I’m exploring Un-busy more because I like many of the ideas in the philosophy. I think my post will be about choosing the elements that work for me as I learn to be more about “being” .

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  10. Thanks for sharing these (honest) responses. I’m not going to patronise you by saying the things that you know, but yes, awareness is the first step. I had an incident a few weeks ago with a work colleague where something she did and said really rubbed me the wrong way. When I stopped and thought about it, what annoyed me was her behaviour reminded me of something I do that I’m not proud of. It was a mirror to me. Naturally then I congratulated myself for being so self aware… #MLSTL

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    1. Jo, OK, that’s the third time this week that the “mirror” concept has been expressed to me. The Universe is trying to tell me something! When I see things in others that annoy me, it’s probably something I’m not proud of doing/thinking! Another thing to be more aware of. Anyway, you should congratulate yourself for being aware of it! I do believe it’s the first step in changing behavior.

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  11. Pat, I appreciate your sharing your “failures” (but let’s call them “learning experiences”) and your guidance about changing one’s conditioned responses. I am less troubled by “shoulds” but very susceptible to compare & despair. I am continuing to work on living in the moment (the line from the retranslation of Psalm 1 so resonates with me “But they delight in the way things are and keep their hearts open, day and night”) and finding a way to make intentional gratitude a part of my daily routine.
    I noticed that your book has only one review on Amazon (positive of course). I have recommended your blog and book to many friends but haven’t shared my endorsement more broadly. I am crafting my review for Amazon now and I would encourage your other faithful readers to do the same.

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    1. Liz, Thanks so much for an Amazon review!! I’ve asked a few folks who’ve told me they have read it to add a review. I can only ask… so thanks for asking as well.

      And you are right. They were learning experiences! And Luisa (commenting below) had a great phrase about the Compare & Despair. The conditioned response is challenging though. What’s even more ironic – the friend of B&J recognized the moment and told me that B&J do not think they have it all together at all! So once again I did a Compare & Despair to a highlight reel. Delight in the way things are… look at my own highlights reel!

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  12. Hi Pat! I too am a BIG believer that awareness is a key to any change. Whatever it takes to catch us from our automatic responses is helpful. I think all of us have triggers that catch us up along the way and can make us miserable if we let them. I have tried lots of different “techniques” and practices to address similar “conditioned responses” and I’m happy to say that I can tell that I am gradually getting better and better at all of them over time. Being patient with ourselves while constantly working on our intentions to grow and evolve works best for me. ~Kathy

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    1. Kathy, I was so glad to see that you are “gradually getting better” and actually feel like I am as well. At least these situations didn’t spiral into days and weeks of negativity! Be patient. Be kind. Celebrate the small steps. Something we need to remind ourselves of, hmmm?

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  13. Hi Pat, I read the responses. Interesting feedback on the concept of “shoulds” and the 10,000 hour rule. I like your phrase “active awareness.” And “feel that I am enough.” Thinking too much is a problem for many of us. Ergo…….writing and blogging. I appreciate your candor. I am glad you brought to my attention the “conditioned response.” I “should” continue to evaluate and reevaluate the conditioned response. This time the “should” is a good thing:)

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    1. Erica, As I commented below… how about “I choose to continue to evaluate and modify my conditioned response”! Using choice words versus obligation words. I am going to work on switching from “I choose to” or “I choose not” to versus I should!

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  14. I question myself every time I use the word “should” on myself, so when I saw you say “SHOULD be volunteering” that caught my eye.
    Whenever I use that word I ask myself – who says I should? Is it really something I want to do? What is behind my use of this word?
    Then if I still agree it’s a “should”, that’s what it is. Otherwise, I let that one go and onto the next…
    That’s how I look deeper into conditioned thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deb, Yes, I know I should stop “Shoulding” on myself. In fact, I recently wrote about shifting the obligation terms to choice terms. So…. I choose to stop shoulding on myself! Another great build in working on my conditioned responses! Thanks.

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  15. I have a lot of experience in being a volunteer and also a volunteer coordinator. Finding a good match is so important. Agree to do something for two weeks or a one-time project to see how you like it. Be selfish and set boundaries. Good volunteers are hard to find, especially those with leadership qualities. Some volunteer positions just need extra hands, but others are real jobs that are just unpaid. You are right to value your freedom in retirement. Sometimes a donation is a good way to help.

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    1. Faye, I’m clinging to your last line! I’ve always been a “good check writer” as far as volunteer “work”! I will keep exploring things and maybe something will click, as I continue that “check writing” activity. In fact, I’ve recently talked with my Financial advisor about setting up a Charitable Gift Trust. So maybe I need to embrace that as my way of volunteering! Shifting my thinking – Thank you!

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  16. Wow you are so unnecessarily hard on yourself! When you see something positive that makes you go negative try and say “I could do some of that- great idea!” Instead of “I’m doing it wrong- oh hell!”. Start trying to love yourself and start the day recognizing out loud how good you are and how far you’ve progressed and what a great day it will be starting now. Attitude is everything. When I was working and I knew it was going to be a tough day, I’d look for all the positives and think only about those at the start of the day. Surprisingly it does reset attitude quite a bit.

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    1. Luisa, Yes I am hard on myself…. I’ve been told that many times. Another thing to keep working on! I love your phrase “I could do some of that” — what an easy one to try and incorporate and make the “new conditioned response”.

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  17. HI, Pat – The research on the “10,000 Hour Rule”, described by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers is fascinating. I had frequently used this work with teaching staff. When I moved to Vancouver Island, I became good friends with Roger and Paula Barnsley….and then quite by accident, discovered that they are the researchers whose work Gladwell quoted in his books. It really is a small world!!
    As for your final question, I am trying to change my behaviour in terms of environmental practices, especially unnecessary plastic and paper use. To avoid myself from ‘autopilot’ moments, I found that I needed to put my plastic wrap, baggies, paper towels, etc. in hard to reach places — giving me time to rethink!

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