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Unmasking Subconscious Programming: How It Causes Dysfunction In The Workplace

Your subconscious programming could be hindering your ability to succeed at work.

Success and well-being at work are determined by many factors, such as possessing a strong work ethic, communicating effectively, and having job satisfaction. It’s also influenced by something much deeper — your subconscious programming. This hidden layer of your mind, formed during childhood, plays a pivotal role in shaping your thoughts, behaviors, and ultimately, your career. While some aspects of this programming can be beneficial, many can inadvertently hold you back. If you are struggling with a lack of fulfillment, fear and frustration , or burnout at work, your subconscious programming may be responsible.

What is Subconscious Programming?

According to neuroscientists, only 5% of our brain activity is conscious, leaving a staggering 95% operating at a subconscious level. This subconscious realm is heavily influenced by our early experiences during childhood, when our brains function at a lower vibrational frequency known as theta, a state akin to hypnosis. From the last trimester of pregnancy to about seven years of age, our brains soak up information based on what we are exposed to, which forms the basis of our subconscious programming (Bruce Lipton, 2017).

Several factors contribute to this programming. One is the behavior of our parents. The ways they treat us, the ways they treat others, and what they impress upon us can all be integral parts used in our subconscious programming. For example, if our parents constantly fought or yelled at us in our youth, we may have developed a fear of conflict and a desire to avoid it.

Another factor is gender, both in terms of gender biases impressed upon us, and chemical differences between genders. We are exposed to gender biases through a variety of factors, ranging from the behavior of our family to biases present in society at large. If you grow up in an environment that has defined gender roles or expectations, you will likely conform to those things subconsciously. These biases can be difficult to separate from and may continue to affect your behavior throughout adulthood.

Chemical differences between genders can create a natural gender bias. On average, men have higher levels of testosterone, while women have higher levels of estrogen. Testosterone encourages a desire to win, compete, and defend. Estrogen encourages a desire to be included, to contribute, and be part of something bigger. The levels of these hormones can have a large effect on our behavior.

These two factors combined can lead to some clear examples of the programming that results from them. When a young boy is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he will often choose things like a firefighter, police officer, athlete, and businessman. These are all professions related to a desire to win, compete, or defend. Meanwhile, young girls often say they want to be doctors, teachers, scientists, and chefs. These are all related to a desire to be included, contribute, and be a part of something bigger.

In addition to more obvious biases of gender, young brains can also be programmed by factors such as parental beliefs, social norms, cultural practices, religion, and trauma.

As these different factors are ingrained into our brains, those neural pathways are used over and over again, becoming our natural way of thinking and behaving. Think about as if you were driving a car. When you first start driving, you are hyper-vigilant and always checking your mirrors or the speedometer. You are conscious of your actions because it’s a new skill that you don’t have much experience with. However, once you’ve been driving for a while, it becomes a task your brain is accustomed to and the subconscious takes over. Now you probably find yourself getting out of the car with little recollection of the drive itself. This is what happens with our subconscious programming. Consistently used neural pathways become ingrained into our subconscious, causing us to go into “auto-pilot”. Therefore, many of the reactionary behaviors we developed before the age of eight are still our natural behaviors in adulthood.

Examples How This Programming Can Affect Us At Work

Let’s say we have three people: Lea, Mike, and Naomi. Each one of them has a different problem at work due to their subconscious programming.

Lea is a successful manager at a steadily growing company. However, she hasn’t taken an extended vacation in years. She finally decides to go on a three-week vacation with her family, but before she leaves, everyone wants to make sure that she will be checking emails and that she can show up for certain meetings virtually. Although she doesn’t want to spend her vacation working, she is afraid of displeasing people at work, so she agrees, and instead of spending a wonderful vacation unplugged from her job and taking a deserved break, she finds herself constantly responding to emails and helping with small tasks. After three weeks juggling family and job commitments, she returns to work. She doesn’t feel refreshed or rested but resigns herself to those feelings and plunges back into her job.

Mike is an employee at a small company that is struggling to meet their sales quota. The CEO calls a meeting for all employees so that they can discuss how to fix this problem. The CEO starts the meeting by asking if anyone has any ideas they would like to offer. Mike does have an idea, but it is a bit unconventional, and he doesn’t think the CEO will go for it. Instead of sharing his idea, he decides to remain quiet.

Naomi is a relatively new employee at a health food company. She originally joined the company because of their mission as an organization to provide affordable and healthy food for those who need it. However, they have started increasing the prices and enacting policies that seem to prioritize sales over providing healthy food. She disagrees with this but sees how happy everyone is with the increased profit, so she pretends it’s not an issue for her and does not speak out against it.

All three of these people have a problem. Lea is facing burnout at work, Mike is struggling with fear and frustration, and Naomi is unfulfilled by her job. However, all these problems are, at least in part, caused by their subconscious programming. Lea’s programming is that she wants people to like her and think she’s good enough. She may fear isolation and worry that not catering to everyone’s needs will ostracize her. Mike’s programming wants him to play it safe and he worries that his idea may cause others to think he’s unintelligent. He fears shame. Naomi doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers. She fears isolation or abandonment by her peers if she voices her disagreement.

They may not know they have these fears, but these are their automatic responses to defend themselves. And they are all causing adversity and stress at work. Subconscious programming is a powerful thing. People would sometimes rather be fired than ostracized from the group.

Rid Yourself of Limitations

In order to change your subconscious programming, you first have to know it exists. Awareness is key. You also need to be aware of whether or not your programming is causing problems in your life. You can use the Seven Levels of Effectiveness as a barometer for where you’re at. If you find yourself experiencing hopelessness, frustration, or fear, you may need to start thinking about what got you there and if you have any subconscious fears or reactions that are contributing to you being in that state.

Once you have given some thought to what limitations your subconscious may be creating for you, you can start to work on fixing them. One easy thing to do is to start following a few simple rules. In his book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about living by these four agreements:

1. Be Impeccable with Your Word

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

4. Always Do Your Best

Following these agreements will eliminate many of the common problems that our subconscious can cause. Think about the examples from earlier. If Lea followed agreements 2 and 3, she wouldn’t assume that she might be ostracized for cutting off communication during her vacation. Even if a couple of her peers were disgruntled about it, she wouldn’t take it personally. If Mike followed agreements 2 through 4, he wouldn’t assume his CEO or coworkers might dislike his idea and if they did, it wouldn’t bother him. He would also focus on doing his best and that requires presenting his ideas.

If you want to learn more about subconscious programming and increase your well-being at work, check out our Free Response Agility Workshop. In it, we provide guidance on how to navigate adversity, pressure, and stress at work with power, freedom, and ease.


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