Recently my friends at Singular City hosted an interesting evening at the L.A. Library: a conversation with author Eric Klinenberg, discussing his new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.
In his talk, in answer to Singular Editor Kim Calvert, Klinenberg focused on the intense social conditioning involved in getting married and raising a family, emphasizing how the trend toward living as a single person goes directly counter to this deeply ingrained pattern.
As Klinenberg said, this has led to anxiety particularly among single women in their late 30′s and early 40′s, not so much internally–as they have chosen to live alone and pursue personal goals–but mainly as their peers, parents and society at large begin to trigger their feelings about their biological clocks.
When I spoke to Klinenberg at the reception, I mentioned my own interest in male conditioning along the same lines – and the programming to find a mate, raise a family and particularly to act as a provider in an age when women are so independent. In my experience the pressure for males to live up to a standard of achievement is also fraught with anxiety, particularly in the current economic climate.
For both sexes there is a steep emotional price to pay in going against the powerful conditioning of our society, particularly as it is promoted in advertising and the media.
And yet as Klinenberg pointed out, it is the very need for space and solitude that is also driving this trend toward living “solo,” not only in the U.S. but all over the world. More and more people seem willing to pay that price for the privilege and luxury of personal physical and mental space.
I would connect this trend, which Klinenberg correctly attributes to the benefits of modern technology, to another movement—the search for meaning and transcendence.
In his best selling book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle also discusses the massive conditioning and automatic and habitual responses of our left brains—our “Ego”—as we react to life’s complex circumstances and try to control events in conformity to our conditioned mental patterns and belief.
As I’ve written in the past, neuroscience has not been able to isolate a physical Ego in the brain or anywhere else; rather scientists now see the “Self” as a complex neural network that works very parallel to a computer operating system and a set of programs that should work in harmony, but sometimes can act in conflict, causing anxiety and depression.
The computer model intrigues me a great deal because we have also discovered another set of computer code in not just our brain cells (neurons) but in all of the DNA or genetic material in every cell of the human body, and indeed all life on earth.
The Genome, or DNA code, when sequenced, runs exactly the same way as the code that runs in Microsoft Word or any other computer program created by humans.
And, as we examine our own lives and the conditioning that shapes us more deeply, it also turns out that our automatic functions (habits) work exactly like a simple Microsoft Word macro.
(A Macro is a series of recorded keystrokes that performs a specific task—it’s a precisely defined block of computer code (software)).
If you can “be the scientist,” as suggested by my friend Michael Jeffreys, and observe yourself carefully, you will see that changing a habit (the most powerful example of conditioned behavior) comes down to three essential steps, as outlined in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.
Each habit has three components – a trigger, a routine and a reward.
Perform a “experiment with life” –like changing a habit –and you find that these steps conform perfectly to a simple computer program such as a macro:
First, in a macro, the trigger is an “event”–On Mouseclick” — the routine has the same name in programming — subroutine — and the reward is getting the desired result, which if the program works, means you will “run” it again and again(which is precisely what a macro lets you do — run the same program with just one keystroke (trigger)).
The first step toward change is observation and noticing – and then altering the reward with something that provides the same feeling (fulfillment) but is not self-destructive but rather nurturing.
But consider the meaning of this – changing the conditioned responses of your brain (and its structure—neuroplasticity) involves rewriting (or rewiring) internally coded instructions—literally inner alchemy is reprograming your software.
This ability to mimic life through the coded instructions of symbols or language is why I consider the development of software an evolutionary event in our species’ history, and perhaps the most significant human achievement since the construction of the Great Pyramid.