Mental Blocks: Identifying them to Free Your Mind

Mental Blocks: Identifying them to Free Your Mind

From birth our minds are influenced by what we learn through our senses, how our parents and others treat us, what kinds of experiences we have and how we react to them. Each of us has a personality that develops from those experiences, and we are all unique and in some way different from anyone else. Our life experiences make us what we are, and we react to new experiences in ways we have been taught or have learned from the old ones. We think as we do because of what we know and believe
Most of us first learned from parents or other older persons whom we loved and respected. Our experiences were, for most of us generally good. We learned that doing what we were told to do earned praise, and when we made mistakes or misbehaved we were sometimes criticized, scolded, reprimanded or punished. That’s how most people learn to conform to what others expect of them, to obey rules and laws, and to keep out of trouble. It was simple. Do as you were expected to do and you pleased people, but cause problems and you got into trouble
Too often, though, some children may be treated badly or criticized just because someone else thinks differently or dislikes them or what they do. In addition, thoughtless people may laugh at or ridicule others, causing them embarrassment and pain. That kind of criticism can sometimes causes problems. When criticism is constant and affects us to the extent that it changes our behavior, it can create psychological barriers that affect how well we perform, and even how we think about things. When we accept without question what others say about us, and the criticism or value they put on us and our abilities, we are in danger of losing self-respect and underestimating our abilities and potential.

A well-recognized expert on the subject, Peter Russell, says this about how most of us are conditioned by our experiences. In an article on his website ( he makes a convincing argument that all of us are conditioned from birth by parents, teachers, friends, TV, films, books, strangers, clergymen, politicians, magazines, radio—anything that we “pay attention” to and think about. Certainly, we want to pay attention to people we know and care for, and the things that interest us.

But Russell says we have been “hypnotized” by those years of conditioning and put into a “permanent trance.” In that state we automatically accept and believe too much of what we are exposed to. He says, finally, that unless we “wake up” from the trances we are almost always in, we can never see beyond what others have told us was true. We may never think for ourselves.
Two things may come to our rescue, he explains. First is the knowledge that our subconscious mind believes everything we tell it or allow others to tell it. The second is that we all have a “hidden observer” who tells us the truth, of we know how to get in touch with and pay attention. How can we do that?
The answer to that question is the most important one we will ever answer. You can, as we all must, find our own answer. Here is one that may be helpful. It is based on the “hidden observer” we all have, and how we can use it.
What actually is our hidden observer? As Ernest Hilgard, who first identified it says, “it’s the real you, the part of me that looks at what (actually) is.” He means that our hidden observer is NOT in a trance and can look at facts, not fantasy or wishes, even though we may “consciously” be in a trance or fantasy. He means that the hidden observer cuts through the hypnosis of daily life and the conditioning you have been subjected to by all those things we listed, from your parents and teachers to the books you read and the TV you watch.

How Hilgard discovered the hidden observer is a fascinating little story. He was a professor of psychology at Stanford University doing research on hypnosis. In an experiment, he told a hypnotized subject that his left hand would feel nothing when placed in a bucket of ice-cold water. The hypnosis worked; the subject felt no pain.
When, however, the subject was asked to do “automatic writing” with the other hand, he wrote, “Ouch, it’s freezing. It hurts. Take my hand out.” This response is verified by later research that indicates hypnotized subjects do know at some level what is happening. Hilgard’s subject said, there was a “part of me that looks at what is,…(and is) more like my real self, only more objective.”

Russell describes our cultural conditioning as a kind of hypnosis, and says we live in an almost permanent “trance.” He cites psychologist Charles Tart’s book, Waking Up, to explain how ordinary hypnosis is a voluntary, limited relationship to which the subject consents. But cultural conditioning is the opposite.
The trance most of us experience is NOT voluntary, authority is surrendered to parents, family members, teachers and others. It involves years of reinforcement, use of force or coercion when necessary, emotional pressures, and subtle rewards and punishment as well. Finally, cultural conditioning is intended to be permanent. You are intended to be what others, who may have only good intentions, to be what they want you to be. Spend five minutes recalling how often you heard ”don’t,” “you can’t,” “you shouldn’t,” etc. As well as “we do that this way,” “no one likes a….,” etc.

Conditioning, the forming of habits, is by no means all bad. We need and use them all the time. But recognizing HOW this happens and being able to control the process is essential to logical objective, critical, creative and ethical thinking. (Please notice that “emotional” thinking is not on this list. The role of emotion in our mental processes is an entirely different matter, and will be addressed separately.)

You can overcome a lifetime’s worth of conditioning when you understand what it is, how it works, what it has already done to you. De-conditioning, waking up by breaking the trance, is the process by which you can escape, wake up, and take advantage of your freedom to become more than you ever believed was possible.

In future posts we will provide ways to recognize and break down some of that conditioning. Once you “get it,” the process gets easier until you are able to function freely and independently.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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