Howard Bloom introduced me to the idea of memetics in 1995. You are no doubt familiar with genetics, the study of hereditary traits in all their variations, which created your biological programming. Memetics is the study of your cultural programming, something that generally impacts your results more significantly than the DNA your parents bequeathed you.
Bloom models how ideas spread and what makes some ideas incredibly successful while others fizzle out. If you read his work, along with research by other scientists who study “memes,” you’ll soon realize that you have been programmed with certain beliefs. What’s worse, you are still being programmed now, including pernicious and destructive algorithms that turn you into a product for social media platforms.
You might not recognize that you have been programmed. Still, the awareness that your beliefs have been installed brings with it the power to reprogram yourself—uninstalling what no longer serves you, removing the viruses, and installing a new operating system.
Identifying Your Programs
It is not easy to understand your programming, a complicated mishmash of other people’s ideas, beliefs, and values. To uncover who programmed you and what the program requires, you must be reflective and objective enough to look at yourself as the subject, instead of recognizing yourself as an object.
Recently, I watched a video of Tiger Woods’ young son driving a golf ball with incredible form. There is no evidence that he has a genetic predisposition that programmed him to pursue the sport of golf. But it is easy to imagine that having a father who is one of the best golfers in history, recognizing the incentives that come from playing golf, and spending so much time on golf courses might program him to believe that golf is simply what you do.
When my children were small, I enrolled them in martial arts classes. I lied to them and told them that it was like mandatory, like school. The lie held up because they showed up and saw other children that were close in age. When my daughters turned twelve, however, they discovered that other children did not practice a martial art, informing me that some girls their age were taking dance lessons instead. Maybe your parents installed different programs in your life, but it’s likely that some of those programs are still running—for better or worse.
Your peer group likewise programs you, especially during adolescence. At that time, your consciousness was still immature, but you felt the desperate need to belong to a group. As you learned to judge others, you found yourself in some cliques and decidedly out of others. No matter the clique, to gain admittance you had to swallow the group’s beliefs whole, installing more programming. When you recognize that your identity is one with the group, you can see the programming that moves you from being egocentric to ethnocentric, often dividing the world into “us” and “them.” Here’s the good news: once you can see your programs, you can begin to uninstall them. When you remove this particular program, your consciousness becomes “world-centric,” eliminating the view that you are separate from others.
Identifying Your Viruses
Your programming also includes flawed, self-limiting beliefs, many of which are detrimental to your results. You can think of these as viruses—ideas like “it’s too late for me to succeed,” “I can’t do that,” or an entire list of things you profess not to be. Not only that, but you might carry the belief that other people will think poorly of you if you do something you haven’t ever tried, or that you should never do anything that might result in failure.
There was a period of my life when I had a negative, pessimistic attitude. I was cynical, skeptical, and sometimes angry, possessed by powerful viruses that were incredibly difficult to remove. The problem with these viruses is that they reinforced that what I believed was good and right and proper while ensuring that anything to the contrary was either filtered out or destroyed by my confirmation bias. The antidote required exploring different perspectives, including other people’s beliefs, ideas, values, and experiences. The ability to take another person’s perspective without being threatened by something you don’t understand or agree with removes these viruses.
Changing Your Programs
Until now, you may not have known that you can choose to be “the programmer.” You can write your own operating system. The world provides you with limitless programming options, much like the massive App Store on your smartphone. You can download and install new programs, and if a program isn’t serving you well, press down on it until it wiggles and offers you a chance to uninstall it. You can shop for the ideas, beliefs, values, and actions that flow from your programming. When someone else has a result you want for yourself, you can choose to install the program they used, intentionally choosing who the person who comes after the person you are now will be.
Not everything in your current programming needs to be uninstalled. A lot of what has resulted in your successes is worth preserving. But if what got you here isn’t what will get you there, you may need to upgrade your operating system. Be intentional about what you allow to program you. Choose to read what empowers you, listen to what inspires you to be more, and study the actions of people who have created success, especially those who are successful in all areas, not just finances (a much too narrow measurement of success). You are either programming yourself or someone else is programming you. The difference is your ability to choose for yourself.
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