Some of what we do is automatic.

We can see or hear something and know exactly how to react without a moment’s pause.

The other day, I was going through an exercise thinking about an emotionally charged event in my past. Using my memory, I replayed the scenario when I was negotiating with someone about a price. I felt he had the upper hand, and he was very experienced with negotiating.

I was out of my league and agreed to a price far below what was optimal for me.

As I relived the negotiation, I felt like crap. I tensed up and got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

HA! I realized I was running my automated program for critical for self-judgment.

I didn’t know I had one. Sure enough, when I went back to that traumatic memory, the whole cascade of thoughts and feelings were instantly triggered.

I work in tech where we write code to automate things. We’ll write a program when we want to do the same thing over and over again the same way. With a program, we can write out all the steps once and run it any time we want. We don’t have to think about the individual steps anymore; we just run the program.

The same thing happens in our thoughts. Over the years I’ve written many thought programs. We all have. That’s why we can jump in a car and drive or walk down a set of stairs without looking. The first time we drove or walked down the stairs, we had to think about each little step. We were cautious and thoughtful.

After driving for a few months, we hop in and go. We put on our seatbelt and adjust the mirrors as we pull out of the driveway. We’ve taken all the steps for driving and written a thought program, so it becomes automatic.

Some of the programs we’ve written are helpful. Think about how complicated life would be if every time we got in a car, we had to go through each step and learn how to drive all over again.

However, some of our thought programs hold us back. They keep us from exploring how we think and some of our beliefs. They cause us to automatically react without realizing we are running one of our programs.


Without even knowing it, I’d written a program in my mind for critical self-judgment. Over the years, I programmed my reaction when I felt I made a mistake.

The program was an orchestrated cacophony of criticism, anger, and self-doubt:

  • “Here you go again, making stupid decisions.”
  • Will you never learn?”
  • “This is why you are a failure!”
  • “What do you expect, he’s better than you.”
  • And on and on.

Does this sound familiar to you?

When I look at the list, I’m exhausted. Each time I run this program, all those thoughts are invoked and reinforced. It all happens so quickly; I don’t have a chance to say, “Wait! That’s not me anymore!” Once it starts, the thought program just runs.

I’m learning if I can catch myself in the middle of the program or even before it starts, l can say to myself, “WAIT!!! This is an old program. I don’t want to use it anymore.”

It’s not always easy, but it does get easier with practice. Particularly as I reprogram my thoughts to do it automatically for me.