Training For Life
By Bart Vogelzang

When I see the word ‘training’, I immediately think of military training, and then think of Olympic hopefuls. I think of First Aid, dog obedience, and workplace skills. However, that’s not really the only training we get, although more often than not the other types are usually called ‘practice’ or ‘repetition.’

We have all probably suffered, or the lucky ones have enjoyed, going to music lessons, where we repeated the same notes, over and over and over again. We did it until it became a sort of natural flow, from one note to the other. When one melody was mastered, another awaited, and, as if you never knew the notes in the first place, the next song was just as difficult to master. Eventually though, we succeeded, not only getting the hang of a new song, but also interpreting the printed musical notes into near instant movement of our body in order to form them audibly.

Some of us learned to touch-type at school, and others just picked it up from their keyboards, but no matter which way you did it, practice training was involved. You had to do it over and over again in order to perfect the movements. The same goes for riding a bicycle, then for driving a car. Train, practice, and repeat until you do it automatically. Somehow it all becomes intimately embedded into your being, your subconscious mind, so that you don’t actually think about it anymore. It’s not really like an instinctive reaction, like jerking away from pain, or trying to catch yourself if you slip, but trained movements are clearly just as quick a reaction as instinctive ones, once they have become anchored.

It’s not limited to people either, since we train dogs to respond to our commands, and, as I just realized yesterday, we train each other. I have this cat, which walks to the door, then back to purr and rub itself against my foot. The amazing thing is, it isn’t walking to the door it wants to exit, but to a completely different door, and it won’t ever exit using that door. Has it trained me, or have I trained it, or has it been a mutual effort? It obviously did that walk and rub the first time and I responded, but the smart part is that we both learned to do this each and every time. It remembered the moves with the positive consequences, and so did I.

On the other hand, it also tried to hide in my bedroom just before I went to bed. I don’t like that, because then I have to get up to let it out the bedroom door during the night, which, unlike nightwalkers, requires me to wake up…not a nice thing. So I sprayed some water on it from a squirt bottle, a definitely negative consequence for kitty, and it has learned to never do that again.

Habits are very much the same thing; where we do something and it has consequences. Negative ones will stop us from repeating it, but positive ones will cause us to do it over and over, and we train ourselves, making it into a habit. Some will argue that habits are not the same, but there are two differences; motivation, a pure self indulgence without any serious benefit to anyone else, and an inability to stop. Training, as such, is usually motivated to produce some benefit outside yourself, and more often than not initiated by others and followed through with by you. I can even see that someone might start training for something, like jogging for health reasons, and that it turns into a habit. Once it is a habit that person finds it nearly impossible to stop, even if they are ill, or actually damaging himself or herself.

Unfortunately for us humans and animals alike, if we repeat something to the point of it being a habit, particularly a bad habit, we have to work like heck to correct things. It is incredibly hard to stop a bad habit and repeatedly fighting those actions and thoughts has to be a continual conscious effort countering the automatic subconscious reflex. Dogs growling if you come near their food, or barking during the night are super hard to counter. Stopping yourself from bad driving is horribly hard to do, but it can be done. It can be helped by repeatedly suffering bad consequences, until we retrain ourselves into different behaviors. If bad behavior starts and gets rewarded with positive reactions it continues and finally forms into that bad habit we cannot easily dismantle.

Bullying is one of those things we could head off if we act immediately. If it is done once and has immediate negative consequences it won’t be repeated and we will not train ourselves into what eventually could become a very bad habit. It’s not something anyone trains for, as there is no benefit to be given to anyone else, and that first time is purely an indulgence of your own ego. That’s where it should be stopped, but the lack of attention to the formative situations seen in our schools and the world around us leads the unwitting bully into the repetitive trap from which it will be agonizingly difficult to exit.

It is similar with discriminatory thoughts and actions, although those have a different root cause. They don’t just happen like that first bullying attempt. No, people around you train them into you. They deliberately repeat derogatory remarks, and eventually you will be trained to think that way. Nobody is born with a discriminatory thought in his or her head. Babies coo and prattle at anything, including dangerous animals, with only innocent love and curiosity in them. It is purely the training by parents and other ‘mentors’ that instill that ugly habit of being a racist, or homophobe, sexist, or maybe religiously intolerant. That doesn’t mean you have an ‘out’ though, since you are still ultimately responsible for your own actions, but, and this is a major but, you absolutely must get away from the repetitions. Bad habits can only be broken when there are negative consequences, and staying in the same situation that produced the training in the first place means you can never take back control.

Successful former smokers may avoid hanging around with smokers, unless they are willing to risk a relapse. Former drinkers don’t usually hang around in bars, or go to drinking parties, unless they are prepared to fall off the wagon again. By the same token, few people trying to become a decent human being can do so effectively while still associating with bigots, those uttering hateful messages, or worse, committing actual acts of violence. If you are intolerant, you have been trained to it, and you have a very bad habit that causes everyone pain, and the only way to improve is to fight it minute by minute, thought by thought, action by action, consciously, until the habit is broken, and you will never achieve that unless you leave the intolerant crowd.

If you are tolerant, and you see someone struggling with this, just like you wouldn’t give a reformed smoker a smoke, don’t provoke things, instead, welcome them for trying to break out of their mold, and accept that things will be very difficult for a long time, probably with some unfortunate relapses. Help the healing, with positives for doing ‘right’, and negatives for doing ‘wrong’, with forgiveness for the occasional lapse.

© 2011 Bart Vogelzang All Rights Reserved