Conditioning is a powerful and subliminal force. We are all conditioned beings. It gradually occurs from the time we are born and continues throughout life. Conditioning can be shaped by past experiences of success or failure. We are subtly shaped by family, community, church, school and workplace influences to name a few. When we realize detrimental conditioning or habits, they often prove hard to break. This results from a reluctance to veer from the tribe or herd. We do not want to disappoint others or break the standard code. The group can be family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, bosses or anyone from whom we seek approval.

Conditioning leads us to conform rather than break away from the crowd and tread our own paths. For example, corporations spend tremendous amounts of money in advertising to generate a desire for their products or services. Professional athletes or entertainers are often used to appeal to our interests or alliances. This may lead to a purchase that if made and reinforced by a positive compliment from a trusted relative or friend, could lead to additional unnecessary purchases.

In organizations, conditioning can result in a fear of failure, which – many times – results in a lack of innovation and creativity. Many very bright and intelligent people paint within the lines on a daily basis, for fear of upsetting the boss and losing favor. This could mean losing out on a potential salary increase or promotion. Without failure, however, there is often a lack of growth. In Tim Harford’s book Adapt: Why Success Starts with Failure, he makes a compelling case for stretching.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”. – Winston Churchill

Goal Setting is a key to breaking past conditioning. Identify conditioning through the help of a trusted coach, mentor or friend and seek to break it by setting stretch goals. Accountability should also be integrated into the process. Afterwards, move forward with confidence. Stop periodically to review failures and successes and adjust as necessary. Changing your perception of failure can be freeing, and it can allow you to achieve your true potential while breaking past conditioning.