How Deep Does Our Mental Programming Go?

How much of our desires come from us, and how much comes from societal programming?

As I sit here today I am pondering the thoughts and decisions I have made over the years. How many of those decisions came from me, and how many came from societal programming?

My reason for this line of thought stems from Christmas dinner yesterday. I ate that meal perfectly well, yet there is a part of me that is screaming over the fact that I’ve yet to get around to acquiring a set of dentures. I feel somehow wrong and less because I am toothless, but why?

I can eat perfectly well. I may not be able to eat nuts or really hard items, but I can eat. I can actually eat better now than I could when I had teeth!

So why do I want dentures? The purpose of dentures is to not just improve appearance but to help people eat better, right? Yet I can eat perfectly well without them and my appearance has already improved.

So how much of the desire for dentures is from me and how much of it is the programming I’ve received since childhood?

I am having similar questions with my pursuit of college. Why do I want a degree? An Associate’s Degree will increase my income potential a bit but to be honest; I’d make more if I took a job at a factory than I ever could with an Associate’s Degree.

As for the knowledge attained, I find myself doing busywork more than actually learning these days; if it were not for the pointless exercises I would have a lot more free time. I’ve reached the point where I do believe that I could learn more faster if I skipped the busywork and just read the books in my spare time.

Of course, college isn’t designed like that. If you don’t do the busywork your grades suffer immensely. Even worse, if you come to a solution in a way that varies from what the instructor wants you are wrong even if the result is exactly the same.

Yet we spend money just to spend our time doing stuff that really doesn’t matter in order to attain a piece of paper that is supposed to tell the world that we’ve become someone special.

I may be onery in my old age, but I’m beginning to question the logic of not only college, but other facets of my life. Just how much of my desires actually make practical sense in the grand scheme of things?

If the purpose of attaining a formal education is income, there are much faster and cheaper ways to do it. We can work at factories while they still hire humans. We can take a quick certification course and enter fields that don’t require a degree. Hell, if my only purpose is to earn more money I could start busting my ass on this website, produce more books, and go from there. I could even spend $500 to take a set of tests that would certify me in the computer field–and that would be a large boost in pay. I could start accepting new clients in my computer repair business or read a few books on phone repair and earn a tidy income from home.

So why am I so set on attaining a degree? With any of the other options I would actually be able to earn even more money a lot faster than I could by spending my time in college.

And if I said “forget about it” on my teeth I could save $1,000 or thereabouts and be done with the mess.

Just how much of these desires are from me, and how much is from my societal programming?

Have you ever thought about that? Wondered how much of your desires are truly yours? What is your opinion of my personal situation?

I could really use some advice right now so please contribute to the discussion by commenting below. I would really like to know if I’m on to something or if I’m losing my mind.

Thank you.

10 thoughts on “How Deep Does Our Mental Programming Go?”

  1. My grandfather never wore his dentures. He ate just fine. But, he was always constipated for lack of fiber in his diet. And when he died no one thought to tell the mortician that he never wore his dentures so they padded his mouth to look like he had teeth–which just looked wrong! OTOH, my mother-in-law looked wrong when she had all her teeth pulled until she got her dentures. I guess, for me at least, it’s mostly about how you are used to seeing a person.

    1. Hi, Linda!

      Most people don’t really notice that I’ve had all of my teeth removed, to my surprise! I’d acquired the habit of concealing my teeth over the years due to being self-conscious, and when I had my teeth pulled, my tongue decided it likes to hang out in that space. This provides a spacer that prevents my gums from meeting. As for fiber, I tend to eat old-fashioned oatmeal and other items to the point where I’ve yet to experience constipation.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. My grandmother took out her dentures to eat and my uncle put his in to eat. So only you know what works best for you. If it bothers you not to have teeth then get them. If not, save yourself the cost and aggravation. My brother had his teeth taken out and waited to get dentures for a few years due to the cost. He felt better physically after he got his teeth because he could chew his food better.

    As far as any type of school/certification to me the only real purpose should be either to increase your chances of getting a higher paying job or getting a higher wage. I am a lifelong learner and love to take practical hands -on classes or read or study to improve myself or my skills. I used to do that to get a higher wage, now I do it for fun.

    I got my master’s degree when I was 40 so I could make more money. I took the cheapest easiest program I could and worked full time and got a MA in 18 months. The company I worked for paid for most of it. I only did it to increase my pay and job opportunities. I knew it was a good investment of my time.

    My dad used to say if you are going to work, make the highest wage you can because your hours of life are limited so the more you make per hour, the fewer hours of your life you have to spend working.

    I really like the sections in the original Your Money or Your Life book about paid employment. Perhaps looking at that may be useful.

    Selfishly, I’m hoping you will decide to write another book. When I find myself thinking of spending to impress others I reread your books to remind me to be true to myself.

    1. Hello, Karen!

      I am actually in the process of writing another book. I’ve started over more than once because I want this book to help people and I’ve been besieged with doubt. It is slowly coming together, however.

      My auntie says the same thing about working for the highest wage you can earn. The thing is, I’ve done the research. The degree I am pursuing will actually pay less than a factory job would. A computer certification or two could easily trounce any amount of money that I could make with that degree. And the right book, written to help people, could potentially trounce both of those options. Book sales are not guaranteed, however.

      I do believe that all I really want from this existence now that the kids are grown is to be left in peace. I want to have enough money to live on with a bit extra, designed in a way that makes me feel secure. And I would like to achieve that by helping other people, by perhaps leaving this earth in a bit better place by giving something back.

      And the older I get, the more I resent the fact that we’re programmed by society to follow the rules, get the job, have the kids, buy the house, and die. My unorthodox upbringing makes me want to rage against the societal machine, especially since I am starting to realize that my time on this earth may come to a close sooner than I’d like.

  3. Once again, I am in a similar thought place as you, Annie, so this blog post was perfectly timed. I just finished watching a YouTube video (narrative, actually) of Alan Watts talking about non-conformity (It’s Only a Game). And I thought of you so I came to check out if you had posted today and, voila!, here it is.

    I think most of my thoughts and decisions come from societal programming. So much so that I can’t define who I am/what I want outside of society.

    If the money were there, would you get the dentures? Sadly, being toothless is non-conforming to society. Too many people, especially potential employers, can’t move beyond this and your job prospects will be very, very limited.

    If you are comfortable without teeth, if you can smile wide and not be embarrassed, if you can talk face-to-face with confidence without your teeth, then you may be just fine without dentures.

    If not, check out the donated, low cost and sliding scale dental services in your area.

    As for that degree- yea, your observations and thoughts on that are spot on. You grovel for that piece of paper that could get you a better paying job. It is hard to know your ROI on that and how long it will be before you actually do see a return on your investment.

    There is a lot of busywork in school for sure. You can put up with that or get back to building your own business as you have successfully done in the past. There are pros and cons to both.

    Sometimes having your own business consumes so much of your time, energy and focus that your wage per hour might be just pennies.

    Working a J.O.B. offers security and benefits but a lot of times you can feel like you’ve sold your soul to the corporate demons.

    Perhaps get a mind-less job that you can do just to meet your basic needs, something that won’t exhaust you but will leave you time to come home and do what you really love. That job probably won’t be ‘manager’. Those manager positions exploit smart, hard-working employees as you recently learned!

    1. Annie, if I were in your position, this is what I would consider:

      –Screw school. Work on your website and produce more books. Isn’t that what you really want?
      –Reduce overhead by becoming a van-dweller. You could conceivably travel and earn your money online.
      –When finances allow, get properly fitted dentures for your health and self-esteem.

      I think you’re ready for a completely different lifestyle. You have the intelligence, resourcefulness, and boldness to do whatever you want.

      Just my opinions…


      1. Thank you so much for your blunt honesty, JB. This has been bothering me for a while now and I honestly don’t know what decision to make. Given my goals in life (if what I have can be considered valid goals), I really need to work out a path through this.

        I’ve spent the past 20 years taking care of my kids. That’s done, so what now? Do I pursue what society says I should pursue, even if I feel that the busywork is a waste of time, or do I try to find my own path despite any criticism I receive?

        The only thing I can conceive of that I actually want to do is to leave this world in a slightly better place than it was when I entered it. But how? It’s not like I have a fortune to spend on causes. All I have is my experience. I keep thinking about that; I believe that if I share my knowledge that I can perhaps open people’s eyes to some of the things happening in the world, or maybe teach others how to survive just a little bit easier.

        And yet there is a little voice inside of me that tells me I am unworthy, that I don’t have anything important to say. It tells me that my desire to make the world a better place by sharing my knowledge is vain. Is that the true me, or is that the programming I’ve received over the years?

        Part of me wants to acquire a degree just to give the middle finger to those who think I’m stupid, but these past few weeks make me wonder if I’m doing this for me or from spite. Does this make any sense?

        How does one drill down beneath the programming to determine the path that’s best for them?

    2. Hello, Essie!

      Right now, even if I had the money, I would pass up the opportunity to acquire dentures. Everyone I’ve discussed this with who has gotten dentures has advised me to wait as long as possible before I invest in my first set; they say that the more you allow your gums to shrink and allow your gums to toughen is better since this not only allows the dentures to fit better but more comfortably. More than one person has actually advised me to wait at least three years for maximum healing, though the typical suggestion is 1-3 years overall.

      One major concern is the fact that I will turn 50 in a few short months. My father died when he was 57; my mother a few years after. This reminds me that my time is limited. While I will hopefully outlive my parents, nothing is guaranteed. I would like to leave this world in a bit better place and a job…regardless of our position, unless you own your own business, you are easily replaceable.

      So the question is, how do I choose to spend these past few years? If, say, I end up dying at the age of 57, do I want to spend that time playing by someone else’s rules, or do I make my own?

  4. Annie,

    I think the fact that you are asking questions means that you are on the right track. I feel that the questions that you are asking are valid and worth consideration. In the end there are only two real types of education, self education and society education (mainly certification that you went through the training in what society considered important) and it is the first category that makes the biggest difference in the end. Sure early on a piece of paper certifying that you jumped through society’s hoops may make it easier to find a job or a job that pays more but to be honest you do not strike me as the type of person that is looking for a public job but to earn a living working for yourself on your own terms. The same goes for the dentures, how important they are is a question that only you can answer for yourself. Like you said before you can eat most foods fine without teeth so they do not add much value when it comes to eating and feeling the need to have teeth because everybody thinks one should have either real or artificial teeth is not the best reason overall. Not to mention when it comes to the foods that you struggle with, there are other options such as a blender and food processor, which chances are are much cheaper. My encouragement is to sit with your questions and to focus upon the why. While it may be hard to tell now the more you sit with it the more you should be able to tell what you want vs what society is telling you that you should want.

    1. Thank you for your response, John. While I feel more lost than I have in a while, this is the first time in ages that I’ve started asking some serious questions. The questions that I’m asking have ended up throwing my entire life into question but like you, I suspect that the answers will be more honest.

      I can use a food processor for those few things I cannot eat. This is very true. Oddly enough I don’t really miss those things yet. I’m still at the stage where I celebrate every meal because I can eat better than I have been able to for years. I may eat a bit slower but this is the first time in ages that I can actually eat without pain.

      And you are exactly right–I don’t really see myself working for other people. The older I get, the more I resent the thought of having to work for other people. I would like to find a way to earn a living income, a comfortable income, just living life on my own terms. I resent when I am forced to do things by someone else’s schedule. Even now the requirements of college raise my ire; instead of being able to take the time to digest the information I am forced to focus on pointless exercises and deadlines. In many cases, we don’t even get to the interesting, useful bits before that class ends. I’ve got several books here filled with information that we didn’t cover in class, information that I believe would be more helpful than what we did cover, and no time to go through them since that class is over and I’ve another one to worry about. I want to scream in frustration about that.

      This is why I’m posting about my dilemma here. I’ve always used this blog as a form of therapy and I savor hearing a variety of opinions on different subjects. This round of questioning does make me wonder if I’m entering some sort of mid-life crisis. I have reached the point of questioning everything that I’ve believed to be true in my life. That is rather frightening.

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