One of the most precious gifts G‑d has given us is the capacity to engage in life’s day-to-day activities in "auto-pilot" mode.

Whenever we learn a new skill such as walking, driving, typing, and so on, we first do it manually, planning out and thinking through every step of the way. (At my first driving lesson I could not understand how I was to be expected to put the blinkers on, look in the mirror, turn the wheel, and watch for pedestrians all at the same time — each action required my full attention!) Eventually, as we repeat the same task, we shift it from the conscious part of our brain to the subconscious. We begin to do it automatically. We can walk, drive and type, without having to engage our conscious mind at all.

This is most certainly a gift, without which we would be limited to the number of functions we could perform at any given time. To use a popular buzz word, we would be unable to "multi-task", as each function would require the full focus of our conscious mind.

The downside of that precious gift is that our unconscious mind will store on auto-pilot both our positive and negative experiences.

Let me give you an example.

Two weeks into the school year I noticed that one of my students repeatedly refused to answer any of my questions. At first I thought he may be mute, but watching him converse with his peers on the basketball court quickly negated this theory. I subsequently found out that for the last four years, this boy had not responded to any teacher.

After extensive therapy it was revealed that he was suffering from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). While in third grade, his concentration span was 3-5 minutes, and the teacher tried to keep his attention by frequently asking him questions and rebuking him for not knowing the answers. The class bully had begun making fun of him, saying he was dumb, etc.

Being an extremely sensitive child with a low self-esteem, he learned to associate answering questions with being made to feel like a fool. The negative association created in his mind was that it’s safer not to talk to teachers.

Long-term counseling was needed for this child to regain confidence and trust in his teachers. Eventually he started talking again. This was achieved only through giving him many positive associations with answering teacher’s questions.

I hear people wondering: Why does my older son hit his younger brother when he annoys him? Why is it that whenever my boss calls me to his office I become scared and start shaking? Why does my teenage daughter refuse to confide in me? Why am I afraid to trust others?

There could be different answers to all of these questions, but perhaps what they all have in common is previous negative experiences, which automatically causes us to feel or act in a certain way.

The younger and the more vulnerable we are, the more powerful the association will be for both the negative and positive.

When we see our child or spouse repeatedly reacting in a certain way in given situations, just telling them to stop will not help. Nor will blaming them. It is highly likely that they are unaware of their motives — they are flying on auto-pilot. Perhaps we should search for and heal a previous negative association so that change can then occur

Try it. It works!