In 4th Way psychology, the term refers to a habitual pattern of thought or association or behavior.
In Gnosis, Mouravieff compares the mind to a juke box. The records are programs and playing one will lead to playing another by a process of association. This type of mental functioning proceeds automatically and involves little or no consciousness in the 4th Way sense of the word.
Entire conversations can proceed with the parties triggering various associations, mechanically invoking programmed responses from each others' store of responses.
Generally, when a program starts, it will play until its end. It is very difficult to stop a running program. The person can however notice when a program is about to start and consciously intervene at this point, causing the energy that would be spent playing the program to become available for conscious activity.
Programs may involve mechanical reasoning, emotions evoked by associations, compulsive physical activity, ready made value judgements etc. When running a program, one is usually in a state of identification, where the program takes over from any real I there may be and the person does not distinguish between self and the program.