You know your way around the internet – but how about your own mind?
Do you know the power of the technology that sits between your ears? To begin to understand it, it is helpful to think of yourself as having two minds at work within you. As you read this, you will be reading it on one level, and absorbing it on another.
You have the subconscious mind which contains all that you are unaware of. This includes all of the perceptions, thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories and associations that fuel your conscious awareness. When you talk, are you really thinking about what word to choose next, and what each word means, remembering where you learned it? Of course not, the power of the subconscious mind does all that for you, just like every other automatic behaviour. It is far bigger and far more powerful than the conscious mind. It also communicates with your bodily processes, influencing breathing, heart-beat, hormones etc.
Then of course, you have a conscious mind. This is what you are aware of at any one time. This could include certain perceptions, thoughts, ideas or feelings that emerge from the subconscious. They are constantly changing and meandering as you shift your attention and follow a train of thought. If you really think about it, you are not as aware as you think you are.
One way to think of your mind is being like a big dark room, full of stuff. The conscious is like shining a torch around, only illuminating a few small things at any one time. This is like conscious awareness.
Another analogy is a library. The power of the subconscious mind is like shelves of books, containing feelings, perceptions, thoughts, memories etc. The conscious is like a table, where only a few books are being looked at, at any one time. The process of attention could describe a librarian, choosing for you the most appropriate book to be reading at any one time.
The Subconscious Awarenesses
All of your memories are stored in the subconscious mind. When you retrieve one, it becomes conscious. Of all of the things that are happening right now around you, the ones you are aware of are conscious, and the rest are being perceived by the power of the subconscious mind. Until now, you may not have been aware of your hand on the mouse. Or your feet on the floor. Or the sounds outside. Or what is lying beside the screen. You are now that I have drawn your attention to them, but it is likely that your subconscious was aware of these things already.
When you are in a room full of people, you are only consciously aware of a few things, such as what you are talking to someone about, their face, or what you are going to say next. The subconscious mind is aware of all this as well as your internal states, how long you have left, what things you have associated in the past with all the things that are being talked about, and what other people are talking about. You might not be aware of other people’s conversations until the subconscious hears your name being mentioned, then it immediately draws your conscious attention to it.
The power of the subconscious mind is like a machine, constantly processing millions of things at any one time. If someone asks you a question, even after giving a consciously adequate answer, your subconscious mind will continue to search and process. Then, a better answer may just ‘pop’ into your mind, even though you didn’t realise you were still thinking about it. You were, but subconsciously.
Often when in a difficult situation such as an argument or conflict, we can operate on autopilot, without really thinking at all. Emotionally driven behaviours and thoughts can run riot without conscious control. Then, later, the subconscious continues to process it all, affecting our thoughts and feelings. It may also throw up new answers or suggestions for things that could have been said better, so you say to yourself ‘why didn’t I think of that at the time?’ There is even research to suggest that the subconscious continues to process 30 ‘units’ a second as part of a search process, whilst the conscious mind is distracted with other things. Isn’t that fascinating? (Reference: Sternberg, S. (1975) Memory Scanning: New Findings & Current Controversies. Quarterley Journal of Experimental Psychology, 22 1-32).
How things get into the subconscious mind
The conscious acts as a middle man between the environment and your mind. You can think about, critically evaluate, and choose more or less how important you think anything is to learn (i.e. pass back through to the subconscious mind). Some stuff just gets thrown out, never to be thought of again (such as most TV and small talk, and the odd accidental name or phone number).
Not everything enters the subconscious mind through conscious attention and awareness. Some things sneak in that you aren’t aware of. These could be unwanted, and may adversely affect your self-esteem, behaviour or perceptions throughout your whole life.
As an infant, before your conscious mind had fully developed, your subconscious was completely open to suggestion. It had to be, in order to learn the basics and develop the conscious awareness in order to be more selective later on. During this period you were probably stuffed with limiting perceptions assumptions and beliefs, and unnecessary fears or anxieties.
As an adult, the subconscious mind can be ‘programmed’ through other ways. One is the sheer confidence of some information, that goes straight in without you really thinking about it through the weight of suggestion. Repetition is another way that something could gradually seep into the subconscious (e.g. songs on the radio, the negative suggestions that some people plague you with everyday). These are just some examples of how things can get inside our heads without our conscious awareness.
The Subconscious – Your Personal Assistant
A lot of people don’t have the patience to even acknowledge that they have a subconscious. They would prefer to believe that they are aware of everything that goes on in their heads. They feel that the idea of an automatic ‘mind’ running the show undermines a sense of personal control and identity.
The way round this isn’t to fight for control, but to simply embrace it. Your subconscious is very much you. It does everything for you, it protects you, it learns for you, it chooses what you should attend to, it monitors your physiology, it does a huge amount of work round the clock whilst you are distracted with other things. It reminds you of things you might forget, it figures out answers for you whilst you sleep, it carries out your automatic tasks, such as driving, sleeping, walking and talking.
So why neglect it? There is definitely a variable of self-awareness in people. Some seem to be very much in rapport with themselves, and embrace their whole being, such as great artists or achievers. They seem to be whole, complete beings, who yield the personal power by using their resources. Others seem in total conflict with themselves, trying to claim conscious controls and beliefs whilst doing the opposite subconsciously. They lose sleep, get into trouble, ruin relationships and experience negative emotions because they are constantly fighting with themselves. These are extreme examples, but we all lie somewhere along the spectrum.
Self-rapport is one the most powerful goals each of us could have. Knowing ourselves, directing ourselves, being in a position to make the right choices. That is when we really feel the power of what we are capable of, where old stagnant feelings are washed out by new and exciting ones.
Learning more about hypnosis or experiencing hypnotherapy can allow us to learn and appreciate what our subconscious mind is up to, and show us ways to be able to communicate with it. At a later point, I will write about some of the fascinating case studies I have experienced with clients, who often came in with a form of subconscious conflict or confusion, but then through exploration and realisation were exposed to the power of their personal resources.