“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
– Michelangelo, Florentine sculptor, painter and architect
It was late January and my buddy Dave and I had met up at the local coffee shop.
“I was just wondering,” I said, taking a sip. “How goes the ‘lose weight’ resolution?”
“Well,” he replied, gorging on his muffin, “probably about as well as your ‘be more frugal’ resolution.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I got you to pay for the coffee and muffins again.”
We laughed, acknowledging that both our resolutions were likely in jeopardy.
Despite our good intentions and best efforts, we often find ourselves falling short of our goals. We make up our mind and yet our brain seems to have a different idea. The fact is, we have two minds to contend with – the conscious and the unconscious (or subconscious). The conscious mind is functioning when we’re awake while the unconscious is always at work. Moreover, these two minds serve distinct purposes. Understanding how the two minds work may provide insight into ongoing struggles and recurring issues in your life.
In my workshops, I use a picture of an iceberg to represent the two-minds concept. The tip of the iceberg accounts for about 10 per cent of the overall mass of the berg. The remaining 90 per cent of the berg is located beneath the waterline. The tip represents the conscious mind while the vast portion below represents the unconscious component.
The conscious mind – the part that functions while we’re awake – is responsible for making decisions, setting goals and judging things, and has the unique ability to think abstractly. This “mind” is time-bound and, without awareness and concerted effort, will spend a great deal of its energy regretting the past or projecting fearfully into the future. The conscious mind can become quickly overwhelmed and is easily distracted or led astray.
The unconscious mind, on the other hand, monitors the operation of the body, including our autonomic nervous system. This “mind” is surprisingly literal and has no understanding of past or future; it knows only the moment. It is the reactor core – the force that drives you toward the achievement of your goals and the storehouse of your past experiences, attitudes values and perceptions. It is the “mind” a hypnotherapist would attempt to influence during a hypnotic intervention, hoping to shift deep-rooted beliefs and values.
These two aspects are designed to work in harmony: the conscious mind making sound decisions and setting worthwhile goals while the unconscious mind relentlessly drives us toward their achievement. Without awareness, however, the roles can become transposed and the unconscious mind – driven by a conflicting mixture of memories, interpretations and perceptions – may default to a previously established goal selected by an immature conscious mind in childhood. An unhealthy goal, like the confirmation that you are truly unworthy and undeserving of success. It’s not unlike a fireman’s hose left to flail about uncontrolled. Without the firm and focused grip of our conscious mind, the results will be haphazard at best.
If you find yourself relentlessly working on improving your self-esteem yet find the effort exhausting and results frustrating, it’s likely you’re in a state of cognitive dissonance – bombarded by inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes. There are ways to influence the unconscious mind, and one of the first and most effective is to check your self-talk. What are you saying to yourself in times of stress or conflict? If the statements are negative or self-defeating, your unconscious mind is likely in charge. Awareness is the first step toward mastery of the two minds.
It’s interesting to note that a goal selected unconsciously is often achieved, but it may not be in your best interests. Are you willing to gamble? Take charge! Without awareness, your unconscious mind will remain the master and not the servant for which it was intended.