This article is the second in a series about the power of the subconscious mind. I will discuss how the subconscious mind works, the role it plays in learning, habit formation and how to reprogram your subconscious mind. In the end, you will have the answer to the question: what is the subconscious mind? Because understanding the power of your subconscious mind is the key to unlocking your full potential and the power of the mind. Let’s dive in!
What is the subconscious mind?
As a simple answer to the question, what is the subconscious mind? I would answer that it is all mental processes that happen below the level of consciousness, but that you are able to become conscious of. This is different than the unconscious mind, which is a deeper level, that you can only become aware of through psychoanalysis. You’ll understand what it is and how the subconscious mind works as I go through the article.
A learning, automation machine
Did you know that your subconscious mind is a learning and automation machine? Whenever you learn something new, whether it’s thinking in a new way, feeling a new emotion or taking a new action, the subconscious mind groups together the individual elements you’ve rehearsed and repeat and creates simple patterns out them. Think about the process of learning how to read and write. Once you’ve mastered the letters in the alphabet, you don’t rediscover them every time you see a word. You have them at the tip of your fingers, accessible whenever you need them. Instead of seeing the individual symbols, you see the meaning of the word. The subconscious mind plays this automation role in all learning, including ways of thinking, emotions and physical actions. It takes small elements and combines them into full gestalts or patterns.
The power of your subconscious mind
It’s easy to see that whenever you do something new, on the first attempts, you spend much energy thinking about every step of the process. You focus on every element and then try to fit them together. I went rock climbing for the first time recently. I spent an hour falling off the wall! Between placing my hands and feet in the right places, learning the proper grip and trying to be as energy efficient in my movements as possible, the only fun that was had were my friends laughing as they watched me fall! Forget about thinking about a climbing strategy, I couldn’t even hold myself up!
The next time I went back, I got better. That’s the power of the mind! I was able to do more challenging climbs that I wasn’t able to before. Just like I strengthened my body, my subconscious mind became sharp because I already knew how to grip and knew how to move. Instead of thinking about all the little details, my subconscious mind now has a pattern called climbing! A tremendous amount of energy is free to think about the best ways to make the ascent instead of the bodily motions all climbers have to know.
At peak performance, when you’ve mastered climbing, the mind can actually move into a place of calm where you seem not to think at all because the mental energy and space is available. Talk about mind power!
How the Subconscious Mind Works in a simple diagram
The following diagram illustrates how a learning curve works. I’m going to use it to show you how the conscious mind and subconscious mind work together to learn.
Step 1: From ignorance to wisdom
The process starts with a conscious decision to learn a skill. The decision is represented in the diagram by the motion of moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. You’ve discovered that you know that you don’t know and have committed to figure it out. This stage can be the hardest of all because ignorance is comfortable, dangerous, but comfortable. How can you get better if you don’t know that you don’t know? How can you get better if you think you know everything? They are two sides of the same coin! Take responsibility and become the person who is humble enough to figure things out.
Now you’re in business!
Step 2: Tedious, perfect practice
Time for the hard work most people avoid like the plague. There’s no way around practice in developing competence. This is represented in to motion from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.
Focus on every element and try to put them together as a whole idea. It’s important to know that the subconscious mind has no ability to make judgement. Whether you practice something well or whether you practice something terribly, that’s what you are turning into a pattern. The good news is that you can always reprogram your subconscious mind, though it’s easier to do it right the first time. As Tony Robbins says: “Repetition is the mother of skill.”
You can always revisit the various elements to improve them, in fact, those who are the best in world in their field are those who most often return to the fundamentals and are constantly reprogramming the subconscious mind.
Step 3: Long hours of tedious, perfect practice… pays dividends!
When you practice consciously, patterns are created and automated by the subconscious mind. They become economically organized into goal-directed synergistic patterns. When learned these patterns are represented symbolically and triggered as an act of will. It becomes a whole and we can become unaware of the parts. Simply put, at this stage you can perform and be thinking of something totally different. When you’re at your best, you’ll enter the zone or a state of peak performance. This is represented in the motion from conscious competence to unconscious competence.
Economy… This is the normal function of repetition and how the subconscious mind works.
A trusted illustration of the power of the subconscious mind
In biking, you have to keep your balance while continuing to peddle, you have to steer and stay aware of your environment. By the time, you’ve thought of all this, you’ve kissed the concrete. But not to worry, the second time goes a little better until you get the hang of it. Eventually, the mind generalizes the small, detailed maneuvers into a single whole. Peddling, steering, keeping your balance becomes a single symbol in the subconscious or simply put, riding a bike.
The mind works this way because thinking requires an enormous amount of energy. Imagine thinking about putting one foot in front of another every time you got up and walked. Humanity would never have gotten off the ground! Instead, we were created with a mind that delegates learned tasks to the subconscious mind, to be brought forth whenever needed. This creates an economy of thought that allows you to concentrate on discovering new truths about the universe, new scientific ways of thinking, overthrowing axioms and creating new technologies leading to an upward, negentropic spiral in the creative powers of the human mind. All of the former are processes of the conscious mind when it asks the right questions. You would never be asking the right questions if all you could think of was left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot just to prevent yourself from toppling over. That’s a lot of mind power freed up!
In sum, how the subconscious mind works is by automating patterns so that we can have an economy of thought.
Reprogramming your subconscious mind
The method for reprogramming the subconscious mind is easy to understand. Just start the cycle over again as if you just discovered something you didn’t know. Go back to the basics and start afresh. I know it’s more difficult than it sounds, but as I get into what happens in the human brain as it learns, you will have a deeper understanding of why that is. Be aware, hypnosis is a powerful tool to reprogram the subconscious mind and rewire the brain.
How the Subconscious mind works with the Human Brain
Every learned pattern created by the subconscious mind is a symbolic representation in mental space-time for a physical pattern of connections in the human brain. They look like so:
Those are typical brain cells called neurons. Each neuron transmits electrical energy to its neighbors via the connections you see in the image above called synapses. Each neuron has a nucleus with branches reaching out on each side. The branches that send information are called axons and the branches that receive information from other cells are called dendrites. As you can see, each axon connects to another neuron’s dendrite.
Where these connections form is called the synapse. This is an area where chemicals called neurotransmitters are released from one axon to the dendrite, sending a chemical message and creating an action potential or a polarization so an electrical impulse from one neuron can travel to next.
When you learn something, be it a new word or a complex behavior, the brain creates new connections linking up the visual elements, the motor elements, the heard elements etc… These connections form an entire network called a neural network. As seen in the following image:
Do you see how the different networks, represented in different colors span the entirety of the brain? The more you repeat something the more connections are created. This is the physical manifestation of how the subconscious mind works. When you are in unconscious incompetence, you have no connections for the new idea or concept, until the time you reach unconscious competence where these networks are solid and you have a lifetime skill. As you practice, not only are more connections among neurons formed, like a groove in an engraving getting deeper and deeper, but the axons and dendrites themselves literally become insulated. Take a look at the following image:
See how a white sheath has developed along the axon? This is called a myelin sheath. When myelin is present on an axon, the electrical impulses that travel from neuron to neuron, don’t have to move along the entire axon, instead they “jump” from node of Ranvier to node of Ranvier, which are the spaces between the myelinated areas you see on the image.
This is why it can be difficult to reprogram the subconscious mind. The connections are so tightly knit, the habit grooved so deep, that it takes tremendous effort, to rewire them. But now you know how the subconscious mind works and knowledge is a winning edge. Plus, hypnosis makes reprogramming your subconscious mind easier.
- Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process by Lawrence S. Kubie, University of Kansas Press 1958.
- Hypnotherapy by Dave Elman, Westwood Publishing Company, 1984.
- Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, Pocket Book Printing 1969
- Plasticity in Neural networks: http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_07/d_07_cl/d_07_cl_tra/d_07_cl_tra.html