This is the introductory article of a series of articles on the human mind in which I try to define, in the most practical way, what the conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds are and how you can use that knowledge to your advantage.
The Power of the subconscious mind
What is the human mind? How is it structured? How does it work? What is the subconscious mind? It would be amazing if at birth, our parents gave us a user manual for our minds’ with precise instructions on how to use it. Life would be much easier, but just like the universe as a whole, it’s up to us to discover the universal principles that govern the human mind.
That’s where the beauty lies. We can never come to know everything perfectly, but the series of discoveries and higher understandings, when applied, increase our power over ourselves and our power to effect change in the external world. We are blessed with the ability to use our creative powers to improve our own lives and those of others! If we truly master ourselves, then we can change anything we want about ourselves, so I want to give you a basic map of your mind in this article, in order to deepen your understanding of why you do what you do and give you a clue as to how to change it.
The following is a model of the mind. It’s a map of a vast and unexplored territory. Remember that the map is not the territory.
The Structure of the Mind
The mind can be broken down into three known structures: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind. Imagine an ice berg where the mass above water represents your conscious processes, everything below the water represent those processes that operate below the level of consciousness and outside of your awareness. These processes occur in this way to keep you from being completely overwhelmed by everything going on externally and internally. Imagine having to consciously filter through the hundreds of external stimuli taken in by your senses, all while you focus on keeping your heart beating, your immune system functioning and your lungs breathing! Many of these functions are relegated to processes below the level of conscious awareness, creating a more efficient mind by creating more “space” for you to consciously focus on higher order processes like reasoning, decision making and calculation.
Your subconscious mind or preconscious mind as it is also referred to, also automates tasks you’ve mastered by creating automatic patterns we call habits, which can be thoughts, feeling or actions. Habits can work for or against you depending what you practice or repeat over and over again, the subconscious mind cannot judge, that’s why you have the power of reason.
The distinction between subconscious and unconscious mind is too advanced for this article and will be made in a followup.
The Power of the Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is the high throne of your awareness and reason, setting you apart from any other species known to man. It allows you to give meaning to relevant information absorbed through your senses, make decision based on reasoned through objectives and develop complex strategies for action towards the achievement of those goals. It is the analytical mind, that calculates, analyzes, looks at problems from every angle and decides on a solution. The more you develop those creative and reasoning powers that make man unique, the more you can change your environment, circumstances and shape a future based almost entirely on your will. The limitation, yet paradoxical power, of the conscious mind is that it can only focus on few thought-objects at once within its working memory, distinct from long-term memory.
The will, is a conscious power as well, much can be said about the will, though I would consider it mental adrenaline, allowing you to take actions that are good in nature, though painful in the moment. Will power, however, is a very poor tool for creating long term change, though it is very powerful in moments of decision.
Your conscious reasoning allows for the use of language to ask questions and finds answers, a developed human mind focuses on the realm of ideas while a weak mind sticks to gossip. The use of scientific reasoning is one of the major aspects of mind that sets man apart from the beast. While beast remains stuck in the realm of sense perceptions, Plato’s cave or the matrix so to speak, the reasoning scientific mind comes to know the lawful principles underlying sense perceptions.
Finally, the ‘Critical Factor’ is the barrier or dividing line between conscious and subconscious mind. Simply put, it’s your power to make judgement. True or false? Good or bad? Keep or discard? Is it working or failing? I can do this or I can’t do this. Hypnosis happens when you suspend or relax the critical factor and stop making judgments about suggestions or ideas. You have the experience then make up your mind about it.
No mental process works independently of the other mental processes, instead they should be thought about as a system of interplay between conscious processes themselves and the interplay between the conscious, subconscious and unconscious processes. They are systems that operate together to create a fully functional human psyche, if everything is in order. Although, I’ve defined major functions here, keep in mind that you have to understand the others and how they operate as a whole.
What is the Subconscious Mind?
While the conscious system disregards most sensory information, except those inputs most important to the attainment of your goals or to your security, the rest is thoroughly known and processed by the subconscious mind. The most elementary function of your subconscious system is everything that pertains to your survival, meaning it will hijack your attention and move it to any threat, real or perceived. The subconscious mind is always vigilant, though it can’t be considered “aware” in the way consciousness can be understood, it can be understood as always in trance and ready to respond, even when you are asleep. A sleeping person will wake up to the sound of anything “irregular” in the environment, such as the sound of a tree branch tapping on the window. A sleeping person may even respond to suggestions, just try telling a loved one how much you love them next time they are snoozing and hear their moans of delight, just don’t expect them to remember the next day. This provides evidence that the subconscious mind is always protecting us and always functional, even when sleeping.
The past is alive within the mind of man, not only do human beings record history, but the subconscious mind is a vessel for everything we’ve learned and experienced throughout our lifetime. Though we don’t fully understand how memory works and where it is stored, we know that under hypnosis, people can recall memories that they had lost or repressed with vivid sensory and emotional detail. This shows that memories themselves stay in tact and it is our conscious ability to recall memories that needs to be strengthened.
Hypnotists have long mastered the technique of age regression, bringing people back through time to very specific events in the subject’s lifetime, whether good or bad, this is an important therapeutic tool that can be used to let go of the past and resolve traumatic events, eliminating neuroses and liberating the mind’s capacity for creative work instead.
While the conscious mind is rational and uses words as its language, the subconscious mind is the emotional mind and its language is imagination. It understands sensations, imagery, sound and other imagined thought-objects. Sometimes a message from the subconscious is obvious, if your body needs nourishing, you will feel hungry. Sometimes, it is less obvious, like if you’re feeling unsure, you might get an itch in your nose. Sometimes, it is to your detriment, like when you are working and all of a sudden you need to use the washroom because you are blocked on your next move. Sometimes, it is intuitive, you get an impulse to do something and it turns out great. Even better, when your mind is free from neuroses, the subconscious mind creates entirely new connections, meanings, metaphors and ideas that it transfers to the conscious mind I.E. a functional subconscious mind is a wellspring of creativity. I will cover more on this interplay in another article.
Habit and pattern creation
How many times did you fall when learning to ride a bike? Paying attention to steering, peddling and keeping your balance is hard work! Yet a week of practice later and you zoom through the streets feeling free as a bird. How does that process work? The subconscious mind automates, makes autonomic, actions you’ve learned and repeated.
Mastering a skill involves the following process:
- Unconscious Incompetence: You don’t know that you don’t know.
- Conscious Incompetence: You know that you don’t know and consciously work on figuring it out.
- Conscious competence: You put in the effort and you get good. You still consciously think it through.
- Unconscious competence: You’ve mastered the skill, it is effortless. You no longer even think about it.
Often times, when we rehearse, we build in bad habits, that’s why it’s a good idea to revisit the conscious competence stage often and use the will to constantly improve. At the height of Tiger Woods’ golfing career, when he was already the best in the world, he changed his golf swing. At first, he fell in ranks and people thought he was crazy, but a little later, when he mastered his new swing, he surpassed even his old self.
Whatever you do repeatedly becomes habitual, but the subconscious mind doesn’t discriminate between good or bad. Everybody has created bad habits that are now automatic. Hypnosis is the effective tool to reach into the subconscious mind to uncover and change these habits. Think about it this way, if you had a leak in the basement, would you send the plumber to the roof? Of course not, you need to deal with the problem where it is. The same principle applies to the mind, deal with the problems where the root in the subconscious or unconscious processes instead of trying to use the will to make the change.
The Unconscious Mind: Instincts, reflexes and homeostasis
The unconscious mind keeps you alive by keeping your heart beating, keeping you breathing, regulating your hormones, biochemistry, blood PH and temperature. These functions need to occur at all times, no matter what if you want to stay alive. The interesting aspect is that these functions are affected by the actions of the other mental processes. If you observe something you deem unjust through reason, you will feel a powerful emotion that demands an action, this emotion, whatever it is, will change those homeostatic elements in the body, such as your blood pressure and pulse! There is always an interplay, a necessary interplay, between the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind also manages the primal survival instincts, such as fight-or-flight.
The unconscious mind also has other functions, these are too complicated to go through in this article and require a higher understanding of the mind as a whole. I may write an article in the future on this topic.
In conclusion, if you don’t understand how your mind works and how to use it, you will be manipulated by those who do. This is why I believe the understanding of hypnosis is so important because, the way I understand it, is that it allows us to bridge the gap between the different functions of mind and as an act of will, change and improve them, removing neuroses and becoming a more creative human being able to contribute to the immortality of the species.