Imagine getting in your car, starting the motor and beginning to travel to work. You know which direction you want to go… but things this morning are a little different. Sometimes you turn the steering wheel and the car responds, other times it doesn’t. sometimes you apply the brakes and the car sows down, at other times it doesn’t. Sometimes the car accelerates when you push down on the accelerator, other times it doesn’t.
There is nowhere to pull over on the freeway, so for a little while you are stumped about what to do. Then you notice the blinking red light on your dashboard and realize your car is remotely controlled. Providing you are driving in the same direction as the remote controller, all is well. When you try to drive in a different direction, things don’t go quite as planned.
Driving a car that is remotely controlled is a lot like living a life where you are unknowingly controlled by your unconscious mind!
To understand just how our unconscious mind has such incredible power, we are first going to look at our brains, how they work and what they do.
Your brain is a connection machine; its function is to associate, connect and link bits of information. Your thoughts, memories, skills and attributes are vast sets of connections or maps joined together via complex chemical and physical pathways.
When you hear a new idea, you create a picture or a map of that idea in your mind and then rapidly compare it to your existing maps.
Every Brain Is Highly Complex And Different
The brain is unimaginably complex. It has around 100 billion neurons. Each neuron has up to 100,000 dendrites (that gather information for the neurons) and one axon (that passes on information). The number of possible ways in which neurons in the brain could be connected is a number larger than there are known atoms in the Universe.
The connections between your neurons are the maps that guide your thoughts, behaviours and actions. As there is an almost unlimited number of ways in which brains can store information, there are almost unlimited options for how experience, learning and information can be coded in the brain. This is why no two people think the same way, have the same perspective on a situation, feel the same or believe exactly the same things. People even hear the simplest things very differently.
It appears that our brains can hold just seven concepts in working memory at any time. As this is vastly smaller than the amount of information we are constantly bombarded with, our brain likes to hard wire any actions that we repeatedly do so they do not take up limited working memory space.
When it hard wires something, the brain pushes the map it has created down into the subcortex which holds long-term memories and processes, and has a far greater capacity than working memory.
The more often something is done the harder the wiring becomes. What starts off as a trickle may become a creek, a river and eventually a Grand Canyon in terms of how entrenched it is in your brain. This is how habits are formed. For example:
- Elite athletes have hardwired many of the skills from their sport that the rest of us struggle to master.
- Adults have hardwired walking skills and do it unconsciously while toddlers must still concentrate and focus on this skill.
Your hard Wiring Drives Your Perception
Since ancient Greece, philosophers and scholars have concluded that we see the world aswe are, not as the world is. In a more recent twist, “You create your own reality”.
When we hear something new, we compare it to our existing internal maps to see where the connections are. We will do everything we can to make new information fit into our existing maps. For example, when you are in favour of an idea you are more likely to allow even tenuous links to become fact. When you are not in favour of an idea you will see even strong evidence as irrelevant.
Our lives can be a lot like attempting to drive a remotely controlled vehicle in a different direction from the remote controller. The driver is your conscious mind and the remote controller is your unconscious mind.
You as the driver are not always aware of the directions being given by the remote controller. When you both agree, the driving is easy. When you disagree it is virtually impossible for you to drive the vehicle in a different direction from that chosen by the remote controller.
I will give you an example from a man I once worked with. John’s family had just appointed him to manage the family landscaping business. John quickly became aware that his obesity was hindering his ability to manage the business well.
He knew at a conscious level that he needed to do something about his weight. Over the years he had tried many diets and exercise regimes, but always ended up back at the same place. After working with me John came to realize that he unconsciously didn’t want to lose weight. Being obese fulfilled a need that he had not been consciously aware of. His parents had always been too busy running the family business to make time for John. His weight now gained him the attention he had always craved from his parents. They now rang him to discuss his weight and what could be done about it.
Once the conflict between his conscious and unconscious was identified, John was able to successfully implement a health and fitness regime into his life and find other ways to get and replace the attention he craved from his parents.
Although the exact percentage of your mind that is attributable to the unconscious is open to dispute, researchers agree that the unconscious mind has a far greater capacity than the conscious mind. It is also understood that your unconscious mind is responsible for many of your beliefs, thoughts, behaviours, patterns and actions.
Your unconscious performs two very important tasks for you being the process of:
1. Filtering information, and
2. Running strategies.
It can perform these tasks in a way that empowers you (and assists you to drive in the direction you seek) or disempowers you (and hinders you driving in the direction you seek).
It is difficult to change things done by your unconscious mind until you become aware of what it is doing. One of the best ways to become aware, is to pay close attention to how you behave in different situations and begin to notice the things you do automatically. They are the clues to how your unconscious is operating.
You are subjected to over 2 million bits of information per second via your five senses being sight, sound, feeling, smell and taste. This is substantially more than you can consciously process. To protect you from mental overwhelm, a part of your brain known as the reticular activating system (RAS) quickly chooses which bits of the information go into your conscious mind and which bits go into your unconscious mind. It does this through a process called filtering. This filtering process can be either empowering or disempowering.
Your brain likes to create order out of the chaos of information it is bombarded with and to make links between information so that your life makes more sense. Your RAS consistently filters information in the same way until either you choose to change it or an event of such magnitude happens that you are forced to change it. As you like to be right (don’t we all?), your RAS filters information to confirm your existing long held beliefs and disregards information which would be contrary to your current beliefs.
For example, assume you believe that the ABC political party is the best and only political party to vote for. You will see and hear all information relating to the ABC political party through your unconscious filters. As a result you will:
- Perceive all articles written in support of the ABC political party to be correct and based on fact.
- Perceive all articles disparaging of the ABC political party to be biased and not based upon fact.
- Be unlikely to change your view even when presented with contradictory evidence.
Your Unconscious ‘Mind Set’ And How To Change It
You chose your current unconscious filters as a result of your upbringing, environment and significant emotional experiences that occurred to you. Your unconscious filters include your values, beliefs, attitudes, memories, decisions and language. When combined together they make up your “mind set”.
Many of the connections creating your mindset are firmly embedded in your unconscious. They define how you see the world, the choices you make and the results you produce without your conscious awareness.
It is possible to change these unconscious connections. The best way is not to try to deconstruct already existing and deeply embedded connections as that is like trying to get rid of the Grand Canyon.
The best way to overcome existing unconscious connections is to create new connections. There is a difference between a thought (a map held in our working memory) and a habit (a map that’s hardwired in the deeper parts of our brain). It’s not difficult to bridge the gap between the two. If you want to hardwire a new behaviour you just need to give your mental map enough attention over time, to ensure it becomes embedded in your brain. You do this by making links to different parts of the brain so that the web of links thickens and spreads out. Instead of just thinking about a new idea, you also write it down, speak about it and take action.
Positive feedback is essential to the process of creating new habits or ways of being. Research has shown that neurons literally need positive feedback in some form to create long-term connections. So, make sure that you are either giving yourself positive feedback on your progress or you have someone else who will do it for you.
It is difficult to drive a car that is remotely controlled by someone else… but unlike the car… it is very possible in our own lives to take over the role of remote controller and get back control of our life.
(Based on an article I have published in ezine articles)