In psychology the subconscious is the part of consciousness that is not currently in focal awareness. It is so easy to believe that the earth is flat and that the sun is revolving around the earth because that is what our eyes see. Similarly it is so easy to believe that we are always conscious of what we are doing and what is happening around us.
How They Work Together
Your conscious mind is what most people associate with who you are because that is where most people live day to day. But it’s by no means where all the action takes place.
Your conscious mind is a bit like a captain of a ship standing on the bridge giving out orders. In reality it’s the crew in the engine room below deck (the subconscious and the deeper unconscious) that carry out the orders. The captain may be in charge of the ship and give the orders but its the crew that actually guides the ship, all according to what training they’ve been given over the years to best do so.
The conscious mind communicates to the outside world and the inner self through speech, pictures, writing, physical movement and thought.
The subconscious mind on the other hand is in charge of our recent memories and is in continuous contact with the resources of the unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind is the storehouse of all memories and past experiences both those that have been repressed through trauma and those that have simply been consciously forgotten and are no longer important to us. It’s from these memories and experiences that our beliefs, habits and behaviors are formed.
The unconscious constantly communicates with the conscious mind via our subconscious and is what provides us with the meaning to all our interactions with the world which are filtered through our beliefs and habits. It communicates through feelings, emotions, imagination, sensations and dreams.
Claims By Scientists And Psychologist That Support The Existence Of The Subconscious And Conscious World
According to Harvard University Professor Daniel M. Wegner when we have thoughts that occur just before an action and when these thoughts are consistent with the action and when other potential causes of the action are not present we believe that we have willed our action. If I thought of reading today’s newspaper, picked it up and started reading it, it is a clear example of how my consciousness is in charge of my life, a period by life.
The claim by James Vicary, in 1957 that he increased the sale of popcorn and Coca-Cola by subliminally flashing “Drink Coke” and “Eat Popcorn”, created quite a stir among those interested in finding more effective ways to persuade human behaviour. But his later admission of his experiments being unreliable made any discussion about non-conscious behaviour a taboo.
But the new millennium saw several scientific studies that proved that human behaviour extends far beyond conscious processes. Picking up the newspaper was not a simple conscious act after all, many non-conscious aspects lie beneath. The fingers we used to pick the newspaper up, the delicate pressure exerted to hold the paper, the angle at which the newspaper was held, the awareness of the language of the newspaper; most of these were not consciously thought through.
Mounting evidence from medical sciences proves that there is a world in our brains beyond the conscious. The famous neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran’s explanation of the unusual medical cases of an amputee suddenly feeling intense pain in his phantom limb and of a blind patient who cannot see a pen that is held before her but manages to reach out and grab it is rooted in the intricacies of non-conscious brain processes.
The famous experiment by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s proved that the non-conscious brain decides about 0.3 seconds before a person is conscious of his own decision/action—something that Libet could pinpoint using an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Consciousness In Sports
The limits of human consciousness are clearly evident in sports arenas. Sport psychologists have discovered that the minimum time our conscious brain requires just to react to a stimuli, hear the sound of a starting gun and start sprinting for instance is 0.1 second. Any athlete who reacts before 0.1 seconds is therefore disqualified.
But the time a player gets into games likes cricket, baseball and tennis, to decide which shot to play is less than 0.02 seconds—the vast gulf between 0.1 and 0.02 indicates that such decisions are taken non-consciously.
These experiments show that the non-conscious is five to 10 times faster in taking decisions when compared to our conscious. It is this superior speed of the non-conscious that makes a person freeze in his tracks to avoid stepping on a snake. The conscious processes steps in a second or two later to confirm that it was a twig and not a snake. The super-fast non-conscious that might go wrong a few times is evolutionarily more useful for survival than the slow conscious and a period after conscious.
Just how does the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind work? And what is the difference between them?
This article shows how the two minds – conscious, subconscious and unconscious work together to create your world and reality and how to use that knowledge to change your habits and create a happier, more peaceful and confident you.
A Peak Through The Human Mind
Taking a peak from the famous Austrian Sigmund Freud, a psychologist who was probably the first to popularize it into mainstream society as we know it today. Even though his theories have subsequently been widely disputed in Psychology circles because they are very hard to scientifically prove Freud nonetheless created a useful model of the mind which he separated into three tiers or sections; the conscious mind or ego, the preconscious and the unconscious mind.
The best way I have found to illustrate the concept of the three minds is by using a triangle. If you imagine at the very tip of the triangle is your conscious mind. It occupies only a small portion of space at the top, it probably represents about 10% of your brain capacity.
Below this is a slightly larger section that Freud called the preconscious or subconscious. It accounts for around 50-60% of your brain capabilities.
The section below this is the unconscious mind. It fills out the other 30-40% of the triangle. It is vast and deep and largely inaccessible to conscious thought, a bit like the dark depths of the ocean.
The Mind In Action
The following analogy may help to clarify the concept of how the three minds work a little more.
If you imagine you mind is like a computer …
Your conscious mind is best represented by the keyboard and monitor. Data is inputted on the keyboard and the results are thrown up on the monitor screen. That is how your conscious mind works; information is taken in via some outside (or internal) stimulus from your environment and the results are thrown up instantaneously into your consciousness.
Your subconscious is like the RAM in your computer. RAM is the place in a computer where programs and data that are currently in use are kept so they can easily be reached quickly by the computer processor.
Your subconscious is the work desk of your mind, controlling and directing it is the key to personal change. Your subconscious works in a similar way to computer RAM, it holds short term memory and current daily used programs.
The Role Of The Subconscious
Apart from short term memory, the subconscious also plays an important role in our day to day functioning. It works hard at ensuring you have everything you need for quick recall and access when you need it. Things like memories, such as what your telephone number is, how to drive a car without having to consciously think about it, what you need to get from the shop on the way home, etc.
Current programs you run daily such as behaviors, habits and mood filters (such as beliefs and values) to run information through to test their validity according to your perception of the world.
Sensations Taken In Via Your Five Senses And What It Means To You
The subconscious is also constantly at work staying a lot more aware of your surroundings than you realize. In fact according to the NLP communication model we are assaulted with over 2 million bits of data every second. If your conscious mind had to deal with all that you would very quickly become overwhelmed and not be able to get anything done.
Instead your subconscious filters out all the unnecessary information and delivers only that which is needed at the time. It does all this behind the scenes so you can perform your daily work uninhibited. And it does this as logically as it can based on the programs it has access to in your unconscious. It then communicates all the results into consciousness via emotions, feelings, sensations and reflexes, images and dreams.
One of the truly great things about the subconscious and one which we need to take advantage of to affect change is that it obeys orders!
People often erroneously think that the subconscious is in charge and you are merely at its mercy. In fact it’s the complete opposite. Your conscious mind gives it the direction, the environment if you like, for which it operates in. The subconscious will only deliver the emotions and feelings of what you continuously think about. Now I’m not saying it’s as easy as changing what you think of in one moment and your entire life will be changed.
The Conscious Mind
If you ask most people to define what the conscious mind does you’ll get varying answers. Some say what distinguishes it from the subconscious (or even the unconscious) is awareness.
But to say the subconscious is unaware is plain wrong. It has been well documented that you can be influenced by your surroundings or what people say even when your conscious mind is totally out of it, such as when you’re under anesthetic or asleep. And what about when you drive to some destination but when you get there you have no memory of the trip. In those situations it’s your subconscious that stays aware and performs the necessary functions.
Another argument people put forth is that the conscious mind is where you do all your thinking and logical reasoning. But that too doesn’t entirely distinguish it from your subconscious or unconscious. Your unconscious minds are the storage place of all your memories, emotions and habits and are in fact very good at reasoning and logic.
Take for example when you were a baby. Your conscious mind had not yet developed enough to test and measure all the information from your environment so at this age it sits in the background and it’s your subconscious and unconscious that does all the data gathering and reasoning, identifying that the bottle or nipple is a source of food, that crying gets you attention and that cuddles from mum means you are safe. In this stage it’s your other two minds that are hard at work forming logical patterns of association (habits, beliefs and emotions) that help you to survive.
By far the best explanation that I have found to distinguish the conscious from the subconscious world is:
Its ability to direct your focus.
Its ability to imagine that which is not real.
Directing Your Focus
While your subconscious mind has a much stronger sense of awareness of your surroundings than your conscious world and is always switched on even when asleep it really does just obey orders from your conscious world. If all you do is focus your conscious thoughts continually on negative things then your subconscious will obediently deliver the feelings, emotions and memories that you have associated with that type of thinking. And because those feelings will become your reality you can then be caught up in a never ending loop of negativity, fear and anxiety resulting in constantly looking for the bad in every situation.
Take for example when you are laying in bed late at night and hear something go “bump”. If you let your thoughts and imagination wander to all the horrible things that might happen then your subconscious will throw up the feelings, emotions, and memories of past events that you’ve associated with those thoughts. Its your subconscious’s way of protecting you and preparing you for fight or flight in those situations.
On the other hand if you consciously tell yourself and direct your focus to more rational, calming thoughts then the feelings will subside or disappear.
This ability of your conscious mind to direct your attention and awareness is one of the most important powers you have and to create change in your life you must learn to control what you consciously focus on.
But how do you do that? The actual skill of directing your focus is quite simple, all it comes down to is making a choice; deciding how you will think and
Using Your Imagination
The other important ability of the conscious mind is the use of visualization. Your mind can literally imagine something that is totally new and unique, something you’ve never physically experienced before. By contrast your subconscious can only offer versions of what memories it has stored of your past experiences.