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Published on March 20, 2020

Conscious Mind vs Subconscious Mind: How to Improve Them?

Conscious Mind vs Subconscious Mind: How to Improve Them?

The mind is one of the most fascinating and powerful aspects of ourselves. It is stronger than any supercomputer that we have ever created and can store practically an infinite amount of information.

How we get access to all of that information stems from the levels of the mind. There are three in total, but here the focus will be on the relationship between our conscious mind vs subconscious mind. By uncovering what is going on in our heads, we can best achieve our goals by tapping into the various minds.

Conscious Mind vs Subconscious Mind

To best uncover the differences, it first helps to understand the various levels of the mind. For that, we’ll be turning to Sigmund Freud, the man who founded the concept.

In his theory, he used the analogy of the iceberg and that the idea that the mind could form three parts of this iceberg.

The conscious mind is the ice above the water. This forms only a small part of the iceberg as most of the ice is underwater.

Everything underwater is broken into two more parts. The preconscious is anything below the waterline while the subconscious is far below.

This analogy may not make a lot of sense on the surface, but when you look at Freud’s deductions of what each mind does, some truth can be found.

  • The conscious mind is where all of our thoughts, feelings, hopes and memories are stored. This is the part we use to think and talk. Going back to the iceberg analogy, you can say that these are all of the things that require little effort to see.
  • The preconscious mind is anything that isn’t in the forefront of our minds but that we can bring it to the surface with a little effort.
  • Last is the subconscious mind, which stores feelings, urges, and memories that are beyond our conscious mind. These are usually things we suppress like pain, anxieties, or conflicts. These events are what steer our overall behaviour, motives, and decisions.

Differences in Opinion

As you can tell, the conscious mind and subconscious mind are on different levels and store different pieces of information. However, there are other differences. The biggest one is the differences in opinions.

This refers to the fact that both the conscious mind and subconscious mind have different beliefs.[1]

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As with animals, many of our decision-making drivers are below the surface. An animal doesn’t “decide” to fly or hunt or sleep or fight in the way that we go about making many of our own choices of what to do — it simply follows the instructions that come from the subconscious parts of its brain.

These same sorts of instructions come to us from the same parts of our brains, sometimes for good evolutionary reasons and sometimes to our detriment. Our subconscious fears and desires drive our motivations and actions through emotions such as love, fear, and inspiration. It’s physiological. Love, for example, is a cocktail of chemicals (such as oxytocin) secreted by the pituitary gland.

While some subconscious parts of our brains are dangerously animalistic, others are smarter and quicker than our conscious minds. Our greatest moments of inspiration often “pop” up from our subconscious. We experience these creative breakthroughs when we are relaxed and not trying to access the part of the brain in which they reside, which is generally the neocortex. When you say, “I just thought of something,” you noticed your subconscious mind telling your conscious mind something. With training, it’s possible to open this stream of communication.

So while our minds have different perspectives, there is potential for them to work together.

This is along the same lines as procrastinating on a task only for you to get a “lightbulb” idea. That idea didn’t come from anywhere specific, but rather from your subconscious mind.

Another example to consider is scenarios where events conflict with established beliefs.

For example, say you have a belief that you can’t make genuine, long-lasting relationships with other people. Any event that could suggest otherwise will more or less send your mind into a spiral.

Imagine attending a meet-and-greet for work. People with that belief would purposely avoid talking to people, or they’ll keep it to small talk, not really looking to bond with people.

This behavior is warranted because, in their head, they will do anything to discourage themselves or to sabotage themselves from making a friend.

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This all happens because they had bad experiences or thoughts that link to their social skills.

Active vs Passive

The last difference is how involved each part of our mind is, and the best way to explain it is through an example we can all relate to.

Do you sometimes feel you can’t fall asleep because your mind is wandering?

Part of the reason for this is due to the subconscious mind. When you’re falling asleep, your conscious mind is resting; however, your subconscious isn’t.

In fact, your subconscious mind never falls asleep. It works all day, every day controlling your body, breathing, and maintaining organ function and cell growth.

Our subconscious mind is the reason why we dream and why we can only remember vivid details of said dream.

In this way, the subconscious is passive. It continues to work, but often without us knowing. However, we can, of course, deepen that connection.

How to Improve the Conscious and Subconscious Mind

Now that you have a better grasp on what each mind does, the next step is for us to improve the connection between our minds. There are a number of ways for you to improve this connection, and most of them stem from habits your conscious mind can create to strengthen your subconscious over time.

1. Consider the Environment

While we should be looking after our own global environment, our internal environment is important as well. Chances are most people haven’t considered the environment of their subconscious mind.

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This is important because, again, our subconscious mind is always active and absorbing everything

Beliefs don’t come out of nowhere. Our beliefs are grown based on the information we see, the conclusions we draw, and the way we compare it to the rest of our reality. We do this constantly.

The catch to this is that our daily environment has a flurry of emotions. The most prominent is negativity and strife.

It’s depressing when we consume it, but it impacts our behavior over time. For this reason, it is important to be mindful of what it is you are consuming information-wise.

Avoid listening to the news unless you need to. Don’t spend time with those who drag you down or are toxic. Focus more on positive information through various mediums.

2. Visualize More

Remember that our subconscious mind is the mind behind us dreaming. If it can do that, then it makes sense that the subconscious mind loves pictures.

The best way to send pictures from our conscious to the subconscious mind is through visualization.

The idea is to spend a small amount of time — about 15 minutes a day — picturing positive scenes of you and your life experiences.

You can visualize anything you like, such as vacations, fulfilling relationships, working out, and more.

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The idea is to do these consistently, and over time, these images will begin to replace any negative thoughts you have about those aspects. Any fears, doubts, or worries will slowly wash away.

For greater effect, also visualize strong positive emotions. For example, if you’re worried about working out at a gym, visualize your exercising. Visualize how you’ll feel by the end of it or how you’ll feel when you hit your health goal.

3. Affirmations

The last method I want to talk about is affirmations. This technique is similar to visualization, but here you’re focusing on words and thoughts. As I mentioned above, all information and thoughts get absorbed into our subconscious mind.

If we instill positive words on a regular basis, our tune will change over time.

With affirmations, there are some rules to go over for these to work effectively:

Use the Present Tense

Looking to be more confident? Tell yourself, “I am confident.” Even if you are not confident, you can trick your subconscious mind because it can’t predict the future. It only knows this very moment. Also, stick to positive statements only.

Associate Your Words With Feelings

Even though the statement made may be false right now, one big motivator is reminding ourselves how we’ll feel with this new reality. If you want better health, start to bring in emotions that make you feel healthy.

Repeat the Process

Not only should you be doing this daily, but it also helps to repeat them over the course of the day.

Final Thoughts

The connection between the two minds is powerful, and making small lifestyle changes can impact your attitude and life over time. That much is clear when you look at how our conscious mind vs subconscious mind function.

Remember that our conscious mind is the active one and will get things done. It is our front-line. All the while, our subconscious is constantly looking around, absorbing everything it can, and formulating our reality. Nurture these two well, and you can change your life.

More Tips on the Levels of Mind

Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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