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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 May 26, 2020

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

Problems are, by their very nature, problematic. There are life problems, work problems, creative problems, and relationship problems. When we’re lucky, intuition takes over, and we solve a problem right away. When we’re not so lucky, we get stuck.

We might spend weeks or even months obsessing over how to write that term paper, get out of debt, or win back the love of our life. But instead of obsessing, let’s look at some effective problem solving techniques that people in the know rely on.

Ideation Vs Evaluation

It’s important to first understand and separate two stages of creativity before we look at effective problem solving techniques. Ideation is like brainstorming. It’s the stage of creativity where we’re looking for as many possible solutions as we can think of. There’s no judgment or evaluation of ideas at this stage. More is more.

After we’ve come up with as many solutions as possible, only then can we move onto the evaluation stage. This is when we analyze each possible solution and think about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s when all those good ideas from ideation rise to the top and the outlandish and impractical ones are abandoned.

7 Problem Solving Techniques That Work

Everyone has different ways of solving problems. Some are more creative, some are more organized. Some prefer to work on problems alone, others with a group. Check out the problem solving techniques below and find one that works for you.

1. Lean on Your Squad

The first of our seven problem solving techniques is to surround yourself with people you trust. Sometimes problems can be solved alone, but other times, you need some help.

There’s a concept called emergence that begins to explain why groups may be better for certain kinds of problem solving. Steven Johnson describes emergence as bottom up system organization.[1] My favorite example is an ant colony. Ants don’t have a president or boss telling them what to do. Instead, the complicated organization of the ant colony comes out of each individual ant just fulfilling their biological destiny.

Group creativity can also take on an emergent quality. When individuals really listen to, support, and add onto each other’s ideas, the sum of that group creativity can be much more than what any individual could have created on their own.

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Therefore, if you are struggling to solve a problem, you may want to find a group of people with whom you can collaborate, so you can start riffing with them about possible solutions.

2. Regulate Your Emotions

The next of the problem solving techniques is to be honest about how you’re feeling. We can’t solve problems as efficiently when we’re stressed out or upset, so starting with some emotional self-awareness goes a long way in helping us problem solve.

Dr. Daniel Siegel famously tells us to “Name it to tame it.” [2] He’s talking about naming our feelings, which offers us a better chance of regulating ourselves. I have to know that I’m stressed or upset if I want to calm down quickly in order to get back to a more optimal problem-solving state.

After you know how you’re feeling, you can take steps to regulate that feeling. If you’re feeling stressed out or upset, you can take a walk or try breathing exercises. Mindfulness exercises can also help you regain your sense of presence.

3. Listen

One thing that good problem solvers do is listen. They collect all the information they can and process it carefully before even attempting to solve the problem.

It’s tempting to jump right in and start problem solving before the scope of the problem is clear. But that’s a mistake.

Smart problem solvers listen carefully in order to get as many points of view and perspectives as possible. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the problem, which gives them a huge advantage in solving that problem.

4. Don’t Label Ideas as Bad…Yet

The fourth of the seven problem solving techniques is to gather as many possible solutions as you can. There are no bad ideas…yet.

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Think back to the two stages of creativity. When we are in the ideation stage, we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas, input, and possible solutions.

When we evaluate, judge, and criticize during the ideation stage, we inadvertently hamper creativity. One possible outcome of evaluating during ideation is creative suppression.[3]

When someone responds to someone else’s creative input with judgment or criticism, creative suppression can occur if the person who had the idea shuts down because of that judgment or criticism.

Imagine you’re at a meeting brainstorming ways to boost your sales numbers. You suggest hiring a new team member, but your colleague rolls their eyes and says that can’t happen since the numbers are already down.

Now, your colleague may be 100% correct. However, their comment might make you shut down for the rest of the meeting, which means your team won’t be getting any more possible solutions from you.

If your colleague had waited to evaluate the merits of your idea until after the brainstorming session, your team could have come up with more possible solutions to their current problem.

During the ideation stage, more is more. We want as many ideas as possible, so reserve the evaluation until there’s no more ideating left to do.

Another trick for better ideating is to “Yes And” each other’s ideas[4] In improvisation, there’s a principle known as “Yes And.” It means that one improviser should agree with the other’s idea for the scene and then add a new detail onto that reality.

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For example, if someone says, “I can’t hear over your loud music,” the other person needs to go along with that idea and then add onto it. They might say, “Sorry, I’ll turn it down, but I don’t think everyone else here at the club will appreciate it.”

Now the scene is getting interesting. We’re in a club, and the DJ is going to turn the music down. Playing “Yes And” with each other made the scene better by filling in details about who and where the improvisers are.

Yes Anding also works well during ideation sessions. Since we’ve already established that we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas yet, Yes Anding gives us something we can do. We can see the merits of each other’s ideas and try to build on them. This will make all of our possible solutions more fully realized than a simple laundry list.

5. Approach Problems With Playfulness

Approaching problem solving too seriously can exacerbate the problem. Sometimes we get too fixated on finding solutions and lose a sense of playfulness and fun.

It makes sense. When there are deadlines and people counting on us, we can try to force solutions, but stepping back and approaching problems from a more playful perspective can lead to more innovative solutions.

Think about how children approach problem solving. They don’t have the wealth of wisdom that decades on this planet give. Instead, they play around and try out imaginative and sometimes unpractical approaches.

That’s great for problem solving. Instead of limiting ourselves to how things have always been done, a sense of play and playfulness can lead us to truly innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

6. Let the Unconscious Mind Roam

This may seem counterintuitive, but another technique to try when you become too fixated on a problem is to take a break to let the unconscious mind take over for a bit.

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Our conscious brain can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. Plus, it’s energetically exhausting to use our conscious brain for problem solving. Think about a time when you were studying for a test. It’s draining.[5]

But we’re in luck. There’s another part of our brain that isn’t draining and can integrate tons more information at a time—our unconscious.

This is why you come up with your best ideas in the shower or on your way to work or while you’re jogging. When you give your conscious brain a break, your unconscious has a chance to sift through mounds of information to arrive at solutions.

It’s how I write my articles. With my conscious brain, I think about which article I’m going to write. My problem is how to write it, so once I think carefully about the topic, I take a break. Then, the structure, sources, content, and sometimes phrasing happens in fits and starts while I’m not thinking about the article at all. It happens when I’m lying in bed, showering, and walking in the woods.

The key is to get in the habit of practicing this alternation between conscious and unconscious problem solving and to absolutely not force solutions. Sometimes, you just need to take a little break.

7. Be Candid

The last of the problem solving techniques happens during the evaluation stage. If we’re going to land on the best possible solution to our problems, we have to be able to openly and honestly evaluate ideas.

During the evaluating stage, criticism and feedback need to be delivered honestly and respectfully. If an idea doesn’t work, that needs to be made clear. The goal is that everyone should care about and challenge each other. This creates an environment where people take risks and collaborate because they trust that everyone has their best interest in mind and isn’t going to pull any punches.

Final Thoughts

In order to come up with the best solutions for problems, ideation and evaluation have to be two distinct steps in the creative process. Then, you should tap into some of the above techniques to get your ideas organized and your problems solved.

Hopefully, these seven problem solving techniques will help your problems be less…problematic.

More Tips for Problem Solving

Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Steven Johnson: Emergence
[2] Dr. Dan Siegel: The whole-brain child
[3] American Psychological Association: Creative mortification
[4] Play Your Way Sane: And What?: Yes And
[5] Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

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