Do you think you are really in control of your mind and behavior? Our conscious subconscious mind is like an island poking up through the ocean. We are familiar with the land, we think of it as “the island”. Underneath, beneath the surface, there is a lot more territory.
The term subconscious mind can mislead us (it is not “sub” to anything), but it’s common to think of it like this. That we are in control of some of our thinking, while there are many other desires and programs running the show. Or, as Richard Bandler once suggested we are chained to the back seat of our bus, while a madman drives.
NLP generally uses the “unconscious mind” to separate what we are aware of and what we are not. For example, we are not aware of unconscious thoughts and feelings, skills, habits and automatic reactions.
When we talk about the conscious mind, we usually mean executive control. This is the conscious subconscious mind island above the waterline. It’s the part of us we know best. What are you attending to now? Maybe you are reading these words, and maybe you are paying more attention to how your body feels. What is in the foreground and what is background?
When we first learn to do something, we have to do it consciously. When I first learnt to drive, it was overwhelming. There were so many things to pay attention to. We call the stage of doing a skill consciously conscious competence.
We can choose to create a picture of an elephant consciously. Intent is an important part of conscious awareness. An animal responds to cues – see food, go for it. Mostly (hopefully) we do more than this.
Our working or short-term memory isn’t the same thing as consciousness, although it’s an important part. Our ability to chunk information (see NLP Glossary – C) determines how much we can process consciously. George Millers work demonstrates our limited ability to process about 5 – 9 chunks of information.
In hypnosis, we know the conscious mind as the dominant hemisphere – the bit you want to occupy. Of course, the idea of dominant/non dominant hemispheres is metaphoric. We don’t have one side of our brains being conscious and the other unconscious.
Subconscious (or Unconscious) Mind
The other part of our conscious subconscious mind island is the things we do without thinking. Often it seems like this is the part in control.
If I consciously want to stop playing computer games, I may have many reasons to give up, but some other part of me has a different agenda. My conscious willpower is no match for my unconscious need to immerse myself in that other world.
Your conscious mind doesn’t need any more reasons to give up smoking, it’s the unconscious mind that needs to change, and sometimes it doesn’t know how.
We can control our automatic responses like our heartbeat indirectly. We can think about scary situations and increase it, or go to our calm place and reduce it. Eating and not eating certain things can alter our chemistry. Refined carbohydrates increase serotonin for a short time. Caffeine can increase heart rate and nervous system activity.
Subconscious logic can be more powerful than any amount of rational reasons. This is why it’s so difficult to change habits sometimes, and why processes like NLP and hypnosis are so successful. We need to create new pathways in our brain for instance by programming a strategy, using NLP techniques, or using hypnotic suggestion.