The Human Mind – How does it all work? Part 1

Just how does the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind work? And what is the difference between them?

In these series of articles we’ll have a look at how the three minds – conscious, subconscious, and unconscious – work together to create your reality … and how to use that knowledge to change your habits and create a happier, more peaceful and confident you.

A Walk Through the Human Mind

The concept of three levels of mind is nothing new. Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian psychologist 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 3 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, a bit like an iceberg where only a fraction of it is showing above the water. It probably represents about 10% of your brain capacity.

Below this is a slightly larger section that Freud called the preconscious, or what some refer to as the subconscious. It is much larger than the conscious mind and accounts for around 50-60% of your brain capabilities.

The section below this is the unconscious mind. It occupies the whole width of the base of the triangle and 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.

Conscious, subconscious, unconscious mind image

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 the 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 had 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 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, as filtered through your beliefs and habits. It communicates through feelings, emotions, imagination, sensations, and dreams.

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 you 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. For those who don’t know, 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. It is much faster than other types of memory, such as the hard disk or CD-ROM.

Your subconscious works in the same way. Any recent memories are stored there for quick recall when needed, such as what your telephone number is or the name of a person you just met. It also holds your current programs that you run every day, such as your current recurring thoughts, behavior patterns, habits, and feelings.

Your unconscious is like the hard disk drive in your computer. It is the long term storage place for all your memories and programs that have been installed since birth.

Your unconscious mind (and ultimately your subconscious mind) then uses these programs to make sense of all the data you receive from the world and to keep you safe and ensure your survival. The logic of these two minds is that if it worked in the past and you survived, then it will help you get through similar situations by the same means, no matter how misguided, painful, and unhelpful the results may be to you personally in the outside world.

The Journey Begins

As mentioned, these sections and their functions have been hotly debated over the years by many other psychologists, philosophers, and scientists, because it’s very hard to empirically prove they exist. Despite all this, I still find it a great analogy to use, and at the end of the day if it works for you and makes sense, then that’s all that matters.

Now lets take a journey a little deeper into each one and see what functions they perform and how they can be used to create change in ourselves, have a read of part 2 … The Conscious Mind

Note: This article is part 1 in a series of 4. To read the rest click on the links below …
The Human Mind | Part 2 Conscious | Part 3 Subconscious | Part 4 Unconscious


  1. mikey says

    Thank you so much, but i beg to disagree on the subconscious mind’s analogy, i look at the subconscious mind as the hard drive instead of RAM. cause RAM is volatile memory but the subconscious mind is not!

  2. Retseem says

    I’m missing the collective conscious mind. If you compare this with a computer it’s like the backup of the whole hard drive (the unconscious mind) in the cloud (in the network).

  3. says

    Very nice article. Though, empirically unproven, If you believe you can get everything you want.
    A wise person once told me that a logical person is not successful in life. But a faithful person does :)
    Thanks for the article.

  4. says

    I’ve been looking for an article with clear definitions and distinctions of the subconscious vs unconscious mind, I really enjoyed your article.

    Thank you!

  5. hameed says

    I am trying to find what is mind and and its behavior this is helpful to me thank you very much.

  6. Jeff Thomas says

    Hi there Anon,

    Sounds to me like your subconscious is not ‘engaged’ enough to want to remember stuff. You said you remember “interesting” stuff and that’s about it, so I think that is a key right there. Have a read through the rest of the articles on the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious (there are 4 articles in a series) and then check out my latest article series on using focus…

    Hope that helps a little.


  7. says

    hi, nice introduction but kinda *more curious, what if i lost my subconscious and and the only working is conscious and unconscious? its really hard for me to deal with my own self, the only working hard is my unconscious mind and my subconscious mind is really hard to insert in my mind the name of a place, person, animal, food, etc. the only thing I remember is the INTERESTING things but those nonsense or either in my class, i always want to remember the things from yesterday to present but i always forgotten, i only remember it if someone mention it. I MEAN, I Memorize it, but inside of my mind said “that’s not important, forget about it” then its automatically erase, until i forgot it. but once i want to recall it, i can’t remember. my IQ is Good not bad, and its very nice but its feels like, i am nothing.

  8. says

    thanks for these tips, I have studied for many years about the subconscious mind and from experience I will tell you that many people do not know what they’re missing when not using your subconscious mind, I write about these issues especially in how to have succeed in any area of your life,money,love,work ,health, if you’re interested take a look at my blog thanks greetings

  9. 9835666608 says

    nice feeling to know about consious,subconcious,unconcious.
    l am from india(patna,new atwarpur).

  10. Rocky Fjord says

    This varies from other explanations found on web from notable sources, however I tend
    find this definition and conception a better fit for what happens in the mind. Wm James coined the term “stream of consciousness.” A leap of insight that has added understanding.
    But what really is streaming is not coming from what we are presently rationalizing or focusing upon, but the stream is coming from the [using the terms here] sub-conscious and
    then unconscious as well. I believe that under extreme stress or trauma, the unconscious, and including that which was repressed, can be released or streamed to consciousness.

  11. Jeff Thomas says

    Very true Naran … the mind is just the starting place. We are all connected to a super conscious, if you like, which we are surrounded by every day without knowing it. Some minds can tap into it with ease and manifest all kinds of things, while others remain firmly shut. Its just like the fish in the sea … they don’t see the water they are swimming in – to them it’s just the world they get around in. For us, we don’t see the gases and energy surrounding us everyday that we are swimming around in. But just like the sea, it is connected all around the world (and beyond), and if your mind (which itself is made up of similar matter and energy as all other things) can tap into that unified intelligence as you put it, truly remarkable things can transform.

  12. says

    Thank you for specified details,there is however something beyond the capacity of our mind.Perception linked to current unified intelligence.

  13. Ved Prakash Dwivedi says

    when we r child we dont know anything we see everything with our eyes with the passage of time we grow up n start reacting with everything it means nothing was in our mind we are told the things and are made familiar,this is the process of our mind i m confused really i want to know in detail the function of our mind.


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