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, that cuddles from mum means you are safe. In this stage it’s your other two minds 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 for the two most powerful functions your fully developed conscious mind can do that the other two can’t is …
- Its ability to direct your focus.
- Its ability to imagine that which is not real
It’s these two very important abilities that can change your life. Lets take a quick look at each …
Directing Your Focus
While your subconscious mind has a much stronger sense of awareness of your surroundings than your conscious mind (some suggest it’s where your “sixth sense” comes from) and is always switched on, even when asleep, it really does just obey orders from your conscious mind. 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, 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” in the night. 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.
Some people find it quite easy and natural to direct their thoughts towards a more positive outlook on life and every situation. It really depends on the type of programming your subconscious and unconscious has had since birth. For example – do you sway towards pessimism or optimism, negative thinking or positive thinking, happiness or anger, or somewhere in between? Identifying which way you sway is the start to improving it.
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 what thoughts you will allow into your mind will determine your destiny. It can literally be used for good or evil, for constructive or destructive means.
Our mental thoughts are probably the only one true freedom we have in this world that we can actually control. A man can be physically trapped in prison in absolute inhumane conditions and yet still be free in his own mind – Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela (among many others) are testament to that fact. We alone can choose how we are going to respond to our experiences in life.
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.
But the really neat trick is that the subconscious can’t distinguish between that which the conscious mind imagines and that which is real, so whatever is brought up by conscious imagination and intently focused on, also brings up all the emotions and feelings that are associated with that image in your mind for you to experience.
For example, if you’ve ever day dreamed before about winning lotto, or perhaps looked forward to being with that someone special you love, then you would have felt the joy that those thoughts had conjured up in your head, even though you knew intellectually it wasn’t physically happening at that very moment. But your subconscious thought it was happening to you, and that’s why it offered those feelings and emotions it associated with those thoughts. It truly is a marvelous gift we have!
Visualization can be used to create some amazing results. In one sporting study three groups of people were tested on their ability to improve their free throw accuracy in basketball. They were tested at the start of the experiment and at the end.
One group was instructed to physically practice free throws for 20 days in a row. The second group was not allowed to train at all. The third group spent 20 minutes a day getting into a relaxed state and only imagining themselves performing the free throws. They were also taught that if they missed in their minds, to adjust slightly and see themselves getting it the next time.
At the end of the experiment the results were incredible. The group that physically practiced each day improved their score by 24%. The second group who didn’t practice understandably didn’t improve at all. But the third group, who had only visualized doing it, actually improved their score by an amazing 23% – nearly as much as group one! Don’t under estimate the power of the conscious mind.