How to Get Your Own Cooperation: Taming Your Subconscious Mind
Despite good intentions, it seems a part of you, in certain areas, opposes your wish to stop an unwanted behavior or to implement a new one.
Whenever you want to do one thing and do another instead, most likely, you’re experiencing incongruence between the goals of your “conscious” and “subconscious” mind. How can this be? It’s possible because different parts of the brain have very different assigned roles.
One way to understand this is to conceive of the mind as having two main parts, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Your conscious mind is the part that helps you plan, choose, reflect, dream, execute plans, and so on. In contrast, your subconscious mind is in charge of running the body, and all the processes you do not have to consciously think about, cardiovascular, respiratory, emotion, memory, etc.
This means the subconscious is in charge of your survival and the formation of habits. Thus, when it comes to any change, it requires the cooperation of the subconscious.
The subconscious mind is the operating system of the body, like the one on your computer. Your subconscious mind is hardwired with knowledge on how to operate the body. It knows what you need to physically survive, which is its primary directive, and it also knows what you need to thrive, to find purpose and meaning in life.
In running the body, the subconscious performs two overarching and interconnected tasks: its first task is to ensure you physically survive; and its second is to ensure you emotionally thrive.
These two dynamic processes work together 24/7 to maintain balance, or homeostasis, both in and between the physical and emotional systems of the body. The motivating influence or drive of each of these forces inherently produces tension. Seemingly, these drives work in opposition to one another, for example:
- On the one hand, the powerful drive to survive activates the “fight or flight” response whenever it receives a signal that you perceive a “threat” to your physical survival. The drive to survive tells you to protect yourself, to put up walls, to run away, to hide, in other words, to do whatever necessary to survive as a person.
- On the other hand, there are other very powerful emotional drives in you, higher hard-wired instincts to love, to be seen and valued for who you are as a person, but also to meaningfully connect in relation to others and life, to self-actualize and contribute, and so on. This drive to thrive tells you to be open and vulnerable, to share, to see and to be seen, to flow in your giving and receiving, in other words, to do whatever is essential to form emotional intimacy, closeness and connection.
Since the subconscious, on its own, makes no distinction between a physical and an emotional threat, however, it reacts to your not feeling emotionally safe in certain situations in the same way as it would facing a physical threat, such as a tiger in the jungle.
In other words, when your survival response is activated, it high-jacks your thinking brain. You may want to de-clutter, yet throwing things away does not feel safe. You may want to drop weight, yet giving up old ways of comforting yourself does not feel safe. You may want to stop making excuses or telling lies to defend yourself, yet being yourself or honest does not feel safe.
It may not make sense to your conscious mind, however, it makes perfect sense to your body. You may not know the reasons, your body does. It holds certain emotion-laden beliefs in its memory cells. It is emotions, and not logic, that shape behaviors. They fire the neural patterns that determine whether you take action, and what action you take.
If logic shaped your behaviors after all, making changes would be as simple as brushing your teeth, right? (Qualifier: This does not apply to those who may regularly “forget” to brush or brush so often the enamel is wearing thin!)
So, what is the problem? Your subconscious mind, based on beliefs imprinted in memory cells from past experiences, is misinterpreting incoming data. Whenever it perceives a situation as a “threat,” it blocks change. Your defenses, by design, also promote distance to help you feel safe, and prevent the conscious and subconscious parts of your mind to work together cooperatively, as they are designed to do.
In sum, this “safety” feature of your brain is blocking from reaching your higher drive goals for agency, integrity, connection, contribution, life purpose, and so on—and you are hardwired to do more than survive, to also thrive!
Here’s where emotional mastery plays a vital role in helping you open your heart, step out courageously to face these old survival fears, one by one, and rewire your brain.
Literally, you can tame your subconscious mind by using certain emotional tools to “persuade” your body’s operating system that you can handle your fears, that you are okay with feeling painful emotions, and, most importantly, that, from now on, you can handle your emotions—and no longer need to be rescued!
Question: Are you willing to work on your fears and build courage in the process?
More on the subconscious and your love relationship in the next post.
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Staik, A. (2011). How to Get Your Own Cooperation: Taming Your Subconscious Mind. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2011/01/how-to-get-your-cooperation-taming-your-subconscious-mind/