The Unconscious Mind (Sub- Conscious) and The Conscious Mind

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unconscious mind and conscious mind

We have both a conscious mind and an unconscious mind (I tend to use that term interchangeably with 'subconscious mind'). This is, of course, an over-simplification. Carl Jung, for example, said that there are two parts to the subconscious mind: the personal subconscious and the collective subconscious. Freud talked about the pre-conscious. But to avoid getting too complicated, I’m going to focus just on the conscious and subconscious minds, because these two aspects of the human mind are the important parts that we work with in hypnosis and self-hypnosis.

(As an aside, there seems to be some confusion between the terms “unconscious mind” and “sub-conscious mind”, with occasional use of the term “non-conscious mind”. I must admit that I tend to use all three terms interchangeably! I’m sure the psychology purists might take me to a task, but I just think that all three expressions ultimately refer to the same thing – processes of the mind that are not controlled or mediated by conscious awareness; functions of the mind that are not in our constant conscious awareness.)

So, what is the difference between the conscious and subconscious minds, and how is knowledge of these differences useful for us when learning and using self-hypnosis?

In simple terms!! –

The conscious mind consists of those thoughts that we are explicitly aware of at any given moment – those thoughts that we are accessing at any given moment. For example, at the moment you are consciously aware of the words you are reading as you read this article, and you may be aware of sounds around you (in the room, or outside the building). Unless you are alone, you may be aware of people around you, and you may also be aware of some physical sensations such as warmth, pain, or hunger. It is said that we can only hold about 7 thoughts in our conscious mind at any one moment. Hartland (1971) described the conscious mind as "the part of the mind that thinks, feels, and acts in the present."

The mind is often likened to an iceberg. When an iceberg is floating on the water, only a very small part (the tip) is visible above the water, while the main bulk of it is unseen under the water. So the mind can be seen as an iceberg, with the conscious mind as the tip of the iceberg, while the subconscious mind is everything else - the main part of the iceberg, being underwater and out of sight!

That means that the subconscious mind consists of everything we know but are not consciously aware of – everything we have ever learned but doesn't access at all times or hold permanently in our conscious awareness. Our subconscious mind contains all the skills we have learned as well as our habits, attitudes and beliefs, and all our memories. (It is thought that we remember every experience in our lives, but that we are unable to access many of these memories - those memories that would be too painful or traumatic to bring back to our conscious awareness. It is thought that such painful memories are 'locked away' by defence mechanisms that prevent the anxiety that these memories could cause being brought into consciousness.) The subconscious mind is also involved in the control of our automatic physical functions like breathing, heart rate and temperature control. Our unconscious mind controls our response to stress, and much of our behaviour is controlled by our unconscious thoughts, beliefs and memories.

I’ll give you two examples of the link between conscious and subconscious mind. If I asked you to tell me the colour of the door into the place where you live, you would be able to tell me without much thought – but it’s not something you constantly hold in your conscious awareness. You don’t go around constantly thinking of the colour of your door. (If for example, your door is green, you don't constantly think: “My door’s green, my door’s green, my door’s green”!) This knowledge, this thought, is held in your unconscious mind until you need to access it. You would probably also be able to give me your phone number without much difficulty, although this, too, is something you don’t hold in your conscious awareness at all times. These things are just below your level of constant awareness and are very easily brought from your subconscious mind into conscious awareness.

Subfunctional Differences

It is known that the conscious and unconscious minds work in different ways - they process information in different ways.

Once again I am going to keep this very simple!

The conscious mind is analytical and critical, whereas the subconscious mind is 'non-analytical' and literal. The conscious mind is logical, sequential, judgemental, and involved in rational quantitive thinking, whereas the unconscious mind is intuitive, makes connections between thoughts and ideas, and is involved with emotions and feelings.

This may seem like a simple and unimportant distinction, but it's actually quite important in the context of the way in which we can communicate with the subconscious mind by using self-hypnosis. Sometimes there are conflicts between the conscious and subconscious minds, with the conscious mind forming a logical reason to support a particular course of behaviour, while the unconscious mind is rooted in an emotional reason for a different course of behaviour.

In such circumstances, it will almost always be the unconscious mind that wins - because an emotional (non-analytical) reason to do something or behave in a certain way is much stronger than a logical (analytical) reason. That is why, for example, people find it so hard to quit smoking or lose weight - although they can consciously think of very powerful logical reasons to change their behaviour, the methods then used to quit smoking or lose weight fail to deal with the unconscious emotional reasons for their habit behaviours. The methods used (such as dieting, or going 'cold turkey' as a method for quitting smoking) don't erase the unconscious thoughts that led to the habit starting, and the person still unconsciously thinks he is gaining some benefit from continuing the behaviour habit.

The result is that the unconscious mind wins - the emotional reasons for their habits remain unchanged and they revert to their harmful smoking or eating habits. [Sales and marketing people routinely use this knowledge when creating adverts and marketing campaigns, because they are aware that an emotional reason to buy something is known to be much more powerful than a logical reason to buy something. Emotional reasons are referred to as ‘primary buying motivators’ - they are the ‘why’ you buy rather than ‘what’ you buy, and include things like ego, security.]

The analysis of the way the mind functions becomes even more complicated when you consider that it's also been shown that the right brain and the left brain process information differently! But knowing this is also quite helpful when using hypnosis and self-hypnosis because it makes it possible to create techniques and suggestions that are more easily accepted by the mind.

The subconscious mind is a bit like the hard drive on a computer – we install programmes on it, leave files in it, alter the way it functions. Like the hard drive on a computer, sometimes the programming carries on or occurs automatically, and sometimes programmes interfere with each other, sometimes it runs without us controlling it, and some of the programmes that were installed in the past are now no longer useful or relevant but are still installed and still affecting the way it operates!

So far so good - but what does that actually mean?

Accessing the unconscious mind

It is a cornerstone of a psychoanalytical theory that much of our behaviour – especially our habit behaviour (habit of thought as well as action) - is determined by subconscious thoughts, wishes, memories, and so on. That is to say – much of our behaviour is a series of reactions governed by our subconscious mind.

So, if our behaviour (especially our thought response habits) is controlled by the subconscious, would it not be helpful to be able to access the subconscious mind in order to generate some degree of control or re-programming?

Of course, it would! Jung said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” So, on other pages of this website, I will be teaching you some techniques to enable you to communicate directly with your subconscious mind - to make the unconscious conscious so that you can begin to take greater control of your life! By using the self-hypnosis techniques outlined on this website you can use the power of your mind to help you rather than allowing the power of your subconscious mind to control and direct your life and to damage you.

Self-hypnosis and the unconscious mind

Hypnosis (whether performed by a therapist, or by an individual as self-hypnosis) is simply a method of gaining greater access to the unconscious mind.

In hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) the conscious mind becomes very relaxed, allowing more direct communication with the unconscious mind. I like to think of it as the conscious mind being turned down (or preferably turned off!) so that communication with the unconscious mind can be achieved without critical conscious interference.

So, in hypnosis it is possible to communicate directly with the unconscious mind: in order to ask or direct the unconscious mind to do something; or to receive communication from the unconscious mind.

There are two ways of asking or directing the unconscious mind: by direct suggestion; by use of metaphor or story. Over the pages on this website, I will teach you how to do both.

Accessing the unconscious mind will allow you to re-programme your mind. You can overcome all the negative programming that has accumulated in your mind; gain a greater level of control over your habits of thought and behaviour, and create major positive change in your life!