Engaging your subconscious
July 27, 2015
I see a psychotherapist every week for 45 minutes, to talk about how things are going and how I feel about my life.
It’s quite possibly the most valuable meeting I have all week. I can’t overstate how useful it is to honestly explore my beliefs, feelings, and behavior with the goal of making my life happier. And without judgment.
After each session, I’m struck by how much old experiences - especially ones that I had when growing up - lead me to behave in very specific ways, today. It’s hard to point to a specific example without making this a very long blog post. But as a general example, the confident male role models I had growing up, were also jerks. So I often try not to be a jerk, by not projecting confidence. As a result, many people say I’m easy to work with, but I also know I defer excessively to other people’s ideas, even if they’re bad.
That sounds very simple, but the only reason I can articulate it that simply is that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I do the things that I do.
All the stuff that you’ve experienced, all the beliefs that you’ve built based on those experiences (perhaps while forgetting that they even happened), and so on. All the things that you might be able to point to with effort, but that aren’t in your conscious awareness. These things affect your decisions in many, many ways, probably without your even realizing it.
They may lead you to make decisions that are suboptimal because of some internalized bias. This might affect your happiness, or your business, or someone else. Your subconscious is processing a lot for you, and it’s good to aware of how it’s doing that. And how it’s biased.
In addition, everything you’ve ever learned in your life is in your subconscious. It’s the automatic part of your thinking. It’s why you can come up with answers to complex questions quickly, even when others can’t. It’s also how you solve a complex problem after thinking it over for a few days.
The subconscious is very powerful and it pays to (try to) understand it. Not everyone can, or wants to, hire a guide. What other ways can you use the immense power of your subconscious to your advantage?
How to make friends with your subconscious
I’ve found writing to be a great way of learning what I care about, and why. And I find it to be a great source of error correction, and of “thinking about thinking”. Here’s what I was thinking back then. That’s interesting. Now I have a better sense of why I was thinking that. In retrospect, I can see now what the relationship was between what I was thinking, and what was really going on. And so on.
Asking questions is good, too. Why do I feel this way? What’s the evidence for my position, and what am I really trying to accomplish here? See the third paragraph of this post for more, but I often consider the possibility that I’m wrong.
Process can be good, because it forces you to make your implicit assumptions, explicit. Let me put all the steps of this project out on index cards. Yes, yes, I know them all and how long they take. But then again, when I look at this size of this stack, I see that this will all take longer than I would have guessed.
Time helps, too.
Why? Your brain is also a huge network of associations, and the more of them that get activated, the more opportunities you have to consider different conclusions. The more time passes, the more of them you can activate; you take a walk in the woods, you sleep, you have a conversation with a friend, you watch a TV show, you read a blog post. All ways of activating different networks in your brain, and tying things together in new ways.