All humans have three elements to their beings: mind, soul and body. These three elements work together in fascinating ways. Your mind is not your brain. Your brain is a physical organ which is certainly affected by your mind, and scientists often try to study the brain to understand the mind, because the brain is something they can see and measure. Yet when we use equipment to scan the brain so we can measure chemical reactions and record those neurons firing, that’s like studying the size and pattern of the footprints that an invisible man has left behind on a sandy beach. The footprints were certainly caused by the man, but they are not the man himself. The man himself is a far more complex being than the prints and patterns he leaves behind.
Your mind is like that invisible man who left those footprints on the beach: even though you can’t see him, you can talk to him. When you do, you discover that he is an extremely intelligent fellow with some very strong opinions and priorities. The more you learn about how your own mind works, and more you try to treat your mind with respect, the better your quality of life will be.
Subconscious vs. Conscious
To understand how your mind functions, we’ll need to use a new analogy. Your mind has two basic compartments to it: a conscious and a subconscious. One of the incredible things about your mind is its ability to store, organize, analyze, and use mass amounts of information. When you eat a simple meal, for example, all of your senses get involved. Your physical senses–touch, smell, taste, etc.–are part of your body. Each sense is like an antenna on the roof of your car that is able to pick up certain radio waves in the air. As you eat, all of your senses are collecting loads of information about your experience: how the food looks and tastes, what is happening in your environment, etc. All of that data floods into your conscious, which is the part of your mind that you use to interact with other people. Your conscious acts like a thumb drive that collects mass amounts of data during the period of time that you’re awake and interacting with the world. The data comes in so thick and fast that your conscious doesn’t have time to organize it, but that’s alright, because your conscious isn’t supposed to organize things. Organizing and analyzing new data is the job of your subconscious.
Your conscious is like the secretary of a super intelligent CEO, while your subconscious is the big boss himself. When you walk into the office to speak to someone who is very powerful, you never get direct access to the man himself. Instead, you’re always intercepted by a much lower ranking employee whose job is to act as a buffer between the public and the big boss. In the same way, your conscious is the buffer between your subconscious and the outside world. When other people talk to you, they are talking to your conscious. But while your conscious carries on conversations, it is being constantly monitored by your subconscious.
Your subconscious listens in on everything your conscious does, and is frequently giving it directions. Imagine a secretary who wears an earpiece, and when you ask her a question, her boss is eavesdropping on the conversation and instructs his secretary how to answer you. This is how it works with your conscious and subconscious: your subconscious is constantly instructing your conscious on what to do and say.
Now just as secretaries are given very limited information about what’s going on behind the scenes in the companies they work for, your conscious is given very limited information by your subconscious. In fact, your conscious is constantly running into situations where it doesn’t have enough information to deal with a situation. When this happens, your conscious turns to your subconscious for help, much like a secretary asks her boss how he wants her to handle a certain customer.
You try to sign on to an online site, yet you can’t remember your password. This is because that information is not available in your conscious. Your subconscious is where all of your memories get stored in seemingly endless mental archives. But while your subconscious is like a massive computer with endless memory storage capacity, your conscious is like a thumb drive with only a few gigs available before it runs out of space. Because your conscious has such limited storage space, it can’t afford to get cluttered up with a bunch of data that isn’t needed. When you go to sleep at night, all of the data your conscious has collected throughout the day gets transferred into your subconscious as a big, disorganized jumble of electronic files. Your subconscious then sets to work organizing all of those files: strategically tucking them away into the appropriate folders. Your dreams are a byproduct of your subconscious going through this organizing process, which is why you dream every night (even when you don’t remember them). By the time you wake up, your conscious’ memory storage has been freed up so that it can take in all the data of the new day. This clearing out process is why you find it difficult to remember the details of what you did the day before. You’ll be able to remember certain highlights, but most of what you did and felt will feel impossible to recall. That information still exists, but it’s been filed away into the subconscious’ archives.
Your subconscious is an organizing genius. When it sorts through the new data that was collected by your conscious, it decides how important each bit of data is. Rating the importance of information depends on several factors. Two important factors are: how likely it is that the data will be needed again soon, and how relevant the data is to your safety. Once your subconscious notices that your conscious frequently asks it to pull up certain information–like your mailing and email addresses–your subconscious moves those bits of data to the front of its storage archives. The front archives are much easier and faster to access than the back, so your subconscious keeps important data at the front. But your subconscious is very efficient, and it doesn’t want its quick access drawers cluttered with files that are never needed. When your conscious doesn’t ask for certain bits of data for a while, your subconscious moves those files deeper into storage. Passwords that are easy for you to recall are being stored in the quick access section of your subconscious. Passwords that you have to struggle to recall were stored deeper in your subconscious’ archives and the delay you experience in recalling them is due to your subconscious digging through its archives to find the right data. Passwords that you totally forget are stored in your subconscious, but they are in so deep that your subconscious doesn’t want to bother digging them out. In these cases, your subconscious instructs your conscious to just reset your password.
Your subconscious is the big boss, and it outranks your conscious. Your subconscious intentionally keeps your conscious in the dark about many things, mainly to protect your conscious from getting too stressed. Ever noticed how quickly you become frazzled when you try to multitask? Your conscious can’t handle too many tasks at once. Its skill set is much more limited than your subconscious. Your subconscious is extremely good at multitasking. It is also able to make extremely complex decisions with lightning speed, and it does so all the time. Your subconscious can handle a lot more stress than your conscious can, so it works hard to protect your conscious from feeling overwhelmed by information that it can’t handle. But even your subconscious has limits, and when it gets too stressed out, your entire system suffers.
Because your subconscious oversees the management of your physical body, your physical health is negatively affected when your subconscious starts feeling stressed. Many of the physical problems that you ask a doctor to help you with are being aggravated by psychological stress. Because your mind plays such a central role in your overall well-being, the state of your mind should always be considered an important factor in determining the cause of any physical illness.
Looking for advice? You can submit an anonymous request through the Ask a Question page.