If you were to ask most people if they are in charge of their life, the majority of people would likely respond that they themselves were. Yet what most people don’t understand is the tremendous power their subconscious mind has on the choices they make and how they approach life on a daily basis.
In order to live your ideal life — the one you were innately designed to live rather than the one your family or society may have designed for you — it is important to learn to be more conscious of the programming you may have inherited.
The Difference Between Your True Self and the Database of Your Mind
When we are first born, we are grounded in our unique consciousness — an awareness that begins to explore the world that is our true self. This true self enters the world with a unique set of potentials (physically, athletically, musically, artistically, and personality wise) that only we could bring to the world. The metaphor that I like to use when referring to our true self is that of an acorn. An acorn contains the full potential of an oak tree, it is never going to be a maple or pine no matter what. Similarly, each of us comes with the potential to fulfill purposes that only we can.
Our unique consciousness enters the world with two incredible tools at its disposal, our bodies and the database of our mind. From the moment we start observing the world, our subconscious or implicit mind is continuously collecting information like a sponge without the need for our conscious attention. This implicit mind first forms mental models about ourselves, others, and the world. As our ability for language emerges, we then start putting words to these mental models and forming our core beliefs about ourselves and life in general. Examples of key core beliefs include: “I’m loveable just for who I am (or not)”; “Relationships are a source of comfort (or not)”; “I’m designed for a unique purpose” or rather, “I need to do what others want in order to be worthwhile.”
When we develop the ability to use language our conscious explicit mind also develops. This rational part of our mind’s database is what people are referring to when they say they’re remembering something. This part of our mind has several key advantages in that it organizes information based on logic and chronology. It is the “smart” part of our mind’s database. Unfortunately, because it relies on our conscious attention to get information into it, the explicit mind is very limited in the amount of and speed at which it can accumulate information.
Our implicit subconscious mind is a far more dominant part of our mind’s database. Because it does not require our conscious attention, it can collect far greater amounts of information than our explicit mind ever could and do it at significantly greater speeds. One of the major drawbacks of the implicit subconscious mind, however, is that it is not smart per se. When it collects information, it organizes it based on neural associations (things that occur together become linked) or classical conditioning (as Pavlov demonstrated in his work with dogs) rather than logic or chronology. Also, once an association is made, the implicit mind is not good at contextually updating this association. In other words, it doesn’t take into consideration that we may have grown, matured or gathered more resources that would dramatically change the nature of that association.
How Our Mind Traps Us
When we are first born, we are firmly grounded in our unique consciousness—there is relatively little information in the database. But as we develop, particularly as we acquire language, the information in the database grows exponentially. Instead of staying grounded in our unique consciousness and using the incredible problem-solving thinking machine that is our mind’s database to help us fulfill our true purpose, we all too often get trapped by the very mind that was supposed to help us.
As the core beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world get more and more entrenched in our mind’s database, in essence, we get enveloped by the database. We end up living life from inside the database, believing those core beliefs as if they were absolute truths rather than recognizing them as reflections of the relative health or dysfunction of our families, friends, schools, society, and media. We, unfortunately, lose sight of the fact that we are much greater than our mind’s database would ever have us believe. We lose sight of our true self or the unique consciousness with which we began life.
The path to self-actualization or living the life you were innately designed to live involves becoming increasingly aware of the programming of your subconscious implicit mind, regrounding yourself in your unique consciousness and then learning to consciously program your mind constructively. I outline this process in greater depth in my book Constructive Thinking: How to Grow Beyond Your Mind.
However, another book that I would like to bring your attention to is My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. Through the traumatic life-changing experience of having a stroke in her left hemisphere, brain scientist Dr. Taylor shares one of the most poignant examples of freeing oneself from the dysfunctional programming of one’s database and rediscovering one’s true self. Because Dr. Taylor’s stroke was in her left hemisphere, where the ability for language resides, in essence, the stroke wiped out her mind’s database (as if all the programming on the whiteboard of her mind was instantly wiped clean).
Dr. Taylor describes the ironic euphoria she experienced being freed from this programming leaving her to connect only with her true self—the unique consciousness. Through her long arduous recovery from the stroke, Dr. Taylor was given the unique opportunity to program her mind’s database consciously from scratch (beginning with having to relearn how to read and write again). She describes how she was much more deliberate about being sure to program her mind’s database more constructively, leaving much of her dysfunctional ways of relating to herself and others with her pre-stroke self. Ironically, from Dr. Taylor’s depiction, it appears that the whole experience led to deeper contentment and a more self-actualized path than she may have ever discovered had the stroke not occurred.
While Dr. Taylor’s journey is obviously an extremely dramatic case, the path she discovered — freeing herself from her mind’s database, rediscovering her true self and then learning to program her mind constructively—is the path to self-actualization. It is this path that I’m most passionate about helping as many people as possible to discover. For the greater number of individuals who discover and live their lives on the path of self-actualization the greater the exponential positive impact will be on the world.
Bolte Taylor, J. (2009). My stroke of insight. New York, NY: Penguin Group
Hayes, S (2005) Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications
Lentino, L. (2014) Constructive thinking: how to grow beyond your mind. Sudbury, MA: Grow Beyond Your Mind Press
Siegel, D (2012) The developing mind (2nd edition). New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Tolle, E (1999) The power of now: a guide to spiritual enlightenment Novato, CA: New World Library
This guest article originally appeared on the award-winning health and science blog and brain-themed community, BrainBlogger: Is Your Own Mind Trapping Your True Self?