If you tussle with varied shades of mood or anxiety, you’re constantly looking for relief resources. Far and wide we search, when one of the very best balms lies within. Know your unconscious, know yourself…
‘None of us, not even the most adept practitioners of meditation, is ever only in the present. Nor would we want to be.’
The unconscious consists of mind processes that occur automatically, going beyond our observation and examination. Included are thought processes, memories, motivations, repressed feelings, automatic skills, perceptions, habits, and automatic reactions. Perhaps complexes, as well as hidden desires and phobias.
An incredible resource reservoir, don’t you think? And it’s often minimized, if not ignored.
Picked up an interesting book a few weeks back – Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do. It was written by social psychologist John Bargh, PhD, who’s considered to be an expert on automaticity, unconscious processing, and the concept of free will.
Really fascinating material. So much so, and such a match for mood and anxiety disorder relief, that I just had to bring you the goods.
The Time Warped Reality
Dr. Bargh tags his Introduction with a mind-numbing quotation from Albert Einstein…
The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
Let that sink-in for a moment.
Bargh takes it from there, submitting that Einstein’s belief of the universe – its simultaneous existence in the past, the present, and the future – is true of our minds.
Our conscious experience is the sum of three layers of time, as they play together within our skulls. And that means the unhidden past, present, and future are smack-dab in the middle of our daily experience.
But Bargh points-out, one layer is easy to identify, while the remaining two are not.
So, yes, Bargh asserts our minds exist in all time zones – past, present, and future – at once. That includes both hidden and visible operations. He refers to it as a “multidimensional time warp,” even as it feels like a smooth, linear experience.
And then his blockbuster observation…
None of us, not even the most adept practitioners of meditation, is ever only in the present. Nor would we want to be.
The Free Will Factor
Very simply, free will is the ability to, unimpeded, choose between assorted possible courses of action. In many philosophical circles, only actions that are “freely willed” are considered deserving of credit or blame.
Those impediments? My money says they’re generated by the unconscious. And Dr. Bargh submits it’s only through recognizing the existence of those unconscious forces – the impediments to free will – that we can actually increase the free will we do possess.
This fits snugly with one of my cardinal rules for managing any troubling emotional or mental situation. We don’t stand a chance if we can’t, or won’t, recognize and accept the existence and legitimacy of the misery.
The Captain of Your Soul?
Bargh very wisely observes that each of us have a real and meaningful need to feel as though we’re the “captains of our souls.” And that means having absolute control over our lives’ outcomes.
The fact that there may be influences on us that we do not know about only means we have less intentional control than we used to believe we had, not that we have no control.
Just think how much more control you can gain by recognizing and taking account of these influences, instead of pretending they don’t exist (and so allowing them to control you).
Well, if we’re to be the captains of our souls, a reasonable question would be, “Who’s the real me – my conscious or unconscious self?”
According to the good doctor, it isn’t a matter of either/or, because they both are. He submits we can’t truly know our complete selves if we don’t become acquainted with the unconscious component and understand how it molds our feelings, beliefs, decisions, and actions.
Dr. Bargh declares our unconscious is constantly guiding our behavior, even though we may believe otherwise. Now, most of the time the unconscious is helpful, but at times it can hinder.
Still, its primary purpose is to keep us safe, and to that end our unconscious never sleeps, not even rests.
I firmly believe that – always have. And find it very comforting.
What Really Drives Us?
Bargh points-out that we have two primitive drives that subtly and unconsciously impact what we think and do. Guesses? Sure, the need to survive and the need to mate.
‘Course, in these way post-caveperson days, the drives aren’t nearly as consciously present. Still, these effects of the mind continue to crank-away without our knowledge. And they can blind us to the real reasons we feel or do things.
Thing is, though, if we can peel-back the layers of this hidden past, and expose how survival and reproduction are always at work in our minds, we can better understand what’s going-on in the present – and what to do about it.
Applying It All to Our Lives
Toward the end of the book, Dr. Bargh presents three valuable points to aid in bringing his observations and beliefs to our lives…
- Our conscious thoughts matter, which means we really do have free will. However, it’s not as full and all-powerful as we may have thought. Seeing and being more aware of hidden influences is the first step in managing them, using them for our benefit. Pretending they don’t exist and stubbornly insisting we have complete free will and control is a losing proposition.
- Acknowledging that we don’t have complete free will (complete conscious control) actually increases the amount of free will and control we really have. Sure, we’re captains of our souls, but there are good and bad captains. The good captain takes into account the winds and currents, adjusting for them. The bad captain insists that only the steering wheel matters, leading to sure catastrophe.
- The most effective self-control is not through willpower and exerting effort to stifle impulses and unwanted behaviors. Nope, it comes from effectively harnessing the unconscious powers of our minds to much more easily do the “self-controlling” for us.
Finally, Bargh brings us two pieces of sage advice…
The best way to effectively exert self-control is to turn as much of the workload over to unconscious, automatic mechanisms as you can.
Think of yourself as a CEO with a great staff. They all work for You Inc. and are all dedicated and committed to your happiness and achievement. Relax and let them do their jobs.
Let’s Close Shop
Our unconscious minds are so powerful and influential in our lives. How could we not want to acknowledge their existence and learn how to put them – the great balm – to work for us?
In closing, always keep in mind the stunning wisdom of Einstein: “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Know your unconscious, know yourself…