By understanding the mind we can gain a better understanding of how we operate as human beings. For example, in understanding our emotions we can better use our emotions to our advantage rather than be victim to our emotions in letting them dictate our actions in situations where they least help us.
To understand the mind we need to understand its parts
The conscious mind is what you experience from day to day, during your waking hours. When you say ‘I am me’ or ‘You are tall’, this is your conscious mind at work. The conscious mind’s functions are to be rational, make lists, compare and contrast information, simple analysis and remember 7±2 chunks of information, this means that more than 9 chunks of information and the conscious mind goes into overwhelm. An example would be if I asked you to remember 10 random items as a list without using any memory strategies. The conscious mind fires relatively slowly and comes to decisions just as slowly.
The unconscious mind is everything that is processed by the mind that is outside of conscious awareness. Some examples are body functions like circulation and digestion, while other examples are more cognitive like habits and long term memory. One of the functions of the unconscious mind is to compare the present with all the events of the past to find similarities. It does this almost instantaneously. For example, if I asked you to imagine an 8 sided red sign that you would see on the street, would you be able to tell me what the sign has written on it? And would you be able to tell me what action a car driver is supposed to make? Of course you can, this is because you matched all the similarities I mentioned to your own personal history. (And for those who love quizzes the answer is at the end of the post.)
The conscious mind has no direct contact with the external world. All information is delivered to the conscious mind through the conscious perception of the five very broad categories called the senses. These are vision, sound, smell, taste and touch. An example of this is the sense of sight. The image that hits the retina at the back of the eye is upside down, this is then processed unconsciously and delivered to the conscious mind the right way up. We can now begin to understand how much there happens without our conscious awareness and that the conscious mind is a small, yet important part of the mind.
The unconscious mind, in turn, is very much like your own personal secretary, whenever you ask yourself a question, your unconscious will work at that question until it is answered. If you were to ask yourself “Why did my partner leave me?” Your unconscious will work on that, search your past and begin to come up with answers that reflect and support your self image. If you ask yourself the question “What can I learn from my day that will allow me to have a better day tomorrow?”, your unconscious will come up with answers that are very likely to assist you in having better days, if you are willing to follow through on the answers. The quality of your life is related to the quality of the questions you ask yourself and others.
By being mindful of the roles of our conscious and unconsciuos minds and the interplay between them we can ask effective questions of our unconscious and gain insight to our own emotions and how to use them for our benefit.
ps. In case you didn’t figure it out yet, the answer is a stop sign 🙂
Text: Chris McLeod