The right train of thought can take you to a better station in life
I’d like to introduce you to your own best friend and worst enemy, your mind. It is an instrument capable of creating a magnificent life. As long as you remain in control, it will act as your best friend. However, if you don’t remain at the wheel, in control, it will run on autopilot. Without direction from you, it will operate aimlessly, eventually running amok, and prove to be your worst enemy. The good news is your conscious and subconscious minds work as a team and provide you with the means to lead a rewarding life. The bad news is no one taught us how to use our mind properly.
As Richard Carlson said, “Our minds can work for us or against us at any given moment. We can learn to accept and live with the natural psychological laws that govern us, understanding how to flow with life rather than struggle against it. We can return to our natural state of contentment.” The purpose of this article is to learn how we can use the psychological laws that govern us.
How our mind works
Our life unfolds, for better or worse, as our mind goes through the following three steps. 1) Things stimulate our senses and create thoughts in our conscious mind. 2) The thoughts are sent to our subconscious mind where they become beliefs. 3) The beliefs are automatically acted on, resulting in either negative or positive behavior.
For example, Mary says to her five-year-old, “Why are you so clumsy? You’re always bumping into things!” Mary’s comments stimulate the conscious mind of her son, causing him to think, “I’m clumsy; I’m always bumping into things.” These thoughts are then transferred to the subconscious where they become a belief. The result? Without understanding why, or thinking about it, Mary’s son keeps bumping into things. So, Mary’s comments have become a self-fulfilling prophecy! The moral of the story? We have to be careful of what we say to others and what we say to ourselves. In his classic book “As a Man Thinketh,” James Allen wrote, “Mind is the Master — power that molds and makes, and Man is Mind, and ever more he takes the Tool of Thought, and shaping what he wills, brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills — He thinks in secret and it comes to pass; Environment is but his looking-glass.”
Our conscious mind resides in the cerebral cortex and is the area used for thinking. We communicate to ourselves and others in an official language. For example, I’m using the English language to create this article in my mind and then transfer it to paper so it can be read by others. Our subconscious mind is located in the primitive parts of our brain: the medulla oblongata and the limbic system.
How our subconscious works
The language of our subconscious mind is feelings (e.g. pain, pleasure, hot, cold), emotions (e.g. anger, frustration, happy, sad) and images (pictures). Since our conscious and subconscious minds speak different languages, our thoughts have to be translated into pictures before they enter our subconscious. For example, let’s return to Mary who is irritated by her “clumsy” son, Tommy. “Don’t bump into the coffee table!” she shouts at her son. “I mustn’t bump into the table.” thinks Tommy. When Tommy’s thought is translated into a picture for the subconscious mind, part of the message is lost. The verb “mustn’t” is an abstraction which doesn’t lend itself for easy translation into a picture. As a result, the subconscious receives the message “. . . bump into the table.” Unwittingly, Mary’s suggestion results in the opposite behavior! To avoid programming our subconscious with the wrong instructions, we should always focus on the behavior we want, not on what we don’t want. Thus, “Hit the ball!” easily translates into a picture. However, this is not the case for, “Don’t miss the ball!”
Our subconscious cannot distinguish between thoughts that are created by external events (reality) or imaginary events. So, if I merely imagine in my mind that I’m filled with confidence, my subconscious will accept that as true. And when repeated often enough, my behavior will change. That is, I will become the person I imagined myself to be. On the other hand, we must avoid imagining negative events because our subconscious will accept them as true.
Our subconscious interprets our thoughts literally. It doesn’t have the power to reason and analyze. For instance, if I’m ambitious and wish to set goals, I may repeat to myself, “In a year, I will earn more money!” One year later, I may find that I’m indeed earning more money, but only five dollars more! What went wrong? The problem is I didn’t specify how much more I wanted to earn. My subconscious followed my instructions exactly, and stopped performing as soon as I achieved the target of earning “more” money, even if it was just five dollars. The lesson? When setting goals, be specific!
Bryan Adams describes the message that we should take home with us, “Thoughts are things; they have tremendous power. Thoughts of doubt and fear are pathways to failure. When you conquer negative attitudes of doubt and fear you conquer failure. Thoughts crystallize into habit and habit solidifies into circumstances.” Henry David Thoreau explains in even simpler terms: “Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.” Let’s start using our thought-chisels to become the person we were meant to be.