You are not aware of 99.9999% of what your nervous system is doing. It not only keeps your brain working, it keeps the rest of your body working. It keeps your heart beating, your stomach digesting, and your eyes seeing. In addition, all the memories you take in everyday are recorded in your unconscious.
Now this is interesting. We do not record the actual event, but our version of the event, and then we call it the “truth”, not “our” truth, but “the” truth. When you think you are experiencing the way life really is, you say, “I see the way life really is”. And I say “No…I see the way life really is”.
We’re both wrong.
The reason for this dichotomy is found by looking a part of your mind I like to call the creative subconscious. Of the many functions we know, we will look at only one in this article. That function is to make sure that what you do, and how you think lines up with your self-images.
Notice I said self-images. We don’t have one self-image; we have hundreds of thousands; one for everything we do. You have one for how you see yourself as a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a cook, an athlete, or a dancer.
All of these are stored in the subconscious. So, if I see myself as shy, I don’t need to remember to act shy.
My subconscious makes sure I act shy. In other words, its job is to make you behave like you think you are to make sure you act like your self-images. This is called “maintaining sanity.” Once you know who and how you are, the subconscious automatically takes over. It makes you behave like the person you think yourself to be.[i] You never need to remember. So, if you are outgoing and gregarious, you do not have to remember to act outgoing or gregarious. You just will be. When you know who you are, you do not need get up in the morning and remember to be that way. Your subconscious makes sure you behave like you think you are.
The Downside of the Creative Subconscious: However, there is a down side to this. Your creative subconscious does this without ever asking if what you think about yourself is true. It does not care.
Its job is to make sure that you act like you believe you are. This alone explains why change can be so difficult.
As the best way to teach this is through true-life stories, I’ll share with you how I did not, and did lose weight.
My father was very young when he died thirty years ago, and as Mary and I drove away from the memorial service, she said to me, “If you die early, I’ll kill you! I want to us to enjoy our life together growing old.”
I was about thirty pounds overweight; so, on the Monday following the memorial service, I got up early and ran for thirty minutes, and did that every day. I also limited my diet, and by the end of that first week, I had lost three pounds, which is a lot in one week.
However, on Saturday and Sunday, I gained all the weight back by Monday, and I did that for twenty-five years.
The reason is that when I said to myself, “You are a two-hundred thirty pound man who needs to lose thirty pounds,” my brain simply said, “Okay, you are.” (Because as we have already learned in this column, your brain believes and accepts and acts on everything you tell it). My creative subconscious then made sure that I ate and exercised like a two hundred thirty pound man, whether it was good for me or not. That is its job.
After studying what I am sharing with you here, I changed what I was saying to, “I love weighing only two hundred pounds because it makes me feel so great about myself.”
Now at first, my brain protested that I was just playing another one of those mental games and lying to myself. “You are not two hundred pounds. You will always weigh two hundred thirty pounds. So just give up.” But I said, “No, I see myself as weighing two hundred pounds right now, and I’m going to lock onto that image when I exercise, when Saturday and Sunday come, and every time I sit down to eat.”
Over time, I did find myself eating and exercising like a two-hundred-pound man. Why? Because I had learned how to override the image of a two hundred thirty-pound man to one who weighed two hundred pounds. My creative subconscious then caused me to eat and exercise like one. And over the years, the weight came off.
Stephen Covey devotes an entire chapter to this in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” He calls this “Begin with the End in Mind.”
Now of course there is a lot more to this that we will be exploring in this column, so hold onto your hats, there is much more to come!
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Steven R. Campbell, MSIS
Mr. Campbell is an award-winning author, speaker and mentor to individuals and organizations. Known as “the Brain Whisperer,” he teaches how your mind can be your greatest adversary and, when understood, can be transformed into your greatest friend and ally. He wants to help shift the mindset of Chopsticks Alley readers. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Zoology from San Diego State University and a Masters in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco and has been exploring and teaching the discoveries of cognitive psychology in various universities and colleges for over 25 years.