What does the unconscious mind do?

Ever wished you had an owners manual for your mind? In this blog I give an overview of the 'prime directives of the unconscious mind'. Any material on behavioural change will feature frequent references to the unconscious mind. There's a good reason for that. All change, learning and behaviour is performed in the Unconscious Mind. But what does the unconscious mind actually do and why does it cause us to think and do all sorts of random and seemingly self-defeating stuff?

Getting to grips with it can help explain an awful lot.

Prime Directive of the Unconscious Mind

1. Stores memories Both temporal (in relationship to time) and atemporal (not in relationship to time). It stores them on your timeline, however you perceive that to work, and as individual events.

2. It's the domain of the emotions This is where your emotions are stored and organised. Any processing of emotions happens here, which is why when we try to use our conscious mind for this we usually struggle.

3. Organizes all your memories But not necessarily in a logical order. Most people think of their memory like a video, where 'footage' is stored chronologically and factually. In fact, your brain separates out the component parts of information and stores them in different places according to sound, look, feel, taste, smell etc It's more like a complicated filing system rather than reviewing CCTV.

4. Represses memories with unresolved negative emotion One job of the unconscious mind is to preserve us (see 8) so when memories are too painful to deal with at a particular time, the unconscious mind will repress them so you don't have to think about them. Allowing you to continue to function (see 6).

5. Presents repressed memories for resolution. Repressed memories are those with an unresolved negative emotions. The unconscious mind can also present those memories when it's time to resolve them.

6. May keep the repressed emotions repressed for protection Alternatively the unconscious mind may continue keep memories repressed to keep you safe to maintain the 'ecology'of your well-being (see 8).

7. Runs the body All the useful things that we don’t consciously think about such as keeping your heart beating, digesting your food, keeping you breathing etc.

8. Preserves the body In addition to keeping us physically safe the unconscious mind keeps us psychologically safe too. It will come up with many complex behaviours for doing this. Do you have behaviour that you'd like to stop or one that is even self-destructive? Your unconscious mind has developed that behaviour for self preservation. It wont be a logical strategy but it will have a positive intention.

9. Is a highly moral being The morality that you were taught and accepted. What is moral to others might not be moral to you but whatever morality you have been taught and chose to accept, your unconscious mind will live by.

10. Enjoys serving, needs clear orders to follow You unconscious mind needs very clear, very direct orders to follow. It struggles with multiple conflicting instructions. One of the most helpful things you can do for your unconscious mind is give it clear and consistent orders to follow. A lot of people don't do this, telling your mind "I'm going to achieve my goal" only to tell it in the same instant "but I'll never do it I'm not good enough".

11. Controls and maintain all perceptions Both regular and telepathic. It's the unconscious mind that runs information through our 'filters', helping us perceive the world around us.

12. Generates, stores, distributes and transmits “energy” Ever noticed that when you are having fun you can keep at something all day and not feel tired? It's amazing how long you can stay focused on something when you are really engaged with it. Ever noticed that sometimes you are so bored by something you are so tired that you could fall asleep despite not feeling fatigued? Your unconscious mind controls how much of our energy we decide topics and activities deserve.

13. Maintains instincts and generate habits The desire to do pretty much anything is generated by the unconscious mind. It generates the impulses to do things, or not do things and presents these instincts to the conscious mind for planning, analysis and action.

14. Needs repetition until a habit is installed Instincts tell us to act but to form a habit we need to repeat activity in order to store it.

15. Is programmed to continually seek more and more This is why we always strive for more and why people are rarely satisfied with the status quo. The Unconscious mind is always striving to know more, learn more, achieve more (whatever that means to you).

16. Functions best as a whole integrated unit The unconscious mind is designed to work in harmony with the conscious mind. Whilst they are talked about separately and have different characteristics and different roles, they are one whole integrated unit. It's when they are in conflict with each other that we start to experience difficulty.

17. Is symbolic The unconscious mind is highly symbolic and attaches meaning to anything and everything, an image, a word, an event. This is why you will often say things like "when I achieve X it will mean that I'm good enough" or "She shouted at me, that means she doesn't like me".  We know that dreams are the unconscious processing of the days' thoughts but we often find it hard to relate dreams to our day to day experiences because our dreams are so bizarre. Their symbolic processing of our experiences can be quite confusing. 

18. Takes everything personally. There is no objectivity in the unconscious mind. We can only perceive things in relation to our own experience. Everything in the unconscious mind is taken personally, and that means everything!

19. Works on the principle of least effort Some say lazy, some say efficient. The unconscious mind will take the easiest route without always paying attention to the other issues going on around it. If we have a programme or 'autopilot' for dealing with something that is a good fit, or even a close enough fit, we'll use that rather than figure it out from scratch. Most of the time this works but unconscious mind doesn't always chose the best option.

20. Does not process negatives The unconscious  mind is like a genie, whatever you focus on, "your wish is my command". When a golfer thinks to herself "don't land in the bunker", the unconscious mind filters out the 'don’t' and focuses on what is left. So where is that ball going? You've guessed it, the bunker. You remember that the unconscious mind loves clear instructions? In this scenario the golfer has to conceive what landing in the bunker would be like. What would that look like, sound like, feel like? etc etc With all that energy focused on the process of landing in the bunker it's not surprising that the ball lands there. The same goes for telling yourself"don't screw up! So what is the unconscious mind? It's not some external force dictating our behaviour. It's an amazing part of the mind that processes all your experiences, perceptions and emotions. Basically, the unconscious mind is you.

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