July 30


Who’s in Charge?

The Role of the Subconscious Mind

Imagine a day where we have to focus and concentrate on every single thing.  We have to consciously think about opening our eyelids to wake up.  Next we have to consciously think about moving our arms and hands to pull back the covers.  We have to think about using our abs and legs to sit up and pivot in bed.  Then we have to focus our thoughts on standing, maintaining balance, and taking one step at a time.

Our brains would be exhausted by the time we left the house in the morning.   Our subconscious brain takes care of all the routine tasks without having to consciously think about it.  Of course, at one point in our life we were toddlers.  We had to focus on things like sitting up and walking.  Now we do it and many, many other things without ever thinking.

Our subconscious mind makes more than 95 percent of our daily decisions.  We make decisions instinctively and automatically without conscious thought.  And perhaps more importantly, our subconscious mind often influences how our conscious mind thinks.  Our subconscious mind is an enormous database of patterns that the conscious mind uses to assess and make decisions in the moment.

We are often told, “Just do what your gut tells you!”  Obviously, our stomachs don’t make decisions.  It is our subconscious mind that gives us intuition.  Intuition is our subconscious mind assessing the situation based on past beliefs and what our senses are feeling.  Our conscious and subconscious minds work together to make decisions and determine our actions.

The subconscious mind does not actually think

The subconscious is totally without reason or logic, without judgement or criticism, without qualification or allowance. In the subconscious everything is either black or white, it either is or is not. It is, in effect, nothing more than a reactive emotional center where our instinctive resources reside, both those we were born with and those we have acquired through the process of living. It is an evaluation system that constantly weighs up every single input through our senses for every split second of our lives.

The subconscious only communicates with the conscious mind via feelings – and it uses that communication to seek to keep us safe. It appears to be able to evaluate every new input from our five senses against everything we have experienced so far in our life. If the new input matches something already experienced, then the reaction we notice will depend on the result, be it a good reaction, which might be pleasure, or a bad reaction, which might be fear.

The workings of the subconscious are completely invisible

The subconscious is completely invisible to consciousness. Absolutely nobody can feel his or her subconscious at work, so we have no way of knowing what the new input is actually being compared with, which accounts for why we might take a sudden dislike to a particular individual or maybe experience a surge of fear over some relatively minor event.

Of course, it can just as easily work in reverse; have you ever had that situation where you like something so much it confuses even you? And you end up saying something like: “Goodness knows why I’m so hooked on…” whatever it is. It can be a singularly unsuitable partner or maybe an item of clothing or almost anything.

The subconscious is unbelievably fast in its processing ability

Now this is a little complicated to take on board, but it is a fact that by the time you are consciously aware of a stimulus, an input from any of your senses, including your own thought processes, by the time you are consciously aware of that stimulus, the subconscious has sensed it, tested it several thousand times, and already attempted to instigate an action based upon it. Then your conscious mind gets in the way… and that, in a nutshell, is the origin of conflict. Your subconscious mind urging you to perform some action or other that is different from that which you consciously wish to do.

The subconscious mind often gets things wrong

It is an important fact that, although one of the primary objectives of the subconscious mind is survival of the organism, it makes mistakes about what is actually a threat to survival. Or seems to. These mistakes often show up as… symptoms. A symptom, in the context of the psychological workings of our mind, is nothing more than a behaviour pattern which is inappropriate to the situation in which we find ourselves.

The phobic response is a good example – there is usually no valid rationale, yet the fear it can generate is immense. Sometimes, these symptoms, whatever they might be, are nothing more than an acquired habit, a conditioned response. But even that has its roots in subconscious processes, otherwise we would simply stop doing whatever it is. Or start doing whatever it is we believe we cannot.

The subconscious does not listen to conscious reasoning

The thing about the subconscious is that it does not give us a chance to consciously reason our way through what it does, because it only communicates with us via feelings which govern our reactions. If we try to overcome those feelings and reactions with conscious reasoning, then the subconscious redoubles its efforts!

Have you ever tried to reason away fear when the conscious mind cannot recognize why the fear is actually there in the first place? Public speaking is a good example of this sort of thing. Many people have an irrational fear of public speaking – irrational, because, after all what can actually happen? OK, you might make a mistake and possibly forget what you were going to say… but the dry mouth, leg-quaking, stomach-churning, heart-pumping feeling of real fear that can often result at merely the thought of it is a bit ‘over the top’, if viewed rationally!

But it does not go away just because you know that. The subconscious ‘learned’ that reaction, took it on board as an instinct designed to protect you in some way, and now has no intention of letting you make any changes to it. This process is almost certainly linked into our ancient survival mechanisms from our pre-human days, millions of years ago. It is precisely because it has been perceived by subconscious that we need that specific response for survival, that it has been consigned to a place in our mind where it does not need conscious thought to operate, and cannot be interfered with by consciousness… well, almost cannot.

How can we communicate with the subconscious mind?

Communicating with our subconscious mind can be done, but it’s not easy. The funny thing is, the harder we try, the less effective we will be. That’s because the subconscious mind can only be reached when we are relaxed. When was the last time you were trying to remember something that was right on the tip of your tongue? Of course you couldn’t remember it in the heat of the moment. In fact, the harder you tried, the further away the answer seemed. Then sometime later that day, your mind relaxed. Then seemingly out of the blue, you remembered the answer.

This is a classic example of how the conscious and subconscious mind communicate.  Here are a few facts to remember.  First, the conscious and subconscious mind can only communicate when we are relaxed.  Stress and effort do not produce results.  Relaxed consciousness such as a meditative state usually works best.

Second, the conscious mind is more used to receiving messages from the subconscious mind than giving messages. The subconscious mind gathers up to 40,000,000 bits of information per second while the conscious mind gathers roughly 40 bits per second.  The conscious mind is constantly receiving signals from the conscious mind, but seldom sends commands to the subconscious mind.

Lastly, to learn to communicate in the opposite direction, we must become aware of what our subconscious tells us. This process of paying attention to our subconscious thoughts is called awareness. One of the easiest ways to increase awareness is through meditation. Don’t worry, you don’t need to learn to meditate like a monk. You simply need to learn to sit quietly and let your mind relax.


The subconscious mind plays an enormous role in guiding our lives.  It is an invisible giant that is constantly guiding our thoughts and actions. The subconscious mind works differently than the conscious mind, and is vital to our survival. We can change our subconscious patterns and beliefs.  However, we need to become aware of our subconscious thoughts and then learn to communicate with our subconscious mind.

The analogy of the elephant and the boy applies.  The subconscious mind is the elephant, and the conscious mind is the boy. The boy cannot stop the elephant. However, the boy can learn to train his elephant. And so, we can learn to train our subconscious mind for success.

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet of “The Elephant and the Boy”, you can click here to find it on Amazon.




The Subconscious Mind and Hypnosis. (1970). Retrieved on May 30, 2017, from http://www.selfhypnosis.com/the-subconscious-mind/.

Bruce Fleck, PhD

About the Bruce Fleck, PhD

I help professionals overcome a health, career, or relationship crisis and make it a turning point for building a better life.

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