What’s the difference between the conscious and subconscious mind?

Randi asks…

“Is it the subconscious/unconscious mind that generates thoughts, which are then popped into our conscious mind for us to become aware of? Just want to fully understand how the mind works.”

Your conscious mind is like a fairly narrow spotlight. It’s bright and clear but can pretty much only focus on one thing at a time. As you use this “spotlight,” you’re feeding that information to your subconscious mind, all the time.

So you could be thinking “I need to buy more bananas,” “I need to pick up Johnny from soccer practice,” or “The world is a terrible place”… all this information is processed, sorted, matched and organized by your subconscious mind.

Resulting thoughts / ideas are then popped back into your conscious mind. When you have a quiet mind, this usually happens at the most incredibly helpful time!

There are a huge number of accounts of people successfully giving their subconscious time to work. If you have a problem, for example, it’s rarely helpful to consciously pound the problem, turning it over and over in your conscious mind.

Usually, if you just ponder a problem and then forget about it, your subconscious mind will process it and pop up an answer for you, or perhaps give you a new way of looking at it. We’ve all experienced trying to remember a person’s name (for example), and the harder you think the more it gets away from you. It’s when you give up that the answer pops out of nowhere.

This is why people often get great clarity on things when they go to bed, or when they’re in the shower. It’s when we “switch off” basically.

I remember a famous copywriter saying he would look at all the product details, look at who the product is for, and before writing a single word of advertising copy, would take a couple of days out to let it all “percolate.” He’d switch off, go fishing, just hang out, basically forget all about it. Then he’d suddenly get an angle, a way of approaching it, pop up out of nowhere.

So what we put in, we get out. This is why it’s very important to be aware of what you’re feeding your mind.

If you watch the news and read the newspapers, for example, and internalize all that negativity (only bad news is reported because it’s more shocking), this will affect your interactions with people. You’re more likely to be guarded in your manner and see everyone as a potential threat.

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

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