What is the Subconscious Mind?
Subconscious mind is a phrase you likely have heard mentioned in self-improvement and psychology circles.
What is this subconscious mind?
The subconscious is commonly used as an umbrella term.
It describes a range of information and processes stored in the mind below the level of immediate conscious awareness.
For example, when someone asks your name, the answer comes automatically and is easily available to your conscious mind.
It’s conscious because of how easily you can recall it.
Now imagine you forget your pin at an ATM.
You consciously try to remember it to no avail.
Finally, you empty your mind and allow your fingers to move without a second thought.
You get the right pin.
This would be considered a faculty of your subconscious mind because you did not consciously remember the number.
The number was known to you subconsciously and you executed it through muscle memory.
The term ‘subconscious’ was initially used by psychoanalysts and hypnotherapists.
It was later discarded in academic writing in favor of the term ‘unconscious’.
The unconscious was a term popularized by the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.
Freud popularized the widely known iceberg model of the hidden parts of our minds.
The subconscious has taken on a new meaning and can be seen as the emergent property of several brain modules.
Some New Thought philosophers believe the subconscious mind has universal connections.
Napoleon Hill, the author of the widely successful ‘Think and Grow Rich’, called this connection ‘infinite intelligence’.
The eccentric genius Nikola Tesla, who brought AC current to the world, once said,
He was likely to be referring to this lesser-known faculty of the subconscious mind to connect to some universal source of information.
You can learn more about how Nikola Tesla used his subconscious mind HERE.
Table of Contents
Habits and the Subconscious Mind
The most distinguishing factor of the subconscious mind is its capacity for habituation.
When you learn a new skill, such as walking when you were a baby,
a great deal of conscious awareness and concentration is needed.
It takes most babies over 15 months to learn how to walk with confidence and gusto.
During those 15 months you fell over thousands of times.
Each fall programmed your mind.
Each fall provided an important data-point for future iterations.
Through the subconscious’s ability to use negative feedback, you learned to walk properly.
Now as an adult, most of your walking is automatic and does not require much energy from you.
No habit is ever entirely controlled by the subconscious.
You are not a zombie and when necessary, you can regain conscious control.
For example, if a police officer tells you to walk in a straight line with your finger on your nose,
you can get out of your drunken stupor and do it (Don’t drink and drive!)
Some habits are better left to the subconscious because too much conscious interference can wreak havoc.
The pattern is seen in all processes that involve repetition:
- Brushing teeth
- Making your bed
Even the way you think can become habituated.
This is best exemplified through the dozens of cognitive biases which billions of minds are subjected to.
I hope you are now seeing most your life is run by your subconscious mind.
Whatever programming it has received will likely dictate your future decisions.
Difference between Conscious and Subconscious Mind
Explaining the difference between the conscious and subconscious mind is a difficult task because there are no clear boundaries between the two.
There is no black and white distinction between what is conscious and what is subconscious.
The two reside on a spectrum of awareness.
What was once a subconscious habit can be brought into the focal awareness of the conscious mind (e.g., biting your nails).
What was once conscious activity can be run subconsciously through repetition (e.g., driving a car).
For instance, when you learn a new language, you must apply a lot of conscious effort.
You need to pay attention to how words are pronounced, the syntax, etc.
With time, you grasp the language and can effortlessly understand conversations.
Once the language is mastered, you can’t turn off your understanding of it.
As soon as someone speaks in said language, you immediately comprehend what they are saying.
This is an example of something swinging on the pendulum from conscious to subconscious.
It’s much harder to swing the other way and unlearn something which has already become subconscious.
Many things once believed to be subconscious can be altered with the conscious mind.
For instance, the sympathetic nervous system was thought to be a function of the subconscious.
This was contested by Dutch Ice Man Wim Hof who provided scientific evidence that such a thing is possible.
These amazing bodily feats are well known in the East to spiritual seekers who spend thousands of hours in meditation mastering their minds.
The West is just starting to catch up to the mind’s potential.
Despite there being no distinct boundary between the conscious and subconscious minds, there are some observable patterns.
These patterns can help us see if we are dealing predominantly in the conscious or subconscious regions of the mind.
Subconscious vs Conscious Proccessing
The conscious mind tends to be more logical following a chain of linear causality.
A > B > C
C can’t happen before A, it must follow B.
The conscious mind follows established formulas and rules.
Therefore, the conscious mind is often referred to as the logical mind.
It operates from a rational worldview.
Things need to make sense and be consistent with what has been taught at school or from parents.
You would use your conscious mind when doing the following activities:
- Creating an itinerary
- Organizing a birthday party
- Learning a new skill
Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman describes the conscious mind as ‘System 2’ and the subconscious mind as ‘System 1’.
System 2 is slow and deliberate,
while System 1 is deadly fast.
The subconscious mind is more intuitive and chaotic.
It’s impulsive and enigmatic.
The subconscious mind makes connections from all the experiences in your life and provides you with an immediate course of action.
Malcolm Gladwell calls this ‘thin-slicing’.
Unlike the conscious mind, the subconscious does not follow rules and logic.
It is the emotional mind or feminine polarity.
How Does the Subconscious Mind Work?
The subconscious mind’s inner workings are a mystery.
There is no textbook that can show us the mechanisms behind the subconscious.
Remember, people still can’t agree on what the subconscious mind is!
All we can do is work on observed fractal patterns.
The subconscious mind’s primary goal is to keep you alive.
Therefore, many of the crucial bodily functions happen automatically without your conscious awareness.
Functions such as:
- The beating of your heart
- Regulation of your body temperature
- Digestion of food
- Activation of immune system
This automation goes past the level of bodily function into our behaviors.
The subconscious mind observes the patterns which have helped you survive.
It then repeats these patterns in other situations.
For example, if you were a straight A student during school and got praise from your parents and peers – you might subconsciously recreate this behavior as an adult.
Instead of getting As, you now overdeliver on everything.
You stay back at work to help the boss every day.
When people knock at your door, you quickly empty your wallet for their cause.
You become a ‘people pleaser’ at the expense of your own health and wellbeing.
From the outside this might look like a destructive habit, but to your subconscious it’s the best means for survival.
The subconscious mind cannot see the greater context.
It can’t see that the behavior which served you in the past might not be beneficial in the present.
It simply aims to realize whatever it has been programmed to do.
This programming can make you a Saint or Sinner.
You likely have seen some heinous acts of terrorism on the news.
“How on earth can anyone commit such atrocities?”
The people you are watching are doing what they believe is best for their survival.
For one reason or another they have picked up these extreme subconscious beliefs about life.
In their twisted world to survive and thrive they might have to kill millions of infidels.
On the other side of the coin, successful entrepreneurs and business moguls tend to have strong subconscious beliefs about success.
Elon Musk, being the quintessence of entrepreneurial success, can build new billion-dollar businesses within a few years.
This is not a fluke.
He has built up the skills and more importantly the subconscious beliefs which allow him to carry out these grand visions.
Whenever you see a repeating pattern, you can be sure that the subconscious mind has something to do with it.
Your subconscious beliefs can have you participating in jihads or building rockets to Mars and everything in between.
It is only executing the programs which you likely picked up during childhood and your teenage years.
It does not discriminate.
It’s only following orders.
You can bet your ass it will deliver results.
How Is The Subconscious Mind Programmed?
The subconscious mind is programmed through a variety of ways.
The most potent programming happens from traumatic events, authority figures and repetition.
If you have a combination of these variables, you get a Lollapalooza Effect in which the magnitude of the programming is much greater.
Traumatic Events and the Subconscious Mind
Traumatic events such as bullying, physical abuse and parental neglect can drastically reprogram the subconscious mind.
People who have endured trauma, especially during their childhood, have strong subconscious tendencies which can become malignant.
For instance, a woman who grew up witnessing the physical abuse of her mother by her father can subconsciously recreate the same situation in her life.
She might unintentionally find a partner who continues the cycle of abuse, especially if she is under the influence of a ‘fantasy bond’.
The subconscious maintains the destructive pattern as it believes it’s the best method of survival.
Another woman with a similar upbringing might develop a pattern of mistrusting men and avoiding intimacy.
There is no set response to how the subconscious reacts to trauma, but it can be identified by observing repeating patterns.
Authority Figures and the Subconscious Mind
The subconscious is also influenced by the words and actions of authority figures.
An authority figure is someone held in high esteem.
Authority figures range from presidents, celebrities and influencers to athletes, doctors and even teachers.
The most powerful authority figures tend to be parents.
Typically, your parents play the most drastic role in developing your subconscious beliefs.
Anyone can be an authority figure if their words and action influence you. Yes, even Justin Bieber.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
The father of propaganda Edward Bernays utilized the authority influence in many of his campaigns.
When The Beech-Nut Packing Company struggled to sell bacon to the masses, they called Bernays.
They asked him to develop a campaign to sell more product.
Bernays asked himself,
“Who tells the public what to eat?”
He realized it was the physicians.
Bernays then got over 5,000 physicians to sign a statement which promoted a heavy breakfast with bacon and eggs over a light one.
The petition was published in newspapers and started a shift into the now typical ‘American Breakfast’.
His campaign worked because of the authority influence physicians have over people’s subconscious minds.
Doctors, for most people, are seen as the archetypical healer who has your best interests in mind.
Social Proof and the Subconscious Mind
Social proof is a cognitive bias which pushes us replicate the actions done by the majority.
You probably felt this impulse when waiting to cross the road.
If a crowd of people started crossing, you might have wanted to follow despite not sensing it was safe.
If the same situation happened but you were alone, you wouldn’t have crossed.
What makes you cross when you’re in a group but not by yourself?
This invisible push of social pressure.
You might have heard the saying
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
If you are in a foreign country, it’s best to follow the customs and avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Go with the flow.
This impulse serves an evolutionary purpose.
It helps you survive by not making critical mistakes.
In the past, if your actions differed from the group’s beliefs, you might have been banished or worse killed for your transgressions.
We live in a world where you are unlikely to get exiled to a remote island for not following the herd.
You won’t get burned at the stake for wearing clothes that were fashionable 2 seasons ago.
However, the impulse to fit in remains.
This is because of evolutionary mismatch.
Over the course of our lives, the beliefs and behaviors of the masses largely influence our decisions.
Hence why government campaigns tend to use phrases such as
“We are all in this together”,
“Do your bit”,
and the notorious
“We need you!” (poster for the U.S. Army)
Repetition and the Subconscious Mind
The subconscious can be programmed through repetition.
If you repeatedly do something, it will inevitably become automated.
This happens in a myriad of ways:
- Speaking patterns
- Walking style
- Driving mannerisms
- How you brush your teeth
This list could go on forever.
Perhaps up to 95% of our behaviors are programmed through repetition.
If you were to retake your driving test, you would likely fail or not do as well as when you first took it.
You would think after decades of driving your skill would develop?
This is unlikely because we don’t consciously work on getting better.
We develop lazy habits and repeat them forever.
Therefore, practice does not make perfect but perfect practice does.
Humans are creatures of habit, and repetition is the most reliable way the subconscious can be programmed.
When is the subconscious mind most active?
The subconscious mind is active at all hours of the day.
Even when you are sleeping, it operates to ensure bodily functions remain stable.
What most people mean by this question is
“When is the subconscious mind most impressionable?”
Many believe the subconscious to be most suggestible during the hypnagogic state.
This is a special state of consciousness we experience before we fall asleep.
The hypnopompic state (from sleeping to awaking) is also an impressionable state.
During these states people are prone to hallucinations.
In hypnagogia, the mind’s brain waves are typically in the alpha state – a brainwave that corresponds with relaxation.
As we relax deeper into sleep, we transition into the theta and delta brain waves.
The alpha brainwave seems to be the most productive when it comes to implementing suggestions into the subconscious mind.
This is because your conscious awareness is still high enough to have a degree of control over your thoughts.
People in hypnagogia typically experience lucid dreams and sleep paralysis because of their conscious awareness still being present.
Children up to the age of 2 predominantly experience delta brainwaves while awake. From ages 2-6 they transition to theta waves, and by age 8 they experience predominantly beta waves like adults.
The early developmental years, because of the brainwave state, are crucial for a person’s subconscious programming.
Therefore, childhood experiences tend to be very predictive of future behaviors.
The Flow State and the Subconscious Mind
Another interesting state in which the subconscious mind is very active is the ‘flow state’.
This is a state of consciousness experienced during peak performance.
The term flow was popularized by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Mihaly describes the flow state like this:
When in flow we forget who we are.
We forget where we are.
Our focus is on the moment.
We become immersed in whatever activity is before us and allow the subconscious and conscious to dance without inhibition.
The flow state is not a passive, autopilot mode.
It is active and requires all your mind’s resources.
Flow happens in balance.
The task in front of us needs to be the right difficulty for our skill level.
If the task is too difficult, we get in our head and become self-conscious.
As a result, we can feel anxiety and get stuck in our head (conscious mind).
If the task is too easy for us, we get bored and lose ourselves in random thoughts (conscious mind).
If the balance is right, we can witness our conscious and subconscious minds become more active.
When you see your favorite athlete in ‘the zone’, you are witnessing the flow state.
This state cannot be possible without the subconscious mind being active.
How To Reprogram The Subconscious Mind
We have learned how the subconscious is programmed, but how do we reprogram it with the beliefs we want?
For instance, let’s assume you have limiting subconscious beliefs about money.
You grew up broke and picked up many negative associations about making money.
What process will you need to follow to remove them?
Below I will outline the method I have shown many of my students.
This method can be used for any reprogramming work and is not limited to just money beliefs.
- Get clear on the limiting belief
Most people want to reprogram their subconscious mind but do not even know what limiting beliefs they have. Before you can do anything, you need to understand what is holding you back and clearly define it. You might have several limiting beliefs for any major area of your life.
I’m afraid of making more money because people who make lots of money are unethical.
I don’t have the skills to make money because I live in a country town.
More money, more problems.
- Dig deep and find the origins of the belief
In this step you will need to remember the first time you accepted the belief or started the habit. What event led to the response? What conclusion did you make?
I started thinking making money was unethical when my dad would always complain about his rich boss who would take advantage of the ‘little people’.
I stopped believing people could make money in a small town when my primary school teacher said nothing big ever comes out of this town.
I believe more money equals more problems because of the catchy song by my favorite rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
- Decide on a belief to replace the old one
The subconscious mind does not work well with negatives.
If I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, your brain automatically thinks of a pink elephant.
Therefore, we need a positive belief to focus on during the reprogramming stage. Typically, the belief we are looking for is the opposite of what we currently believe.
Making money is ethical as it allows me to be of greater service to my community and loved ones.
I can make a large amount of money from any location in the world; big things often come from small places.
More money, more solutions; money gives me options in life.
- Choose a suitable reprogramming technique
There are several methods of reprogramming the subconscious mind including:
- Repetitive action,
- EDMR therapy,
- Psychedelics therapy,
- Lucid dreaming,
and many more.
Sometimes, using a mix of methods can be useful for removing stubborn beliefs.
There is no one-size-fits-all technique for reprogramming the subconscious mind.
You will have to experiment and see which tools resonate with your mind.
Consistency is the most important aspect as beliefs are rarely changed overnight.
How to talk to your subconscious mind
One of the most interesting concepts regarding the subconscious mind is the idea of communicating with it.
How can we obtain answers from the depths of our mind?
To answer this, we need to understand an important concept often referred to as
‘The Law of Reversed Effort’.
The Law of Reversed Effort
The law states the subconscious mind and conscious mind are inversely related.
If you are performing an action subconsciously, your conscious mind is often at bay.
If you put a lot of conscious emphasis on something, you obstruct the subconscious’s ability to help.
Harry W. Carpenter, author of ‘The Genie Within’, expressed the relationship beautifully with the following equation.
You might have experienced this when trying to remember a name.
The more conscious effort you put toward remembering, the less likely you are to remember the name in that moment.
When you let go of trying to remember (your conscious effort goes to zero), your subconscious becomes more active.
Once the subconscious is active, the name tends to just appear out of the depths of your mind.
This tells us that to get answers from our subconscious mind we should allow our conscious mind to be silent.
Hypnosis is done when the patient’s critical faculty is down so the hypnotherapist can freely engage with the subconscious.
Here is a method
There are various methods to talk to the subconscious, including advanced techniques such as lucid dreaming, but the following can be used by beginners.
- Have a question you want answered.
- Ponder the question with the conscious mind before bed.
- Forget the question altogether and fall asleep.
- Wait for an answer to come to you.
The answer can come in the form of a dream or a sudden connection your mind makes while reading a book or watching a movie.
The subconscious mind works in the background.
It utilizes the reticular activating system to filter out information which is not useful for your search.
If you want a more detailed explanation, read the article ‘How to get answers from your subconscious mind’.
How to reprogram your subconscious mind while sleeping
We already talked about the importance of hypnagogia regarding the subconscious mind.
In this section, I will outline a way for you to effectively reprogram your mind while you sleep.
The trick is to use affirmations. Simply listen to them on repeat before bed. During hypnagogia, your mind is more receptive to impressions. Therefore, it’s a bad idea to watch horror movies before bed.
The themes of the movie will likely haunt your dreams and infiltrate your mood the next day. Instead of programming your mind haphazardly with news and scary movies, you can consciously program
- Financial abundance,
Or anything else you want to work on.
Here are the steps:
- Figure out the problem you want solved.
- Find an affirmation video relating to the subject on YouTube.
- Play the audio while you sleep every day for a month.
Obviously, you should be acting towards the goal.
Nothing will happen if you just sit in your room and listen to affirmations.
The benefit of affirmations is psychological. You learn to stop doubting yourself, so action becomes effortless and automatic.
Reprogram your mind with sleep phones
I used to sleep with affirmation audios blasting from my iPad.
I then moved on to using earphones. It worked for a while, until I turned my head and the earphones dug into my ears.
I even tried having the phone underneath my pillow.
My head started feeling like it was in an oven from the heat of the battery.
I eventually found out about these sleep headphones which are wireless and wrap around your head like a band while you sleep.
They connect to your phone via Bluetooth and have great battery life; these are a game changer for subconscious mind work.
You can use them to listen to affirmations, calming music and self-hypnosis, and you can even listen to audiobooks before sleep!
If you’re serious about reprogramming your subconscious mind, this is a great place to start!
They connect to your phone via Bluetooth and have great battery life; these are a game changer for subconscious mind work. You can use them to listen to affirmations, calming music and self-hypnosis, and you can even listen to audiobooks before sleep!
If you’re serious about reprogramming your subconscious mind, this is a great place to start!
Subconscious mind experiments
There are plenty of experiments which bring validation to the concept of the subconscious mind. In many of these experiments, the subconscious is academically referred to as the ‘unconscious mind’. If you have been looking for scientific evidence of the subconscious mind read about the experiments below.
Subconscious mind experiment 1: Piano visualization
In this study two groups of expert pianists were tasked with learning a challenging sequence.
The first group relied only on physical practice and the second group only on mental practice.
Mental practice is simply another word for visualization.
The control group did not practice the sequence at all.
As you would assume, the physical practice did the best, but the mental practice group performed better than the control.
This suggests visualization can be beneficial as it can improve your performance.
This is something which has been known by sports coaches for years.
The study shows the power of visualization to the uninitiated.
Subconscious mind experiment 2: Forensic hypnosis
This next study is about forensic hypnosis and how it has been used to help various criminal investigations.
This form of hypnosis is most successful when the victim is unable to recall important information from a crime scene.
The subconscious seems to block the conscious mind from being able to remember certain things.
Presumably as a protection mechanism like the repressed memories of trauma victims.
Under hypnosis these memories can be brought to the surface and are able to be articulated by the conscious mind.
The study shows the subconscious is a storehouse of incredibly powerful information which the conscious is not privy to.
Best books on the subconscious mind
There are many books on the subconscious mind, but which ones should you read? Below is a list of 6 of the best books on the subject and a brief description of what to expect.
‘Psycho-Cybernetics’ is a book written by Maxwell Maltz, an American cosmetic surgeon who popularized the concept of a ‘self-image’. Dr. Maltz referred to the subconscious as our success/failure mechanism. He related it to a cybernetic system which shoots towards a goal through utilizing negative and positive feedback. The self-image he refers to is our inner concept which is not consistent with who we really are. The job of the success mechanism (subconscious) is to realize our inner concept. This book is a must read for anyone who wants a deep understanding of the subconscious mind.
The Genie Within
This book provides a great overview on all things to do with the subconscious mind. The author Harry W. Carpenter created the book through the compilation of many great teachings. The content was initially taught as a course and is quite profound. You will learn how the subconscious mind works and how you can effectively reprogram it. This is a great book for those looking for practical techniques they can start using.
This book documents the absurdity of our subconscious minds and how small influences can alter our actions (priming). It deals with many interesting studies and statistics and will expose just how strange the subconscious mind is. This is a great theoretical book but does not deal with practical reprogramming techniques. Leonard Mlodinow is an American theoretical physicist and mathematician with a fascination for the unconscious (subconscious) mind.
Think and Grow Rich
‘Think and Grow Rich’ is perhaps one of the most popular New Age books ever written. It is the success manual which has inspired millions of entrepreneurs. The book deals with a range of success principles but constantly refers to the subconscious mind and infinite intelligence. In the eyes of Hill, the subconscious mind has access to infinite intelligence – a depository of universal knowledge. When you are aligned with your subconscious, profound answers to some of your deepest questions seemingly appear in your mind from some unknown source.
The Memory Code
‘The Memory Code’ is a lesser-known book on the subconscious that deals with memories. Dr. Alex Loyd has done an amazing job developing a system for reprograming your subconscious mind through changing your memories. In this book, he refers to the subconscious mind as the heart and gives you practical tools for changing traumatic memories. Dr. Alex calls these damaging memories source memories as they are at the root of many disfunctions. This is a great book which combines theory and practice.
The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
Perhaps the most popular book on the subconscious mind ever written is the classic work from Joseph Murphy. This book brought the concept of the ‘subconscious mind’ into the mainstream. It has many case studies of how the subconscious mind helped heal many of Murphy’s clients. This book has a heavy religious influence and might seem repetitive to some; however, it is worth checking out.
Thriving: Tools for Self-mastery
This free eBook has a dedicated chapter on mastering your subconscious mind. It will show you 3 of the main methods used by 1000s of students to program success. The book also dives into cognitive biases, meditation, and the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. If you are serious about mastering your mind, make sure to download the book for FREE here. I wrote this after years of trial and error to reprogram my subconscious mind. If you like this article, you’re going to love this book.
The subconscious mind is the part of your mind which dictates more than 95% of your actions. Many of us are operating on hidden programs we picked up during our childhood. Reprograming the subconscious allows you to remove these destructive programs and craft new productive ones. Once you install the new programs, achieving your goals becomes easy and automatic. If you want to learn more about the subconscious mind, make sure to check out our other articles on the topic.