Almost all of what goes on in your brain registers in your subconscious.
That’s right. The vast majority of the activity going on in your brain, right now, is happening beneath the level of your awareness.
It’s a bit disconcerting at first. We like to think that our conscious mind is in charge—that we’re the captain of our ship and our mind and body do what we consciously tell them to.
Nobody disputes that our brain has some autopilot systems to help with keeping our heart beating, keeping our lungs breathing, and generally keeping the lights on, but we really want to believe—I mean really want to believe just as sure as the sun will rise each morning—that we are at the controls with our deliberate, rational, logical, conscious self.
When in fact, it’s more the opposite. Your conscious-subconscious ratio is like an iceberg where your conscious brain activity is the tiny part above the surface, and your subconscious is submerged fathoms deep. To put some numbers to this image, the general consensus among most neuroscientists is that only about three to five percent of what’s happening in your brain occurs at the conscious level of awareness. The other 95 to 97 percent happens in the vast hidden beneath.
The imbalance doesn’t end there though. Your subconscious brain is lightning fast. It can sense and react to a potential threat before your conscious brain can even get its pants on, and that gives it a kind of VIP status in your mind.
All told, this makes your subconscious brain like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room. And, as the joke goes, what do you give an 800-pound gorilla? Anything it wants. …
What Gorilla Wants, Gorilla Gets
[W]e like to think that we can override all of this. We think we can overpower the gorilla and muscle our way to success. In fact, we have a whole toolbox of conscious brain techniques that try to do just that:
Willpower?Sure, you can wrestle the gorilla. But for how long?
Goal-setting? Sure, you can tell the gorilla what you want, but the gorilla doesn’t have to listen.
Plans? Sure. Make your plans. But don’t expect the gorilla to follow them.
We simply cannot override millions of years of evolution.
You can’t muscle through or out-clever the power of your thought and behavioral patterns you’ve been building on since birth. Every time you try to change, your subconscious brain, your gorilla, is going to try like hell to bring you back to the status quo in its thinking that this is where you need to be for your own safety and efficiency.
In the face of this, you’ll probably start to rationalize why you shouldn’t go looking for trouble. You might think, Is this really a good idea? Do I really want this? Is it even possible? Do I even deserve it?
This is why goal-setting and goal-achieving are such different things, and why you can end up stuck. When you try to change, you’re out of alignment with your subconscious brain.
Goal setting is conscious. But goal achievement? Not so much. So, unless your goals involve staying safe, and doing the same, comfortable, familiar things day after day—regardless of whether they make you miserable—your gorilla is not going to be on board to help you.
That’s why the newest scientific research shows that trying harder and working longer is not the key to transforming your life. Of course, a strong work ethic is a virtue, but as this research shows there are limits, and ignoring those limits can lead to physical and emotional burnout.
That’s part of the picture. Another is if you don’t find ways to tame your gorilla—to shift that evolutionary instinctual and emotional wiring toward joining you to transcend survival and upgrade to thriving—your success will be painfully limited.
That means you need a new approach.
Let’s get the ball rolling with this simple foundational Innercise. (Training for your brain, just like exercise trains your body.)
A New Approach
It’s called “Take 6: Calm the Circuits,” and you can do it anytime in just 60 seconds. Whenever you are feeling stressed, anxious or even fearful, start with Take 6.
Do this now:
Take six deep rhythmic breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, like you are blowing out of a straw. As you breathe in, say,
I breathe in calmness, I breathe out stress.
I breathe in calmness, I breathe out fear.
I breathe in calmness, I breathe out anxiety, or overwhelm.
Research has shown that when you are under mental, emotional or even financial duress, your stress center is activated, which in turn lowers your brain’s executive function abilities.
Taking six rhythmic breaths helps to deactivate your stress response system and allows you to be in a calm and proactive mind frame versus a disempowered and reactive one. Being calm is essential to freeing yourself from the neural patterns locking you up in your mental or emotional prison.
Break Out of Your Mental Prison
Being stuck is deeply uncomfortable. You’re able to see out, but you’re not able to get out to the life you know is there waiting for you. Yet, instead of finding ways to break free, many people opt to just soothe their discomfort by creating stories or making excuses. They “rational-lies,” “Sure, I’m unhappy and I don’t like it. But I’ll make the best of it.”
The truth is we all do this to varying degrees. I just need more time. Things will get better. God is looking over me. So, we live above our means. We pretend to be happy. We surround ourselves with distractions to forget about just how off-purpose we are. If you haven’t already found out, you will—it doesn’t work.
The good news is there are proven, effective methods that do work. Ones that can take with you wherever you go in the world in pursuit of your ambitions. It starts with understanding how your brain can be changed using remarkable breakthroughs in science and how you can apply that understanding to seize the day.
About the Author:
John Assaraf is a serial entrepreneur, brain researcher and CEO of NeuroGym. He is the author of two New York Times best-selling books: Having It All and The Answer, and was featured in the blockbuster movie hit, The Secret. His brand-new book is called Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain’s Hidden Power (Waterside Press, 2018), from which this article was excerpted.