Some people don’t realise they even have a Subconscious mind, let alone understand it! This is because we were never told or taught anything about it as we were growing up and being educated. In fact it would be true to say that we were all raised and educated as if the Subconscious does not exist.
Having said that, I have found that when I explain more about it, clients can easily relate to it because we all have a Subconscious mind, and there are times when we briefly notice its activities too.
The most common example therapists use to explain this is the driving experience. At first, driving is stressful and difficult to learn, but once it becomes habitual it is soon effortless, and it becomes quite easy to drive and hold a conversation at the same time – something we would have found almost impossible whilst beginning to learn.
All habitual drivers will have noticed that there are times when they suddenly realise that they have not being paying any conscious attention to the driving for a while, they were thinking about something else.
What they may not realise is that they had drifted quite naturally into trance, and the Subconscious was handling the driving. This is why there is no conscious memory of that part of the journey – the conscious mind had in fact wandered off, because it was not required. Often drivers worry about this, as if they were not paying proper attention, but this is a misunderstanding. The reality is, a good deal of our everyday behaviour is carried out in that way, ‘on autopilot’ as it were.
Since we have all been raised and educated in an age of Science and Reason, everything we were taught was aimed at the conscious, rational mind – as if it were the be-all and end-all of human intelligence, and the solver of all problems. This is most unfair on the poor old conscious mind, as it has never been any such thing! It is good at what it does, but can quite easily feel stressed and overwhelmed, especially if it is called upon to do several things at once.
It takes effort to maintain consciousness, we cannot do it twenty-four hours a day. As we get to the end of the waking period we notice that conscious thinking is becoming too much of an effort, and recognise that we need to take a break from that, and ‘go to sleep’.
When a human being goes to sleep, electrical activity in the brain only reduces by about 12%. In other words, only about 12% of the mind is involved in consciousness – the other 88% is the Subconscious, and it never needs to sleep. It just gets on with other things whilst the conscious mind has some time out: directing growth, healing and repair of damaged tissues, fighting off infections… and doing a bit of thinking, too. This is different from conscious thinking though. We call it ‘dreaming’ – or if we are not asleep at the time, ‘daydreaming’. You may have noticed that the conscious mind can be perplexed by the nature of dreams (if it becomes aware of them at all), for it thinks in a different way.
Your Subconscious mind takes care of a lot of things for you, so you don’t have to think about them consciously. This includes all bodily functions from your heart-rate to the release of hormones and enzymes – all carefully orchestrated by the mind, but of course we never have to think consciously about it. In fact the conscious mind knows it has no influence over such matters, and does not realise that the Subconscious does.
One of the Subconscious mind’s responsibilities is to look out for behaviour which is repeating in a regular and predictable manner, and take over the running of that for you, so you no longer have to think about it (consciously) in order to do it. This can happen remarkably quickly, as the Subconscious is very quick on the uptake, and it turns voluntary behaviour into habit with no apparent effort.
This is supposed to be an advantage, as it frees the conscious mind to focus upon other things. There is only one disadvantage: if the conscious, analytical mind later figures out that there is a problem with that behaviour, the Subconscious doesn’t know about that, and just carries on repeating it.
You may have noticed that all the conscious resolutions in the world don’t seem to change that habitual behaviour – or not permanently – no matter how much ‘willpower’ (conscious effort) you manage to muster! This is why we have the expression ‘Old habits die hard’, and many people are open to the suggestion that the problem there is a lack of willpower. It also leads to the common perception that some habits – like smoking, for example – are very difficult problems to crack. The irony of that is that the Subconscious can change it at the drop of a hat, it’s just that most people don’t know that, so instead of using hypnotherapy to provide the Subconscious with an explanation, they go on and on using methods that rarely work, with little success.
You cannot tell your own Subconscious mind anything – or at least, not ordinarily. The Subconscious is simply unaware there is a problem, or that a change would bring advantages. All the therapist really does is explain all those details to the client’s Subconscious on their behalf, so that it then knows as much about those things as the conscious mind. It is the Subconscious mind that makes the change happen, so of course the client is astonished by that on a conscious level, because the conscious mind didn’t really do anything.
It is important to recognise that the client’s Subconscious mind is completely independent, and the therapist’s suggestions are only suggestions. Many people assume – from seeing demonstrations of Stage Hypnosis – that a hypnotist has some kind of direct influence, but this is not true at all, not even on the stage. For a fuller explanation of that illusion, see the Stage Hypnosis page – but the bottom line is, those people don’t have to respond to any of those suggestions either, so if they do, they have their own reasons for doing so. The most common reason is that they want to be the centre of attention and win some applause – but there can be other, less obvious reasons too. The point is that the Stage Hypnotist controls none of it – he just knows that in any sizeable crowd, there will be a quite a few people that will respond to suggestions to clown around, and that’s all you need for a show. Then he lets the audience imagine he could get them to respond that way too, by ‘hypnotising’ them! In truth, that is an illusion in the minds of the audience. Unless they had a personal desire to play a role in the show, they would not respond that way – even if they were in the deepest trance possible! – because the Subconscious mind does not do what it is told, it does what it likes.
In therapy, there is no need for such illusion, because therapists are not pretending to have direct influence anyway. Hypnotherapy is just communication, but it goes beyond ordinary communication. When we are not in trance, the Subconscious is basically ignoring the outside world, leaving it to the conscious mind to deal with all that stuff. So if you are talking to a person who is not in trance, you are only talking to their conscious mind. This changes whenever we drift into trance, and the Subconscious mind then takes responsibility for dealing with the outside world as well as the internal world – just like it does when we are carrying out any task ‘on autopilot’.
This means that if you speak to someone who has dropped into trance – for whatever purpose: driving, daydreaming, whatever – their Subconscious mind picks up that information. This does not give you any special influence though, it merely gives you an opportunity to communicate.
Their conscious mind may hear it too, or it may have wandered off sometimes, as in the driving example. So in the trance part of a hypnotherapy session it really doesn’t matter whether the client is paying conscious attention or not, the Subconscious hears it all anyway. They literally cannot miss a thing.
If you would like to find out what your Subconscious mind is capable of, ring me (Chris) on 0161-474-8120 or call/text 07748 838 644 any time, any day. Or send an email. I'll be glad to help.
Chris Holmes is Director of Central Hypnotherapy Stockport and has been helping people from Stockport, Cheshire, Manchester and Tameside achieve their goals since August 2000.