How to Transform Your Subconscious By Working WITH It
At every stage in your life, no matter how motivated, successful or dedicated to self-improvement you are, you will probably make at least one decision, but more likely a series of decisions, that completely subverts your intention or goal. You fail to make the call, get up early, workout, or make healthy eating choices. You procrastinate at work. You’re up late working, again. You buy another packet of cigarettes, or sabotage relationships with a behavior you know isn’t healthy.
You want to change, you really do. It’s not like you don’t know what you have to do to change. What’s more, you even set affirmations, goals, block it out in your planner and declare to others you’re really going to do it differently this time.
Except that you don’t.
At all stages of self-development, I would venture to say that the majority of us have at least one area of our lives where we are making decisions that are completely antagonistic to our goals.
And no matter how many self-help books you read, there is no magic formula that that will turn you into enough of a spiritual self-development badass that you will never get in your own way again.
The reason you make these counterproductive decisions is largely to do with your subconscious and God bless it, it means well. It does. No, really.
It thinks its job is to protect you. It’s sweet. A little misguided at times, but sweet.
No matter how hard you try to resist it, you can’t switch it off forever, you can’t ignore it and you can’t try to drown it in a sea of affirmations.
It’s like trying to start a herb garden in a garden bed full of weeds.
Sooner or later, that herb garden is going to get choked.
And even if you pull the weeds out, guess what happens?
The fecking things come back next day.
(I know this because I started a herb garden recently.)
Now, before you get disheartened by this, here’s some good news.
What if I told you that you never have to “fight with” your subconscious again?
You never have to ignore your subconscious when it’s screaming at you to keep you safe. (I’ve found that when you do that it just keeps getting louder and louder.)
There’s no more exhausting mental battle between what you truly want in your heart (to get up early and exercise before work) and what you end up doing (sleeping in and grabbing a chocolate croissant for breakfast on the go).
I believe that instead of constantly battling our subconscious and limiting beliefs, if we can instead work with our subconscious, negotiate with it and seek to understand it, it can actually become our most powerful ally.
I know I seem more like the Liz Lemon type, but deep down inside I think I’m more of a Jack Donaghy. (If you don’t know who those people are, you need some 30 Rock in your life stat). And when I saw just how powerful my subconscious was at causing my downfall, I didn’t want to destroy it: I wanted to hire it to work for me. My adversary became my biggest asset.
When you can do this, you will find that establishing consistent habits for ease and success in your life becomes almost effortless. There will be no more “resistance” around your subconscious and limiting beliefs – which as you know is important because what you resist, persists!
First, understand what your subconscious is and how it works
If you’re tired of standing in your own way and sabotaging yourself as you’re starting to make changes in your life, you first need to know that more motivation or self-discipline will never fix the problem. It’s more complicated than that. Way more complicated. You could have Tony Robbins’ motivation and still not follow through, because you’re hitting a brick wall with top speed acceleration.
Let’s look at things from a neuropsychological perspective, shall we?
All human behavior is driven by two things:
That’s it. That’s all. The two drivers behind the way we act out our lives come from the thoughts we have and the emotions we link to those thoughts.
This is based on the cognitive model i.e. Situation -> Thought -> Emotion -> Behaviour
In other words:
You see the beautiful pair of shoes on sale with a sign that says ‘Hurry! Last pair in stock!’
You think I need to have those shoes – and they’re the only pair left!
Then, you feel desire for the shoes and panic that if you don’t buy them now, you will miss out forever.
You buy the shoes.
So where do these thoughts and emotions actually come from? What separates my thought and emotional pattern from, say, Oprah’s or Deepak Chopra’s?
The thoughts and emotions you experience on a consistent basis are determined by your core beliefs, which drive the powerhouse of your subconscious. The road to your subconscious is paved by neural pathways, links in your brain that connect the components of the cognitive model with your beliefs, or your subconscious.
These neural pathways were formed in your subconscious as a result of your past conditioning, which happened when you were very small. They were designed to always keep you safe and out of trouble.
But how did your subconscious form these beliefs?
It started during the early, “unconscious” period of your life, estimated to be between the ages of 0 to 6. Remember, as a tiny baby you were a completely blank slate. You were utterly unprogrammed, without a memory or a manual for operating yourself. You completely lacked any sort of framework for understanding, processing or safely navigating your environment.
EVERYTHING you know, you had to learn from scratch, until what you now recognize as your consciousness fully developed.
During this “unconscious” period, you were a super absorbent sponge. You soaked up absolutely everything and you were learning how to keep yourself alive and process your environment. Without your subconscious, you would keep trying to touch hotplates, pull the cat’s tail or say ‘fart’ in front of your Nanna. But based on the experiences you had where you learned that something was unsafe or unacceptable, you don’t do that anymore.
This is because your subconscious, which has been with you from Day 1 in a form of sorts, stored a close call, or a life lesson that you had in early childhood, kind of like a browser does with cookies, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every five seconds for the rest of your life. It’s kind of like the ‘cause and effect’ command center.
During this highly impressionable stage, as well as learning the important things for keeping yourself alive and out of danger, you also absorbed some limiting beliefs as a result of your environment which you easily-influenced little mind took as absolute gospel.
From there, you would have created some very strong “rules”, or beliefs, about life. These were entrenched so emphatically that they created strong neural pathways in your brain. Over time, these persistent trains of thought became your “subconscious mind”. Sometimes, in fact, many times, these neural pathways are helpful. Other times, however, they become troublesome, particularly when they involve thought patterns or behaviors that don’t serve us.
So why is it so hard to make changes that stick?
The neural pathways that get created in your mind are a real thing. They are actual electrical impulses in the brain – information superhighways, or shortcuts, which link a situation to a reaction at extraordinarily rapid speed.
Like an old obsolete highway that doesn’t get used anymore, eventually, a neural pathway that is no longer used will fall into disrepair and break down. However, this can take months to achieve. This is why it can be so tricky to create instant change around a limiting belief. You might take in information and get it instantly on a conscious level – after reading a self-help book, for example. You’ll feel like you’ve had a breakthrough, and excited about all the changes you’re going to make.
However, the subconscious mind is trickier to convince. Sure enough, despite your very best intentions and knowledge to the contrary, you’ve slipped back into your old patterns.
Your subconscious: Oh sure, you read that book about manifesting abundance 10 minutes ago, and it’s great and all, but remember going to church when you were five and the minister’s favorite sermon was “Money is the root of all evil”? (You probably don’t, but your subconscious does.) You don’t want to be evil, do you? You’re not an evil person. You’re a good person.
This is how your subconscious works. Without understanding this, it is so easy to feel frustrated, be critical of yourself or slide back into your ineffective patterns despite your best efforts. Unfortunately, this just reinforces the cycle as your subconscious is always collecting evidence to support its belief system.
There are two keys to working with the resistance your subconscious mind creates around something:
There is always a positive intention motivating ALL of your behavior: The intention of your subconscious is a favorable outcome (whether it’s favorable for us consciously or unconsciously). In other words, you gain something whenever you act out a particular pattern or behavior. You might not think this behavior serves you but deep down, on a subconscious level, it somehow does.
The subconscious mind will go to any lengths necessary to protect you and the beliefs or “rules” it has formed to keep you safe: Think of your subconscious like an overprotective helicopter mother that views you as a toddler wobbling around in a room of sharp corners at face height. In fact, it is always on the lookout for information to support your current beliefs, so that you will always stay stuck in your old behaviors.
Now that you know the reason you’re self-sabotaging is actually kind of because you are taking care of yourself in a weird sort of way, removing the resistance in your subconscious becomes much easier. You are now able to flow with it and gently guide it to where you want it to go, rather than trying to swim upstream.
#1: Recognise the resistance
The first and most important part of the journey is awareness. When you find yourself sabotaging, second-guessing, procrastinating and blocking, stop and bring awareness to that space of resistance. Remember that where such patterns of resistance exist, your subconscious mind is probably the mastermind behind it. Usually, it’s able to be the puppet master behind the scenes pulling strings and it has the advantage of subterfuge to sneak past your conscious understanding. However, when you can identify that there is resistance or a limiting pattern, you bring your subconscious into the conscious mind. There, it is far easier to deal with.
#2: Understand what your subconscious is trying to tell you
Whenever you feel resistance, are sabotaging or blocking, or engaging in any negative pattern loop, remember this important thing. Your subconscious is trying to tell you something. It is trying to keep you safe. There is potent wisdom here: a lesson that keeps being drawn into your life.
So, approach the resistance you’re coming up against with curiosity. Let your subconscious mind make its point. Hear it out patiently and with compassion, as if you are trying to hear out someone’s side of an argument, with the intention of understanding. Ask yourself:
I’m curious to know what it is about this situation that is triggering me.
What am I afraid of here?
Where else do I notice this pattern in my life?
What purpose did this resistance once have? How did it solve a problem?
What do I gain by self-sabotaging? How is it serving me?
Approach this step with curiosity, wonder, and non-judgment. It might be helpful to use a pen and paper and write out your responses to these questions or type it out in a Word document so you can read through it. Brain dump and don’t edit or censor. When you write what pops into your head without censorship or editing, this is your subconscious speaking authentically.
#3: Feel the emotion that surfaces as you bring this resistance into the light
Remember, this process of bringing your subconscious to the fore may bring a lot of stored up emotion, even emotion you thought you had dealt with, to the fore. You may even start to cry, or shake with anger, or even want to scream. This is a common part of the process and it is normal.
The most important thing for you to do is honor the emotion. Take the time to be present with it and hold space with it. Moving through the emotion with integrity is an important step in being able to work with your subconscious.
#4: Release the judgment
Oftentimes when we procrastinate or antagonize our own goals we can get caught in a cycle of self-berating and beating ourselves up for not following through. It’s time to let yourself off the hook a little bit. Release yourself from the bondage of that torment. Try using releasing statements such as “I forgive myself for procrastinating” or “I missed my workout today and that’s okay”. It may seem counterintuitive, but this will actually stop the self-flagellation in its tracks, and you’ll breathe easier. You won’t waste energy, thoughts and emotional resources getting wound up in a cycle of self-criticism that is gasoline on the flame of your limiting belief. That energy instead can be directed toward moving forward.
#5: Make your subconscious a promise
Make a commitment to your subconscious that you are going to work with it on this.
You could write it down in your notebook or in your Word document. Put forward a proposal.
“Subconscious/Ego/inner me/whatever, I know you and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye in the past, but I’d like to work with you on this. I think with our powers combined we can come up with a way forward which meets both our needs. I promise you that if we work together, I will make sure to honor your positive intention.”
It may seem silly, but it’s a powerful mind hack! Declaring your intention will set powerful things in motion. Your subconscious will love it, trust me!
Now brainstorm some alternate ways to meet the positive intention that your limiting belief originally served. These ways should not be destructive, self-limiting or sabotaging.
#6: Respond to objections
Your subconscious will likely have some concerns about working with you. This is normal and natural. After all, it thinks it knows better.
These concerns usually come in the form of “What if” questions.
But what if…
… I make a fool of myself?
… People get upset with me?
… I get hurt?
… I fail?
… Something goes wrong?
Write these questions down as they come to you, unedited and uncensored. If you’re writing in a notebook, make sure to add a lot of space underneath each question.
Now it’s time to challenge them. This is an extremely powerful tool. I used it a lot when I was overcoming anxiety, which is basically the Ego out of control. Challenge each subconscious objection with logic, or rationality, as if you’re the opposing side of a debate team, or cross-examining a witness on trial.
What is the likelihood that this really will go wrong? Is this a realistic fear?
If it did go wrong, what would the consequences be? How would I handle them?
Sometimes the subconscious will put forward self-defeating negative statements, such as ‘I’m too lazy to do what it takes’. Challenge these too. Are you too lazy? Really? Transform the statement into a question, so that ‘I’m too lazy’ becomes ‘Am I too lazy?’ It’s much easier to challenge.
Finally, the last technique I like to use to challenge subconscious objections is to use the ‘positive’ what if reframe. So, when my subconscious asks:
What if it goes wrong?
I counter with:
What if it goes well?
What if I don’t win?
What if I do win?
These reframes instantly put me into a more resourceful, empowered state. I’ve taken my subconscious out of the frame of finding fault, focusing on the worst case scenario and stress into getting excited about what would happen if I followed through and it turned out for the best.
#7: Find positive examples
Find positive examples of people who have already “done the thing” that your subconscious is generating resistance around. For instance, let’s say you and your partner want to start a family. But one of your subconscious blocks around starting a family could be that you can’t be a mother and still travel the world or have a fulfilling career.
Luckily, the internet is a pretty awesome place for finding examples of women who are successfully balancing motherhood and career, or families with small kids who travel the globe full time. Show your subconscious that even though right now you are afraid of something, there are plenty of times it’s worked out for someone else.
#8: Create affirmations to solidify new neural pathways
The final thing to write in your notebook is some new affirmations, which will help to solidify your newfound alliance with your subconscious and create new neural pathways in your mind, diverting it from the old pathways it used to use to resort to unresourceful behavior.
I love affirmations, but I believe they have to be used correctly. I don’t believe in using affirmations on shitty foundations, without doing any groundwork on the subconscious first. Remember when I was talking before about planting seeds before weeding the garden? Well, we’ve cleared the weeds and turned over the soil – so we can plant the things we do want. In this case, affirmations. Did that make sense?
Go about introducing affirmations slowly, slowly. Remember, it takes time for neural pathways to be created.
I encourage using an affirmation that you can actually believe at first until you build confidence. So, for instance, there’s little power in saying, ‘I am abundantly wealthy’ when you’re still living pay check to pay check and are having trouble establishing a new money mindset. However, if you can turn that around to ‘Every day, I am taking steps to heal my relationship with money’, or ‘Every day, I am building wealth’, you might find your daily affirmations easier to believe.
This is important because when you can say your affirmation with conviction and enthusiasm, it puts emotion into your subconscious, strengthening the vibration around it and solidifying it as a neural pathway. The more ingrained it becomes, the more likely it is that your subconscious will actually start helpingyou in your endeavor. It will start looking for evidence to support your new mindset.
Like a fledgling garden, you can’t just plant the seeds and walk away. You must nurture these new pathways in your subconscious with love and nourishment and tender care, and remember to pull out any new weeds that might push through. Especially at first, it ought to be a daily practice. I most recommend repeating your affirmations, with feeling, just before you fall asleep, while you are waiting for something (such as at traffic lights or waiting for the kettle to boil), or during your meditation practice.
And that’s all there is to it. Now, instead of being opponents on the battlefield, you and your subconscious are allies. You know how to speak to it, negotiate with it, and get it on side. Together, the two of you will be unstoppable.