As you answer this question, your conscious mind knows exactly what you want to achieve.
Now ask yourself: Why haven’t I already changed it?
You probably don’t have a good answer to this question. Your conscious mind knows what you want, but there must be something going on in your unconscious brain that is perpetuating behaviors and experiences you don’t want.
This series, The Neuroscience Of Body-Psyche, covers the science of how our conscious minds and unconscious brains can cooperate to create seemingly miraculous changes in our lives. The series is about how you can acquire the ability to make giant leaps in your personal development.
But before we go any further, we need a clear understanding of the difference between the conscious mind and the brain, and a picture of how the mind and brain interact with each other.
When the mind and brain are not cooperating, real personal development is not possible. When they are cooperating properly, you have access to profound personal development.
The brain is a chunk of nervous tissue weighing about three pounds. It can be thought of like a vast and complex computer network – like the World Wide Web with all its servers and connected computers. In terms of processing power, the brain is huge. It contains about 100 billion neurons with over 100 trillion connections between them. The processing power of your brain is about the same as the combined processing power of every computer on the planet.
At any given moment, there are billions of things happening in a brain, most of which are completely out of the awareness of our conscious minds.
In an upcoming article, “Your Brain Is A Genius”, I’ll talk more about the vast capabilities of the brain, and how they can be tapped into for real growth. For now all you need to know is that your brain is way more powerful and complex than your mind could ever comprehend.
The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is like computer software that is self-aware. It has a sense of identity. It is the software that says “I” when referring to itself. The mind experiences intentionality, choice and free will. When you say you “choose” to do something, it is your conscious mind that makes that statement.
The mind is housed in the pre-frontal cortex – the very front part of the neocortex. In terms of volume, the mind probably occupies less than 10% of our total brain mass.
The mind does not have any direct sensory connections to the body. It cannot feel emotions. It cannot see. It cannot hear. It cannot smell. It’s deaf, dumb and mute. It gets all of its information second hand from other parts of the brain, which filter, interpret and distort information before passing it on to the mind.
Moreover, the mind has a very limited attention span. I talk more about that in the article, Your Mind Is A Simpleton, but for now I’ll just say that the mind can only focus on a few things at a time.
So what is the mind good for?
The mind is especially good at focusing our attention on a chosen topic of importance. It is the mind that allows us to meditate, to get into the “zone” in competitive sports and to focus unwaveringly on a work project until it’s completed. With regard to personal development, the relevance of this is that our mind is a master at focusing our attention on learning tasks, and directing our learning processes.
If you want to achieve effective personal development, you need to engage your conscious mind in directing the development process.
Limitations Of The Mind-Brain Connection
Under normal circumstances the mind and brain have very limited, and very poor communication. This is by design: as the mind can only pay attention to a few things at a time, it has to block out most of what is going on in the brain. Otherwise it would become overwhelmed and dysfunctional. In fact some recent research suggests that autistics lack this essential ability to filter out information and that is why they get so overwhelmed.
Using its focusing ability, there are many things that the mind can consciously choose to bring into awareness, thus making a connection between the unconscious brain and the conscious mind. For example, it’s relatively easy for you to focus your mind on any of the following:
- Your breathing patterns
- What you see in front of you
- Your current emotional state
- Your large body movements
However, there are other things going on in your brain are impossible for your mind to bring to conscious awareness. For example it’s probably difficult or impossible for you to be consciously aware of any of the following, even though these are things that your unconscious brain monitors constantly:
- Your digestive processes and gut movements
- Your micro facial expressions
- The functioning of your immune system
- The functioning of your hormonal system
How easy or hard it is to bring a particular brain function to conscious awareness correlates its location in the brain. Generally, activity further back and lower in the brain is further from conscious awareness and harder to access.
Communication Breakdown: Problems When The Mind And Brain Don’t Speak
Why does it matter that there’s limited communication between your mind and your brain? Well, think of the president of a country who has little idea what is going on with her people and economy, or the CEO of a multinational company who it out of touch with his employees and customers. Without good information, you cannot make wise leadership decisions.
Think back to the two questions I asked you at the very start of this article: “If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about yourself?” and “Why haven’t you already changed it?”
As I hinted earlier, your mind knows exactly what you want to change, but the secret to making those lasting changes is hidden in your unconscious brain. Your mind does not have access to the information it needs to make the changes you desire.
I’ll go into more details about the problems this creates for personal development in later articles in this neuroscience series. For now, here’s a preview of relevant upcoming articles:
- “The Neuroscience Of Bullshit” describes how the mind makes up explanations for our feelings and behaviors, even when it does not have enough information to come to a valid conclusion. Most of what we believe about why we do the things we do is simply invalid.
- “Denial: Your Best Compensation Or Worst Enemy?” talks about how the mind can intentionally push important information out of conscious awareness. This can be a useful coping strategy for dealing with difficult emotions, such as loss of a loved one, harsh treatment by parents, or teasing by classmates, but once something has been pushed out of awareness, the mind no longer has access to it, and cannot direct personal development activities to heal that particular wound.
- “How Emotions Get Trapped In The Body,” goes one step further to show how difficult emotions can not only be pushed out of awareness in the brain, but can actually get trapped in physical locations in our bodies such as our hearts, lungs and belly. These festering wounds in our bodies lead to lingering emotional problems and impair physical health.
Relationship Repair: Reconnecting The Mind And Brain
The mind’s strength is in directing learning, or healing, processes. Before it can do this, it must first be able to connect with the unconscious brain and body processes involved with the issue.
Fortunately there are effective ways to do this. I’ll cover these in detail in upcoming articles in the neuroscience series. Here are the key upcoming articles:
- “The Power Of The Mind” goes into more depth about the mind’s focusing and learning capabilities.
- “Your Brain On Meditation” explores what happens in your brain during meditation. Recent neuroscience research shows that ancient meditation practices actually tap into and enhance the mind’s innate ability to focus.
- “Your Brain On Hypnosis” takes this one step further. In surprising research results, it has been found that what happens during hypnosis is very similar to what happens during meditation. Hypnosis first focuses the mind, just like meditation. But importantly, hypnosis focuses the mind on unconscious brain process. This reestablishes communication between the mind and unconscious brain.
Mind-Brain Cooperation: The Key To Profound Personal Development
Once the mind has established a connection with unconscious processes in the brain, it can direct learning activities at deep subconscious levels.
With the mind and brain fully cooperating to make the changes you want in your life, all kinds of new possibilities open up. I’ll cover these possibilities in these upcoming articles in the series:
- “The Power Of Hypnosis” explains exactly how hypnosis allows the mind to direct re-learning in the unconscious brain to support growth and development. You’ll discover how you can use hypnosis to make deep and lasting changes in your life.
- “The Super-Power Of Somatic Hypnosis” goes one step further to explore “somatic” or body-centered hypnosis. This provides a way of connecting with and healing wounds not just in the brain, but also those trapped in the body.
- “The Power Of Movement Exploration” explains how to connect with and heal wounds that have been trapped in the body. It provides a framework for body-centered healing that impacts not only emotional health but also physical health.
Enjoy The Experience
The articles in this Neuroscience Of Body-Psyche series are important to your personal development because they will give your mind a framework for understanding how real change is possible. With this framework in place your mind can do what it does best: use the information to set your development goals and then guide the learning and healing process.
Your actual growth will come from your mind choosing to take steps to put the theory into practice. If you’re eager to get started, you can do that now using the guided meditations on this site.
I trust you’ll enjoy using these personal development tools, which will leverage your mind and brain in a cooperative healing process.