The way you’ve been using your mind is a lot like the United States Congress – a dysfunctional organization that has forgotten its true purpose.
It’s not your fault. It all started when René Descartes, the “father of modern philosophy,” published “Meditations on First Philosophy” in 1641.
Descartes’ Big Mistake
Descartes famously proclaimed, “I think therefore I am.”
In that one sentence he doomed Western philosophy to the belief that we are our conscious minds; that our thoughts define us; that when we say “I”, we are referring not to our bodies, not even to our brains, but to the small part of our brains that houses conscious self-awareness – the mind. Descartes caged our sense of self-identity into a tiny part of our brains.
With the declaration of “I think therefore I am” Descartes’ legacy gave the mind supremacy over all other aspects of human consciousness.
This belief system set our minds up to self-aggrandize and over-reach their power, with disastrous results. Much like the US Congress in contemporary America.
Your Mind On A Power Trip
As I covered in Your Mind Is A Simpleton, our mind only occupies a very small portion of our brain. You can think of the relationship of your mind to your brain like Congress to Washington, DC.
Moreover, our brain is small compared to the rest of our bodies. Outside our brain we have our musculoskeletal system, digestive system, hormonal system, immune system, body-centered memories, and many other bodily functions, all of which contribute to who we are. You can think of the relationship of your brain to your body like Washington, DC to the United States of America.
When we identify ourselves as our mind – as Descartes did – we are giving it too much power. It is like Congress thinking that it is America rather than it an institution that serves America.
We all know how well that is turning out in American politics. Very badly!
The True Purpose Of The Mind
According to the latest research in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, the primary purpose of the mind is to put itself out of a job – to make itself redundant.
More specifically, the purpose of the conscious mind is to focus our attention to guide learning of new skills. Its job is to manage the process of assembling simpler, already-learned skills into ever-more-complex behaviors.
Given the very limited capacity of the conscious mind, as I covered in Your Mind Is A Simpleton, the mind can only focus attention on a very few things at a time. Therefore it needs to put already-learned skills out of conscious awareness so that it can focus on new learning.
For example, as you read this page, you do so with an unconscious reading skill you learned years ago. That skill magically puts words into your mind without effort or conscious attention. But it wasn’t always like that. When you first learned to read, it took your full, undivided attention first to recognize individual letters and then to assemble those letters into meaningful words. Later you learned to recognize whole words without needing to sound out each letter. Now you read without thinking.
It’s important to note that once the mind has completed a learning task and created a new unconscious behavior, it forgets the behavior it created. For example, without moving your hands at all, try right now to remember how you tie your shoelaces. Try as you might, your mind cannot remember how to do it. You can only remember by moving your hands and so engaging your unconscious memories.
Your shoelace-tying behavior has been programmed into your cerebellum, way in the back of your brain and way outside of conscious memory.
The learning has become part of our unconscious memories, no longer available to our conscious mind, as I described in Unconscious Memories.
This is why I say the purpose of the mind is to put itself out of a job. As soon as it has successfully directed a learning task it hands that task off to the unconscious brain and moves on to new learning.
The Good New And Bad News Of Unconscious Memories
The fact that most memories are out of our mental awareness is good news because it means our minds don’t have to pay attention to the billions of things our bodies must do just to get around. Imagine having to consciously control every one of the hundreds of muscles involved in taking a step. If you did, you would fall flat on your face – just like you did the first time you tried to walk when you were an infant.
The fact that most memories are out of our mental awareness is bad news because some of those unconscious memories and behaviors sabotage our success, satisfaction, relationships and general wellbeing. For example, think of those things you would like to change about yourself but can’t. They’re run by unconscious memories outside the reach of our conscious mind.
This means that we cannot just will ourselves to change in the ways we want, because our conscious mind no longer has awareness of or access to those unconscious memories. This is the big design flaw of how the mind works.
We cannot easily change our unconscious memories, even if we desperately want to.
But once you understand the true purpose of your mind, you can unlock its full potential.
The True Purpose Of The Mind
When we’re learning a new behavior, our whole brain is engaged in the process. Our mind focuses our brain on the single learning task. It is our mind’s conscious intention that guides the learning processes in other parts of the brain.
New learning is a whole brain and body process guided by the mind. Through repetition, new neural circuits are created, reinforced and refined until the new behavior is programmed into our unconscious brains. Gradually the mind disconnects from the new learned behavior, allowing the new behavior to run on autopilot while the conscious mind pays attention to new things.
The true purpose of our mind is to focus our attention – the attention of our whole brain and body on new learning tasks. This is the genius of the mind.
Put Your Mind To Work
Why is this important? Because once you realize the true purpose of your mind you can unleash its power for your growth and development.
All the most powerful wellness and personal development modalities harness this focusing power of the mind.
Meditation and many wellness practices like yoga use the focusing power of the mind to reduce stress, increase longevity and increase intelligence. I’ll go into how these practices use the focusing power of the mind in the upcoming article “Your Brain On Meditation” in this Neuroscience Of Body-Psyche series.
Recent neuroscience research has shown that hypnosis also uses the focusing power of the mind. In this case the focus is on reconnecting the conscious mind with unconscious brain processes, so that we can re-program and update old unconscious behaviors that do not serve us well. This makes the miraculous healing abilities of the brain, which I described in The Myth Of Mind-Body Healing, available to our mental direction. I’ll go into more detail about how this works in the upcoming article “Your Brain On Hypnosis”.
Going further, it’s even possible to use the focusing power of the mind to reconnect with unwanted emotions we’ve trapped in our bodies so that we can release and heal those old, troubling emotions. Once we’ve done that we can create new behaviors that give us the results we want in our lives. I’ll cover this in the upcoming article “The Super Power Of Somatic Hypnosis.”
Your mind is a powerful tool – once you learn to use it right. It can be your best ally in your journey of personal development. You can harness it to direct your healing journey not just at the conscious level, but to make the most profound changes imaginable at deep, unconscious levels. Personally I’ve used tools like the ones I share on this blog to go from being lonely and severely depressed having a rich and satisfying life with friends all around the world. Most days I feel enduring gratititude for the life I have.
Once you learn how to harness the healing power of your mind, miracles are possible for you too.