Want sustainable high performance? Work with your subconscious.
Do you wish you could perform at a higher level without using Herculean amounts of effort and willpower? Science is now showing that simply trying harder and putting in more effort to achieve something is not the best way to go about it, and here’s why:
At the core of all this you need to understand that you have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. They both influence your performance in different ways and operate in different ways. Let’s start with your conscious mind:
What exactly is your conscious mind?
Your conscious mind is where you have your desires, your goals and aspirations. It’s where you do your creative thinking and use logic and reason. Most approaches for high performance (or any self improvement method really) rely solely on the conscious mind. We’re told to dream big, to set a goal and go after it, to put in more discipline, to outwork everyone else, to use a specific strategy or plan etc.
This can all be very valuable and has worked extraordinarily well for some people. However, for the vast majority of the population, this simply isn’t sustainable or doable. (Especially as most of us are busy and already maxed out 24/7). The reason using your conscious mind often doesn’t work is because what truly controls you is your subconscious mind.
How is your subconscious different?
Your subconscious mind is just that subconscious, below your conscious awareness. But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore it and hope everything goes well. In reality, your subconscious is your operating system for when you’re not consciously focusing on something. It contains your habits, subconscious beliefs, instincts, attitudes, conditioned reactions and much more.
A biologist and pioneer in this field named Bruce Lipton points out that it’s thanks to your subconscious mind that you can get in your car, have a great conversation with someone, realise you haven’t been paying attention to the road consciously, yet find you’ve arrived at your destination nonetheless. And as he jokingly writes, you can look in your rear-view mirror and there isn’t a carnage of destruction simply because you weren’t paying conscious attention.
You’re safe and sound. This is because your subconscious mind was taking care of the driving. You have learnt how to drive and now you know how to do it without thinking consciously.
The main thing to remember
Science shows that your conscious mind is only in control about 5% of the time. The other 95% of the time it's your subconscious mind running the same behaviours, actions, beliefs etc that you have acquired in your life. So your subconscious mind is what controls 95% of your life. It is vastly more powerful than the conscious mind.
To put it another way, your subconscious mind processes 20 million environmental stimuli per second. Your conscious mind processes 40 environmental stimuli in the same second. Lipton writes “our lives are essentially a printout of our subconscious programs.”
Let that sink in for a bit:
5% v 95%
40 stimuli v 20 million stimuli.
So would it not make more sense to work with your subconscious mind? To engage it in what you’re trying to achieve? To have it support you in your efforts?
Here’s the problem though, simply setting a goal or striving to achieve something on a conscious level does not translate to the subconscious. In fact, in most cases your subconscious is in conflict with your conscious mind's desires.
Science shows that about 70% of our subconscious beliefs are negative. They’re not supporting your dreams. This partly explains why you often need to use so much effort to achieve your goals - because on a subconscious level, there’s some form of conflict, resistance or block. You’re trying to overpower the 95% of your subconscious mind, with the much smaller 5% of your conscious mind. Even if you are able to overcome those odds, the consequences are often huge expenditures of energy physically, psychologically and emotionally.
There are many ways that you can begin to notice your subconscious mind and just how powerful it is. For example, have you ever gone for a job interview and been more nervous than was logical? Heard someone say something and had a bigger reaction than was appropriate or ‘normal’? Have you ever found small tasks overwhelming even though it didn’t make any sense? Or found yourself not following through on something that you knew would be of great benefit to you? It’s likely that you had a subconscious program that was hindering you in that moment.
While we all have subconscious programs, it may be easier to notice them in others. You may notice that people have predictable patterns. We react the same way towards the same thing every time. You might have a friend or co-worker who gets frazzled every time there’s a stressful situation, while another friend or co-worker in the same situation becomes predictably very stoic or obsessive about fixing the problem. You may notice that some people even repeat the same words and phrases every time a particular topic is brought up.
The jukebox inside you
Lipton describes the subconscious like a jukebox. It just plays the songs (subconscious programs) that are in it depending on what is selected (external environment/stimuli). No amount of yelling (conscious effort) at the jukebox (subconscious programs) is going to change the song that is being played. You cannot reason with it or explain the logic of your ways. It’s simply not how it works.
Similarly, you can’t simply tell yourself to not feel stressed or to not be angry when you’re legitimately stressed or angry. You can’t force yourself to believe in something you don’t or to be motivated when you’re not. To actually affect change at that deeper level you need to use a different approach.
Where do we even get these subconscious programs from?
We often pick up these subconscious programs in childhood. For example, you might have given a speech in primary school and stumbled on a word. Everyone laughed at you and a subconscious belief was formed saying “It’s not safe to give public presentations”. This belief is then stored in the subconscious and runs for the rest of your life.
Now you’re an adult and you’re confused why every time you go to give a speech you feel unsafe, stressed, anxious etc. Even if you're giving a speech to just a small group of people or someone tells you “don’t worry, you’re talking to friends here” you still have a reaction that doesn’t make any logical sense.
You may be able to take speech classes and learn how to stand in front of a room, and how to look confident. You may face your fear again and again until you hopefully, eventually, feel calm giving a public presentation.
But a much quicker way, a much more efficient way, is to change it at the subconscious level directly. How would you feel if instead of having a belief that said “It’s not safe to give public presentations” you had one that said “I am a master at giving public presentations” or “I am relaxed and focused when I give presentations”?
If that’s the “song” that’s playing in that situation, not only are you going to feel very different, but by consequence you will also act differently, you will have more clarity of thought, more mental space to make sure your words are really landing with the audience. In essence, you are much more likely to have a great outcome.
It's not your fault
It’s important to note that these limiting subconscious programs aren’t logical, well thought through beliefs. These are things that we absorbed (often at a young age) without filtering to see whether it was helpful to us or not to have that program.
From a survival perspective, if you think back to hunter gatherer times, it was advantageous to quickly learn how things worked in the tribe you were born into. That way you could easily learn how to talk, pick up social cues and behaviours, learn how to hunt and make things, how to barter etc. It wouldn’t be very helpful if you had to re-learn how to walk every morning or forgot that a smile was a display of friendliness while a red face with nostrils flaring meant the person was angry at you. If you began to ponder whether those stripes in the bushes really meant there was a tiger or not, you would die. And so your genes wouldn't be passed on.
It’s not your fault what programs you got when you were younger. You were only absorbing things as you were supposed to. And you don’t have to have grown up in a terrible family or have had challenging external situations to get limiting programs.
Because the subconscious doesn’t operate via rational thought through logic, all kinds of conclusions can be drawn from random events. For example, if you observed the nerd at school getting bullied, it’s very possible that as a result of that you developed a subconscious program that says “it’s not safe to be smart”. How do you think that’s going to affect your ability to perform at a high level and come up with insights and solve problems? Slight impediment right?
What the f*^k do I do about this?
If you’re freaking the f*#k out right now saying “I don’t want this, clear my programs, get them out!!!” you’ll be relieved to hear that there are ways of accessing the subconscious mind and creating lasting change. It’s possible to change those beliefs and conditioned responses to support you and work with you at a high level.
That way you can work and get things done with more ease and less friction. You’ll be expending less energy, have more focus and in many cases be more satisfied with how things are going.
The field of “energy psychology” allows you to rewrite your subconscious mind. There are many different modalities within this field, each with their own characteristics. Some methods allow you to directly rewrite subconscious beliefs in a matter of minutes. Others work by methodically releasing stress from what created the belief/pattern in the first place, thus removing or changing the belief/pattern.
While in most cases working with a trained and skilled practitioner is where you'll get the biggest changes, you can learn about one method called "Tapping" by reading the following blog posts:
You Are the Placebo: making your mind matter by Dr Joe Dispenza
The biology of belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles by Bruce Lipton