Understanding and managing our lives requires an understanding of our most crucial tool: our brain. We live in a world of heightened expectations because of a common lack of knowledge about how our brain functions.
Where you find yourself in life, the challenges you grapple with – happiness, success, depression, work, relationships – probably stem from not fully understanding how your brain works.
Despite the progress of science, we’re only just beginning to unlock the secrets of our brains. Just as our understanding of x-rays and subatomic particles revolutionized the world, the mysteries of the brain remain largely unexplored.
This article aims to guide you through the brain’s strengths and weaknesses, the reasons behind them, and, more importantly, how your brain can be fooled, regardless of how intelligent or experienced you may be. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.”
We suggest going even further, advising that you should not completely trust your thoughts but instead verify the facts before drawing conclusions. This approach might seem intense, but it is crucial.
Adopting a mindset of questioning assumptions can foster open-mindedness, mitigate biases, and enhance critical thinking. The result will be reduced frustration, more clarity, increased happiness, and fulfillment as we become more rational, fact-driven individuals. We’ll make decisions based on real facts, guiding us toward our true selves. To begin this journey, we need to explore how our brain influences thinking and decision-making.
Over thousands of years, we’ve evolved into one of the most complex biological beings on earth. Our brain is both our strongest asset and our biggest liability because of its rapid cognition and capacity to automate responses for survival. These traits were invaluable during our tribal past, but in the modern world, they often present challenges. With society and knowledge advancing faster than our bodies, understanding and managing our brains becomes vital.
For this article, we won’t delve into the specific anatomy or regions of the brain. Instead, we’ll use the concept of the Conscious Mind and the Subconscious Mind. These systems aren’t restricted to one part of the brain, so we’re simplifying for better understanding. Here are some interesting aspects of each to be aware of.
- Map maker of our reality.
- Creates Language & Categories
- Voices we hear in our head are in Language and part of this aspect.
- Ego/ Identity/ Interpreter is a pattern or collection of stories and beliefs into a map of self.
- Effortful mental activities
- Agency, choice, concentration.
- It can change the Subconscious by programming attention and memory.
- Usually in low effort mode – its be default LAZY.
- When things are good, adopt the suggestions of the Subconscious with little or no modification.
- Monitoring & regulating behavior
- Takes over when things get difficult
- Usually has the last words in thoughts and decisions.
- Most energy is required for the Conscious Mind, thus transitioning to automation in the Subconscious Mind.
- Has a natural speed, which, when surpassed, requires focus.
- Source of Self Criticism
- Correcting intuitive predictions
- Creating Habits and other patterns.
- Can focus on the past or future, not so well on the present
- Its a form of Consciousness that doesn’t rely on words
- Spacial/seeing the whole picture
- Present moment awareness
- Automation and quick thinking
- Little or no effort or sense of voluntary control.
- Regulator for the Conscious
- Leads to explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of Conscious.
- Source of Ideas & Creativity
- Innate skills for surviving and functioning in the world – animal instincts.
- Constantly generating suggestions for Conscious impressions, intuitions, beliefs, and impulses.
- Takes over in emergencies and assigns total priority to self-protective actions.
- Maintains and updates your map of reality and norms (i.e., assumption stacks).
- Prone to Jumping to conclusions
- Constantly assessing life and survival
In rough order of complexity, here are some examples of the automatic activities that are attributed to Subconscious Mind:
- Detect that one object is more distant than another.
- Orient to the source of a sudden sound.
- Complete the phrase “bread and…”
- Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture.
- Detect hostility in a voice.
- Answer to 2 + 2 = ?
- Read words on large billboards.
- Drive a car on an empty road.
- Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master).
- Understand simple sentences.
- Recognize that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles an occupational stereotype.
It also includes innate skills that are primal and shared with other animals.
Our Conscious Mind, often considered the slow brain, is responsible for our consciousness and thoughts. It constantly analyzes, categorizes, and creates narratives about reality. Our Subconscious Mind influences the Conscious Mind by offering beliefs, intuitions, and emotions.
While the Subconscious Mind may lead us astray, it also leads us right most times. It gives us an impressive, detailed model of the world, quickly distinguishing normal from surprising events, and offers automatic solutions to daily challenges.
Both the Conscious Mind and the Subconscious Mind are active when we’re awake. Typically, the Subconscious Mind operates automatically while the Conscious Mind works in low-effort mode. When the Subconscious Mind faces a problem it can’t solve, it calls upon the Conscious Mind for a more intricate analysis.
Our Conscious Mind is continuously interpreting and assuming facts with incomplete information. Miscommunication often arises from this process, as words are merely symbols of ideas, and different individuals interpret these symbols differently.
Understanding how the brain works helps us understand that words hold no power over us, but it is how we interpret them with the Conscious Mind that impacts us. Acknowledging this can reduce the suffering caused by miscommunications.
Our Conscious Mind is always trying to map reality using categories, which can be useful but also limiting. It’s important to remember that categories are mental representations and not reality itself. Accepting this frees you from unnecessary suffering caused by limiting beliefs.
Moreover, the voice in our head, which often is negative and judgmental, is a construct of our Conscious Mind and is a significant cause of suffering.
The goal is to encourage critical thinking, enabling us to move past biases and beliefs and view events as opportunities rather than obstacles. This shift in perspective can lead to a powerful change in our consciousness.
Our Conscious Mind constantly attempts to maintain control by categorizing and mapping things out, even when the facts may be inaccurate. When new ideas contradict established beliefs, the natural tendency is to dismiss these ideas. By breaking this pattern, we can overcome many biases and attain critical thinking.
Understanding that our mind’s inner workings are often inaccessible can be challenging. However, acknowledging this can be liberating because you may know less about yourself than you think.