To truly unlock our potential we need to understand how our mind works. The mind is at the core of everything we do and everything we do is a result of brain chemistry and mental processes that are dictated by natural laws. Because our mind works according to specific natural laws we need to learn those natural laws and leverage them to our benefit.
Our Split Mind
Our mind can be separated into two general processes: conscious and subconscious (also know as unconscious). Our conscious mind is made up of what we deliberately think about. Every thought that you are aware of can be considered conscious. For example, that little voice in your head is your conscious mind working. However, we are not aware of most of things our mind is doing so that we can function. Some mental mechanisms are constantly used without our awareness. Some of these mechanisms include proprioception (knowing where each part of your body is in space), facial recognition (not having to think consciously to be able to differentiate a stranger’s face from your own), and motor control (controlling each specific muscle fiber in your legs, torso, and arms as you walk down the street). Without the subconscious we would not be able to function in day to day life.
Habits and skill live in our subconscious
Habits are behaviors that are built into our subconscious over repetition and time. Think of turning on the lights in your home when you get home at night. Do you have to think about the level of darkness, the benefits of having the lights on, the location of the light switch, and make the decision to turn on the lights? Most likely, you don’t. You just do it out of habit.
A skill is built in the same way as a habit, but skills are more directed towards performance than ritual. To illustrate the difference between habits and skills think about a baseball player. When a baseball player is at bat they might have the habit to tap the bat on home plate several times before raising it into position ready for the pitch. Then when the pitch is made the baseball player at bat uses a subconscious skill to swing the bat in the precise location he perceives (taking only milliseconds) where the ball will be as it crosses home plate. Does the tapping on home plate help him hit the ball? Maybe it acts as a ritualistic cue to help him focus, but it does not directly influence whether he will hit the ball or miss. What about his swinging skill? Does that influence if he will strike out or hit a single to left field? Of course it does. Habits may enable us to perform, but skills will dictate the level of that performance.
Because habits and skills can be developed unintentionally we tend to have several undesirable habits or wrong skills also in our subconscious mind. The stronger the subconscious influence of these negative habits or skills, the harder we have to think consciously to overcome them. But we can reprogram the wrong skills and overcome bad habits.
The Chameleon Effect
One mechanism that forms habits and skills in our subconscious mind is called the chameleon effect—patterning our behavior from observing or being around others. Though we are most susceptible to the chameleon effect as children it still persists into adulthood. Think of a nervous college student going on a first date. As he sits across his date at the restaurant he will tend to copy her body language subconsciously. When she smiles, he’ll smile. When she sits up straight, so will he. You get my point? He doesn’t choose to imitate her, but he still does. This can also happen to an athlete; he will tend to pattern his attitude and behavior after the coach. If the coach is encouraging the player will act encouraged. But if the coach shows disappointment or anger the player will (subconsciously) become more discouraged. Not only should we act in a way that cultivates positive performance, but to surround ourselves with others that do so also.
The chameleon effect is important to understand because if you are not able to surround yourself with the best individuals that will benefit your behavior subconsciously you can develop the discipline and mental skills to overcome and replace destructive subconscious thoughts and behaviors with constructive ones.
How do we use our subconscious to our advantage?
Our subconscious allows us to make snap decisions and the more skills we have coded into our subconscious the better decisions we’ll make. Our conscious mind can only process one thing at a time (despite what some people think about their ability to multitask). When in a critical performance situation, whether an athletic competition or an important management meeting, to be able to perform at our full potential we need to be processing and reacting more than with just one thought at a time. That is where the subconscious comes in. If we have developed the right skills in our subconscious we can free our conscious mind to live in the moment and not get bogged down thinking about how to do this or that. Our subconscious will take care of the small quick decisions and you will be able to have more processing power for the bigger decisions.
The key to high performance is using our subconscious to our advantage. This is done through programing our subconscious with skills.
- Our mind has two sides: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind
- The conscious mind is what we typically think of as thinking
- The subconscious allows us to function and make quick decisions without using our precious conscious processing power
- Both habits and skills are housed in the subconscious
- Habits are behaviors developed (intentionally and unintentionally) by a repetitive behavior, or thought
- Skills are like habits. But unlike habits, skills are directed toward performance specific objectives and tend to be developed more deliberately than habits
- Habits can enable us to perform, but skills dictate the level of that performance
- The chameleon effect is when our subconscious is influenced and imitates others around us
- The chameleon effect can either be destructive or it can benefit us. If we are aware of its effects we can overcome the negative sides of it
- The more skills we build in our subconscious the more we can free our conscious mind to process the most important things
- High performance can be reached if we are aware of our subconscious and use it to our advantage
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