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Our Conscious Mind May Actually Be Our Subconscious

Author:NeuroGym Team

A New Way of Looking at Our Consciousness

You’re conscious, right? I mean, you’re here reading this right now, so you must be a little conscious. This isn’t you having a dream; you’re really here so if you’re reading this you must be awake too. And you are aware of what you are reading, aren’t you? You navigated your way to this blog post intentionally and are now reading it. You’re in control of yourself, and you have the ability to reflect on the fact that you made your way here intentionally and are reading a neuroscience blog post. That is because our conscious mind allows us to be aware of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and to anticipate what might happen because of what we are doing.

That’s our understanding of it anyway. The brain is an incredibly complex structure that scientists are still studying and learning about. And with science comes constant questions. Once they find an answer, a bunch of new questions come up. So even if tomorrow morning scientists discover exactly how the human brain works, the question will arise: why does it work that way and not a different way?

Scientists and philosophers have long pondered why we have conscious thinking, if we are actually self-aware, whether or not we really have free will, and why we seem to be different from non-human animals. In this article, we’ll look at how we used to think about the conscious mind, the new way of thinking about it, and, with that understanding, how we can make more conscious decisions instead of acting on impulse.

Conscious Mind

How We Used to Think About Our Conscious Mind

It has long been accepted that we have conscious and subconscious minds. The thought was that we experience things through our conscious mind and then store them in our subconscious. Basically, when something would happen to us, we would understand what was happening and how it was happening, and then we would store the information in our subconscious mind for use next time a similar situation arose.

Sigmund Freud claimed the conscious mind involved our fantasies, how we felt, what we remembered, our perceptions, our self-awareness, sensations, and our thoughts. As far as Freud was concerned, anything you are currently aware of is your conscious mind.

The widely held belief inspired by Freud’s work is that there are three levels of awareness: the preconscious, the conscious, and the subconscious. Preconsciousness involves things that could come into the conscious mind, and the subconscious (also known as unconscious) is where our thoughts, feelings, and memories that our conscious mind is not using are stored.

Based on this line of thinking, the conscious mind was really the part in charge and involved everything we were currently perceiving.

A New Way of Thinking

That’s what we used to think about consciousness, but now we have a slightly different view on things. A new theory has claimed we may not actually be as conscious as we think we are.

This theory was put forward by Dr. Andrew Budson, a scientist at Boston University. His theory asserts that consciousness actually formed as a type of memory system. 

Our memory can be divided into short-term and long-term memory. Long-term memory can be further divided into explicit and implicit memory. Implicit memory is unconscious and automatic memory such as motor memory. Explicit memory is what we know as our conscious memory and is made up of episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory is our recollection of events that have happened to us, while semantic memory is more like general knowledge.

The theory in question suggests that what we know as our consciousness may actually be a memory system our unconscious mind uses to try and help us imagine what can happen in the future. So, according to Dr. Budson’s theory, we don’t actually use our consciousness to perceive anything around us or make decisions about our actions. These things happen unconsciously first, and we then consciously remember them about half a second later.

The theory came about because Budson and his research team noticed that our conscious decisions happened too slowly when it came to doing things like playing music or engaging in sports. So, we may just be tricking ourselves into thinking we do things consciously!

Do You Have Self-Awareness?

Obviously, humans are self-aware in the sense that we know we are thinking. We understand that we feel hungry but can still restrain ourselves rather than automatically eating any food in front of us the way a dog would. We, as humans, are aware that we have thoughts and feelings rather than just experiencing them.

But what about a further level of being self-aware, a more profound type of awareness? Having this type of awareness of ourselves involves being objective about what we’re doing, being aware of our biases, and understanding why we feel what we feel and why we think the way we think.

In short, when we talk about self-awareness, it means knowing the reason behind our automatic processes. Not everyone has it, and in fact, people who don’t have it probably assume there is no issue without further reflection.

Consider this example. You’re running late and know you have to take a phone call in 10 minutes. You’re in a shop and just need to buy one thing, but in front of you is an elderly person who is very slow and has a lot to pay for. How are you reacting? Are you telling him to hurry up, feeling angry, and blaming him? Or do you understand that you were late and there is no point blaming someone else?

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Being self-aware, as in the latter reaction, means you will understand your responsibilities, your feelings, and that what other people do is not necessarily aimed at you. In that example, the man being slow is not trying to inconvenience you, and the lesson is to be more organized. There would be little point in getting angry at the elderly man in that example.

Being self-aware involves reflecting on yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, and your experiences. You don’t have to be overly critical of yourself, but it is important to look at why you feel and think the way you do. We all develop biases in our lives, and we have to learn to question these. So next time you get an impulse, ask yourself why you feel what you’re feeling.

How You Can Make Conscious Decisions

Do you think you make decisions consciously or based on impulse? It may be a bit of both. We all have cognitive biases that influence us. Cognitive biases are basically built-in system errors in our thinking that have formed based on negative experiences and understanding them comes back to self-awareness. For instance, studies have shown we actually perceive objects differently based on how we feel.

So how do we make a more conscious decision? For starters, we need to avoid taking immediate actions based purely on our urges. Just because a thought enters our head doesn’t mean it is correct or a good idea. Similarly, if a thought enters our mind, it is often an instantaneous reaction that is based on our preconceived ideas or the emotions we are feeling at the time. When it comes to making important decisions, it’s crucial to stop and think.

Assess the situation before doing anything rash. Ask yourself if you actually need to do something. Often, we can feel like we need to make a big change if we feel an intense emotion like anger or anxiety, but it’s unwise to do so in the spur of the moment based on a strong feeling that will go away. Give yourself time to cool down before doing anything.

A good technique to use is STOPP:

  • Stop: Take a moment to pause.
  • Take a breath: Pay attention to your breathing and slowly breathe in and out.
  • Observe: Notice what thoughts are going through your mind.
  • Perspective: Put the situation into perspective and consider how important it actually is.
  • Proceed: Use your life experience to decide on something that works for you.

Regularly implementing this technique can stop you from making a rash decision.

When you have calmed down, it’s a good idea to get out something to write with and make a plan. List your ideas, write out the pros and cons, and look at what’s practical. Reflect on what you have done in the past. Set some goals for yourself once you’ve made a decision and reflect. This way you can see if the decisions you are making are working.

In Summary

Our conscious minds were long thought to be in control of our actions. However, a new theory suggests our conscious mind is actually a memory system created by our subconscious mind. If this is true, that means our subconscious mind is actually what controls us!

To give yourself more control over your decision making, being self-aware is an important skill to have. It will help you make great leaps into maturity if you can understand why you do what you do and feel the way you feel. Making more conscious decisions means we’re not acting on impulse, but we’re planning carefully. We’re conscious that you may want to read more articles, so we’ll end this one here!

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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