It’s hard to believe but the latest science is telling us that human beings make decisions without the participation of our conscious minds. Thanks to MRI brain scans, scientists can now track brain activity in real time, making it possible to identify the actual moment the brain recognizes an image or makes a decision. In both cases, that moment takes place before the conscious mind shows it is even aware of what’s taking place.
This research is leading scientists to redefine the role the subconscious plays in our lives. (Check out: Subliminal: How your Unconscious Mind Rules your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow; Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman and Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist by Christof Koch.)
While the science is still young, it seems to be clear we are more complex than we know and the subconscious is in charge! According to the new studies, the only role the conscious mind has in the decision-making process is coming up with an explanation for why we made the choice we did... no matter how badly it turned out.
Think of the unconscious mind as having two parts. The first might be said to be hardwired in the body, the source of our basic instincts and nearly identical in all human beings. It regulates the body’s basic functioning, mostly following the blueprint of our DNA. Programed over 2.5 million years, it guides us in ways that were first determined back when we lived in packs; hunted and foraged.
The other part of the subconscious mind is much more individualized. It is shaped by (and remembers in minute detail) all our experiences. Its development begins as we begin to take in sensory information in the womb. After birth, as we grow, our brains learn how to translate the senses of sight, smell, sound, and touch into labeled forms such as Mama, Dada, food and a three dimensional world that surrounds us. The data seem to indicate that we are predisposed to subconsciously align our view of the world with the perceptions of the people around us. Yet moments of strong emption as frequent as harsh judgments and as random as bee stings have a huge impact on how our view is shaped. The result is that our views of the world are uniquely subjective and often contradicting.
It’s interesting stuff. But what’s it mean to us? Probably not much if you’re satisfied with your life choices, your health, stress levels, relationships, your circle of friends, career and self-image.
However, most of us, have aspects of our lives where we feel stuck in a maze endlessly winding up in the same circumstances and don’t know why or what to do. In that case, becoming aware of individual decision-making process seems like a no-brainer.
Having a coach can be a big help for several reasons.
A coach demands that clients clearly assess their lives, set clearly defined goals and a detailed measurable plan of action to achieve them. This process takes place in an open and supportive environment where the coach’s “active listening” takes in, as much as possible, the whole of the client body, mind and feeling. Often this leads to a shift in the session’s focus from the planning and practical to an exploration of the inner landscape. Questions like, “What does success look like?" leads to “How does it feel to describe it?” or “What’s holding you back?” can lead to “ah ha” moments where unconscious attitudes and impulses, like bumps in the road are recognized; false turns and detours are seen but not taken.
Other times through the appearance of the innate emotional intelligence that lives in all of us, new insights appear freeing us from limiting perceptions, shedding light on short cuts that speed progress, connection to new found confidence or leading to transformational insights that change the vision completely.
Just the awareness of these unconscious elements begins to change the subconscious maze that keeps us tangled in the past and blind to new possibilities. Over time, we can become more aware of the movements within, recognizing the voices of old judgments, the rigidity of repeated patterns and the sense of potential that comes when one experiences the present unencumbered.
All of this can lead to an even greater question about the possibility of changing our level of consciousness.