How to Get Your Mind on Your Side
All of us know what it’s like to want something really badly, yet not be able to follow it through. Why is that? The famous psychotherapist, Carl G. Jung, theorized that our unconscious mind is secretly sabotaging us by creating bad habits, fears and avoidances that block us from achieving our desires. So how do we get around this and get our mind on our side?
What Exactly Is the Unconscious?
In metaphorical terms, Jung’s concept of the unconscious mind is kind of like the basement of your house. The upstairs, or the conscious mind, is where you keep everything you need each day, plus the things you like to look at. The basement is where all the “stuff” goes; old toys, boxes of photos, rubbish and things you’d rather not have to deal with right now. It all gets chucked down in the basement where no one can see it.
Photo: Stephen di Donato
This summarizes how Jung described the human psyche, and it seems to serve us pretty well, to a certain extent. The problems arise when things are chucked down there that really should be addressed: painful memories and thoughts that make you cringe, stuff you don’t like about yourself, as well as some stuff that you do. Anything that comes with a sense of dissatisfaction, discomfort or shame – us humans really don’t like to feel any of that.
So Why Is the Unconscious Bad?
The unconscious mind is not bad, per se, and it even offers some good, like providing you with dreams while you sleep, but sometimes our unconscious experiences are just too volatile to brush under the carpet and eventually they start to emerge in our habits and actions (or lack thereof).
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When you decide you want something, there are usually a million and one unconscious drives that say otherwise, whether due to past experiences, particularly in childhood, or some feeling that you didn’t allow yourself to fully feel.
If you find yourself constantly trying to achieve something yet falling short, you could have some unconscious drives that are holding you back. So, how do we find out what they are?
Facing the Unconscious Motivator
One of the most popular and successful ways of finding out about your unconscious motivations is talking therapy, in particular, psychoanalysis.
This process of talking about the ‘whys’ of your actions; following the thread of awareness down the rabbit hole of the unconscious, has had significant positive effects on general mental wellbeing. The idea of digging up past experiences that are still causing problems, is what Carl Jung referred to in his famous quote: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” – C. G. Jung
However, if you’re just trying to improve your productivity, for example, you could attempt self-analysis to find out your unconscious drives by yourself. Recording and analyzing your dreams is one great way, and another is good old-fashioned journaling; basically writing down your thoughts and feelings.
Using Journal Prompts
To get you started, there are numerous journal prompts out there on the internet, and many of them will help you to understand your unconscious processes, but for self-sabotage, I find one in particular to be of immense use:
Think of a goal you want to achieve, but instead of writing down what you want and why, try writing down the reasons that you might prefer to fail. Perhaps you’re afraid of being seen, or taking on more responsibility, perhaps you fear your loved ones will treat you differently if you achieve your goal.
Photo: Ilya Ilyukhin
Aim to quickly write down 20 reasons you might not want the things you say you want, and see what comes up. More than likely, after a few tries, you’ll start to unravel the unconscious beliefs that are holding you back. So now we’ve found out a bit about our unconscious drives, how do we change them for good?
Training the Brain With Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is hot on everyone’s lips right now, and with good reason. This ancient Buddhist technique of simply watching your thoughts and feelings has been found to alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain, tinnitus, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer and HIV.
But its most popular use is in the treatment of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Patients are encouraged to just let their thoughts flow and when a negative thought pops up, to just let it go and take their awareness back to the breath. This has been proven to improve concentration, awareness and feelings of boredom.
For those of us that find ourselves at the mercy of our minds, this is great news. While your unconscious sits there trying to sabotage your work by distracting you, you can practice some mindfulness meditation and over time begin to identify which thoughts are causing the problems, and ground yourself back into the present moment.
In addition, mindfulness can help us to regulate our emotions and shift our perspective, so even if our unconscious takes us off track and we end up feeling frustrated, our mindfulness training will help us to get over it quickly, thus making us happier, and we all know that people get more done when they’re happy.
But the most exciting part of all this is that once you commit to a regular mindfulness practice, the physical workings of your brain will actually change for good. Your unconscious mind will still be there, but it won’t have as much hold over you.
So, next time you find yourself working on your goals and not getting very far, take a look into the basement of your unconscious. Have a rummage around down there and see if anything needs dusting off. You might just find something that needs bringing upstairs, confronting, then letting go, so you can get back to what you really want to be doing.
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