We think that we're in control. We believe that our conscious mind directs our thoughts and somehow controls our subconscious mind. We're wrong.
In Richard Restak's The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own:
At the moment of decision we all feel we are acting freely, selecting at will from an infinity of choices. Yet research suggests this sense of freedom may be merely an illusory by-product of the way the human brain operates.
Restak gives the example of reading this essay. You scan the title and a few sentences here and there and eventually make a decision to stop reading or read on. You might then go back to the beginning and start reading, or you might start reading wherever it was in the article when you decided to stop skimming.
“The internal sequence,” Restak writes, “was always thought to be: 1. you make a conscious decision to read; 2. that decision triggers your brain into action; 3. your brain then signals the hands to stop turning pages, focuses the eyes on the paragraph, and so on.”
But this isn't what happens at all. “An inexplicable but plainly measurable burst of activity occurs in your brain prior to your conscious desire to act.”
The subconscious mind controls a lot of what we think and the connections we make. And, of course, our thoughts influence what we do.
Breaking codes in World War II was perhaps the largest big data project ever to happen in the world up until that point. The conscious mind could only do so much. One German cryptanalyst recalled, “You must concentrate almost in a nervous trace when working on a code. It is not often done by conscious effort. The solution often seems to crop up from the subconscious.”
Believing that the conscious mind calls the shots prevents us from understanding ourselves, others, and how to make better decisions to name but a few things.
In Plain Talk, Ken Iverson offers some insight on how to turn these thoughts into practical utility.
“Every manager,” he writes “should be something of a psychologist—what makes people tick, what they want, what they need. And much of what people want and need resides in the subconscious. The job of a manager is to help the people accomplish extraordinary things. And that means shaping a work environment that stimulates people to explore their own potential.”
We place too much emphasis on the conscious mind and not enough on the subconscious one.
Unless you manage your environment, it will manage you. The old question ‘would you rather be the poorest in a wealthy neighborhood or the richest in a poor neighborhood?' is based on how the environment controls our subconscious and our subconscious controls our happiness.