As you’re reading this right now, you’re using your conscious mind. Your brain is taking the words on the screen sent to it by your eyeballs and translating them into tangible ideas.
But your subconscious mind is also at work. It’s taking what you read and processing it, storing away bits and pieces of information that you’ll reference in the future via memory, gathering little tidbits that will shape the way you interpret things in the future.
Your subconscious mind is a powerful thing. In this post, we’re using research-backed concepts to help you use it to its full potential in your work and life.
What Is The Subconscious Mind?
Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been working to get a grasp on the form and function of the subconscious mind (how crazy is that, by the way—the conscious mind attempting to understand another part of itself? But I digress.).
While much of the mind’s mystery is yet to be unraveled, psychologists agree that the subconscious mind not only exists, but is responsible for a lot of heavy lifting that goes on even when we’re not actively thinking about a subject.
We know that the brain is made up of a series of connections called synapses. When we think about something, a charge flows from one neuron to another along these connections. We can change our brain—i.e. learning something new or making a new memory—by physically changing these connections.
But even when we’re not accessing these connections consciously, they’re still there in our brains, firing away. This explains why you’ll be driving down the road and suddenly have a great idea pop into your head seemingly out of the blue.
Scientists still aren’t quite sure how and why this happens, but I think any entrepreneur can attest to the power of these “subconscious” ideas. I know I’d certainly like to prime my brain to have them more often. So, there are a few tactics we can use to promote it.
We can’t control what happens to us; we can only control how we react to it. In fact, it could be argued that an entrepreneur’s ability (or lack of ability) to react correctly to the market will be a determining factor of his success.
But we all struggle with our reactions. So much comes into play—emotions, fears, goals, prejudices—that can influence how we react to a situation, and those things can feel like they’re beyond our control. Science has shown meditation gives us a better handle on it.
In one study, researchers tested a group of regular, experienced meditators against people who do not meditate. They found that the meditating group had better metacognition abilities. In other words, they were more aware of when their subconscious mind was at work.
In the real world, this might equate to being able to put your emotions aside when faced with a tough decision, or handling a situation rationally when everyone else is panicking.
Further, studies have also shown that regularly meditating on a self-affirmation, like I am a strong leader, can help us better deal with stress and improve our ability to solve problems.
Try New Things
Remember those neural pathways we talked about earlier, the ones that physically alter your brain as they form? Trying new things is one way to build them.
Things like learning a language, trying a new sport or playing an instrument all have this effect, creating new nerve impulses in our brain. And, as you might imagine, the more you practice that new thing, the stronger the connections in your brain get (“practice makes perfect,” anyone?).
If you do the same activities day in and day out, never trying anything new, you’re depriving your brain of those valuable neural pathways. On a deeper level, you’re limiting your brain’s ability to form those subconscious connections that breed “aha!” moments.
Think about the most creative person you know. I’d be willing to be they’re not a couch potato. Chances are they’re always up to something, like taking in art, viewing theater, playing sports or engaging in social activities. They’re giving their brain plenty of new stimuli—AKA the building blocks for creative ideas.
Build In “Thinking Time”
This is a concept that was entirely foreign to me until a colleague suggested I do it: building “thinking time” into my regular schedule.
At the time I was having trouble shifting into a new managerial role, and he said to me, “you can’t manage people effectively if you’re always doing work yourself. You need dedicated time to think about the work.”
Huh! I had never considered it that way, but it makes so much sense, especially when we’re talking about the subconscious mind. If we’re engaging our conscious mind every waking hour, there’s no time open for the solutions our subconscious mind can come up with.
Now, I take a half-hour walk in the middle of the workday, almost every day. If I can help it, I don’t try to focus on any one topic. I simply let my mind wander.
Sometimes, the most amazing thing happens: I’ll remember a little throwaway line from a conversation with a client that will spark a whole new idea for a marketing campaign. Or, I’ll remember a small but important detail about a project that could have gone overlooked, but will help out my work in the long run.
Some days, I just look at squirrels. But the effort is certainly worth it on the days my subconscious mind comes up with something great!
The mind is an incredible thing, and I believe we have yet to grasp its full power. Tapping into our subconscious is one way to work smarter and do your best work as an entrepreneur.
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