The Differences Between Your Conscious and Subconscious Mind

The Differences Between Your Conscious and Subconscious Mind

Posted on June 6th 2019 by Letara Buckley

Consciousness vs Subconsciousness. Discover what these parts of the mind are responsible for with research into the theories of Sigmund Freud, Marisa Peer and more. 

Are you aware of the differences between your conscious and subconscious mind? This article explores the theories of both the conscious and subconscious, plus other variations including the preconscious and unconscious mind. It uncovers the battles your mind goes through and how best to achieve your goals by tapping into the right entity.

Sigmund Freud Theory

You may have seen or heard of the analogy of the iceberg in the sea which was advocated by Sigmund Freud. He quoted: ‘The mind is like an iceberg; it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.’ His theory was that the mind has three parts: the conscious (above water), the preconscious (just below the waterline), and the unconscious (way below).

Psychology author, Kendra Cherry, reviews Freud’s model of the mind:

‘The famed psychoanalyst believed that behavior and personality were derived from the constant and unique interaction of conflicting psychological forces that operate at three different levels of awareness: the preconscious, conscious, and unconscious. He believed that each of these parts of the mind plays an important role in influencing behavior.

In order to understand the ins and outs of Freud's theory, it is essential to first understand what he believed each part of personality did, how it operated, and how these three elements interact to contribute to the human experience. Learn more about each of these levels of awareness and the role that they play in shaping human behavior and thought.

  • The conscious mind contains all of the thoughts, memories, feelings, and wishes of which we are aware at any given moment. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. This also includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily and brought into awareness.
  • The preconscious consists of anything that could potentially be brought into the conscious mind.
  • The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.’

Psychology tutor, Saul McLeod, explores further into Freud’s three levels of the mind:

‘Freud described the conscious mind as consisting of all the mental processes of which we are aware, and this is seen as the tip of the iceberg. For example, you may become aware of feeling thirsty so you decide to get a drink.

The preconscious contains thoughts and feelings that a person is not currently aware of, but which can easily be brought to consciousness. It exists just below the level of consciousness, before the unconscious mind. The preconscious is like a mental waiting room, in which thoughts remain until they succeed in attracting the eye of the conscious.

This is often referred to as available memory. For example, you are presently not thinking about your mobile telephone number, but now it is mentioned you can recall it with ease. Mild emotional experiences may be in the preconscious, but sometimes traumatic and powerful negative emotions are repressed and hence not available in the preconscious.

According to Freud, the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see. Our feelings, motives and decisions are actually powerfully influenced by our past experiences, and stored in the unconscious.’

McLeod’s explanation clarifies that the unconscious mind contains not only negative thoughts from past experiences, but also your deepest desires.

What About the Subconscious Mind?
Freud’s theory does not take into account the entity of the subconscious. This part of the mind is often referred to in therapy.

Self-Development Author, Brian Tracy, summarises the importance of the subconscious mind:

‘Let’s first take a moment to consider the fact that your subconscious mind is like a huge memory bank. Its capacity is virtually unlimited and it permanently stores everything that ever happens to you. By the time you reach the age of 21, you’ve already permanently stored more than one hundred times the contents of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

Under hypnosis, older people can often remember, with perfect clarity, events from fifty years before. Your unconscious memory is virtually perfect. It is your conscious recall that is suspect.

The function of your subconscious mind is to store and retrieve data. Its job is to ensure that you respond exactly the way you are programmed. Your subconscious mind makes everything you say and do fit a pattern consistent

with your self-concept, your “master program.” This is why repeating positive affirmations are so effective―you can actually reprogram your own thought patterns by slipping in positive and success-oriented sound bites.’

The subconscious and unconscious mind are often used interchangeably, Michael Craig Miller, M.D. in an article for Harvard Health explains why:

‘The term “unconscious mind” is most closely associated with Freud and psychoanalysis. For Freud, it was a key element of the theory he was developing to explain the causes of mental disorders and how to treat them. Put in the simplest terms, Freud theorized that hidden mental contents were making people “ill.” As he understood it, these mental contents had been “repressed” and made unconscious.

As for the term “subconscious,” Freud used it interchangeably with “unconscious” at the outset. But he eventually stuck with the latter term to avoid confusion. He couldn’t have predicted that the confusion would still exist after more than 100 years of discussion.

As a general rule, in most of the professional literature where mental functioning is concerned (including not just psychoanalysis, but also psychiatry, psychology, and neuroscience, among others), writers—like Freud—tend to use the word “unconscious” rather than “subconscious.” However, due to the literal definition of unconscious being when a person passes out, the term subconscious is often used instead as a preference.

The Battle of the Conscious vs the Subconscious Mind

Quite often, your mind can be torn between the beliefs of your conscious and your subconscious. This article by investment manager Ray Dalio on Linkedin explores why this happens:

‘As with animals, many of our decision-making drivers are below the surface. An animal doesn’t “decide” to fly or hunt or sleep or fight in the way that we go about making many of our own choices of what to do—it simply follows the instructions that come from the subconscious parts of its brain. These same sorts of instructions come to us from the same parts of our brains, sometimes for good evolutionary reasons and sometimes to our detriment. Our subconscious fears and desires drive our motivations and actions through emotions such as love, fear, and inspiration. It’s physiological. Love, for example, is a cocktail of chemicals (such as oxytocin) secreted by the pituitary gland.

…I also came to understand that while some subconscious parts of our brains are dangerously animalistic, others are smarter and quicker than our conscious minds. Our greatest moments of inspiration often “pop” up from our subconscious. We experience these creative breakthroughs when we are relaxed and not trying to access the part of the brain in which they reside, which is generally the neocortex. When you say, “I just thought of something,” you noticed your subconscious mind telling your conscious mind something. With training, it’s possible to open this stream of communication.

Many people only see the conscious mind and aren’t aware of the benefits of connecting it to the subconscious. They believe that the way to accomplish more is to cram more into the conscious mind and make it work harder, but this is often counterproductive. While it may seem counterintuitive, clearing your head can be the best way to make progress.

Knowing this, I now understand why creativity comes to me when I relax (like when I’m in the shower) and how meditation helps open this connection. Because it is physiological, I can actually feel the creative thoughts coming from elsewhere and flowing into my conscious mind. It’s a kick to understand how that works.’

Ray’s theory gives relevance to the feeling of procrastination. Sometimes, when you relax and put things off for a while, you sometimes get a ‘lightbulb’ moment out of nowhere―it is in fact, your subconscious saving the day.

The Power of the Subconscious Mind

Whether you are awake or asleep, your subconscious mind is recording and storing everything. Thanks to your stored memories, feelings and desires, your subconscious plays a huge role in the creation of your dreams. This article on The Wisdom Post explains how it works:

‘When you fall asleep, it is your conscious mind that is sleeping. However, your subconscious mind will never fall asleep. It works 24 hours a day even when you sleep. Your subconscious mind is controlling your body, your breathing, your organs functionality, your cell’s growth and everything.This is why when you sleep, your subconscious mind is still wide awake. And that simply means that it is your unconscious mind that is solely responsible for your dreams.

This is the point where your subconscious mind connects with your mental images that produce what we call, dreams. And because our subconscious mind thinks in the form of symbols, metaphors, and visual forms, our dreams tend to be projected in that way too. This is why most dreams are indirect and difficult to understand, but they are often connected to our experiences and the events in our daily life.’

Marisa Peer’s Rules of the Mind

In this Rules of The Mind  article, psychology expert Marisa Peer explains that the first simple job your mind has is to keep you alive for as long as possible. To do that, your subconscious mind is hardwired to move you away from pain and towards pleasure. It is highly influenced by the words you say and the pictures you imagine. Your mind loves what is familiar and prefers to avoid anything unfamiliar.

Watch this TED Talks video of Marisa to see how you can reach beyond your limits by training your subconscious mind:

Hypnosis and The Subconscious Mind

Hypnotherapy taps into the subconscious mind, often to bring out deep-ridden traumas from childhood or past events that have left feelings of negativity. The subconscious is often thought of as a biological hard-drive, a recorded database for all things about you. Your conscious mind may know that you should quit that unhealthy habit, or exercise more often, but this conscious willpower can only guide you so far. It’s the subconscious that needs rewiring in order to achieve your goals. Why? Because your subconscious beliefs can sabotage your conscious efforts. The more aware you are of your subconscious beliefs, the better you will become at accessing them.

You can often tap into the subconscious mind in instances where you feel a ‘gut instinct’ or intuition. The more you pay attention to this, the better you will be at training your subconscious.

Marisa Peer has helped many clients achieve success in their lives through her unique technique of reprogramming the subconscious mind, called Rapid Transformational Therapy™ (RTT). Based on the science of neuroplasticity, RTT combines the most beneficial principles of Hypnotherapy, Psychotherapy, NLP, CBT, and Neuroscience.

Marisa Peer Hypnosis Audio Downloads

The following audios from Marisa Peer can be listened to at home. The range features powerful words by Marisa that directly address your subconscious to help you overcome addictions, reach your goals, improve your personal traits, or attract relationships. Marisa recommends listening to them every day for a minimum of three weeks. Click the image below to browse the audio shop.

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