Building Consciousness into Institutions: An Introduction to Unconsciousness

Monday Mar 15, 2010

Birds In Tree

Lately, a lot of thoughts have been stirring through my head regarding how we, as a society, have created so many corporations, government, and other institutions of culture and society which seemingly act against the betterment of the people they intend to serve. As individuals, we spend a lot of energy acting against the betterment of ourselves. It is essential that we consciously choose to act in ways that are congruent with our desires and our own self-improvement, both as individuals and as communities. This is the first of several posts that will put my constant musings into written form.

The Plasticity of the Mind

The human mind is often viewed as a static entity which is formed during childhood and adolescence and becomes set during adulthood. This however is not completely true. It appears true because people get caught up in their routines and habits, but it is not a certainty. The brain is made up of neurons, which link together to create neural pathways. When you learn something new, your brain creates new neural pathways so that you can understand it. The more you think about something and understand it the stronger the neural pathways become. The more time you spend understanding something and the greater your certainty that what you know is true, the stronger the pathways become. For those interested in memes, our neural pathways is where they take physical form.


Our brains act in both conscious and unconscious fashions. The brain is predominantly unconscious, however as our species evolves, we are becoming more conscious. Unconscious thought controls much of our bodily functions, but it also holds the bulk of our foundational knowledge and forms the basis of much of our actions and reactions to stimuli. Unconscious thoughts should be considered as patterned responses. The brain receives a certain combination of inputs and it associates them to a certain preconditioned response. Even when we are thinking consciously, our brain is pulling information from our preconditioned neuropathways. It is very important to be aware of our own thoughts, as so much of our thoughts are unconscious patterned responses that we have acquired at some time in the past that possibly isn’t true or is counterproductive in our ability to accomplish our goals.

Unconsciousness: Productive or Counterproductive

When it comes to achieving your goals, the importance of our unconscious programmed thoughts cannot be overstated. Our unconscious thoughts pervade everything we think. It is of the utmost priority that our unconscious thoughts support the goals we wish to accomplish. If we are unaware of the unconscious thoughts that act against our achievement of our goals we will struggle mightily against ourselves in addition to the external world. As an example, you can look at the social conversations of people of different skill levels. This is an area where many people wish to improve their lives. A person with good social skills will make a conversation look effortless. Their brain has created strong neural pathways which help them make connections with others and to say things that keep the conversation rolling and make people feel good about themselves. They have a confidence that what they say will be the right thing to say. A person with poor conversation skills hasn’t habitualized the same neural pathways. They have a harder time saying timely things that move a conversation forward and keep the other person interested. Since the neural pathways aren’t strong, they will have to exert more conscious brainpower trying to keep the conversation going, which could be better used in enjoying the other persons company or guiding the conversation where you would like it to go. Often times the person will refrain from adding to the conversation because they are concerned with saying the wrong thing. Their subconscious beliefs tell them that saying the wrong thing makes the conversation awkward and inhibits them from saying anything at all which ironically makes the conversation awkward. Someone without this limiting belief will keep saying stuff, regardless of whether it is having a positive effect. They will not have a smooth conversation, but the other person will find them more interesting than someone who has nothing to say. If they are a good conversationalist they will help smooth the conversation out. The most important part though is that through practice the person with poor social skills is training their brain and strengthening their neural pathways which will lead them to competency. The person who refrains from adding to the conversation is missing out on this practice and stays perpetually in the awkward conversation. If the person is aware that their limiting belief is getting in the way of their goals, they can muster up the courage to focus and overcome their beliefs.

Consciously Programming our Neural Pathways

Learning is a habitual process, meaning the more a thought occurs, the stronger and more certain the neural pathways become. The brain can either learn consciously or unconsciously. We, as a society, focus a lot on conscious learning, as in choosing a major for college, but that that can only get us so far as so much of what we learn is unconscious. This is something the advertising industry knows all too well in their attempts to get us to associate certain things or emotions with their products, so that the first thing that comes to mind is the thing they are trying to sell.

How does the brain incorporate all this information? Where does it come from? More importantly, how do we become consciously aware of it? The people we are around most often, will have a profound effect on us. In my own personal experience, I have been able to notice the changes in my own actions and behaviors as I’ve switched the friends I’ve been with. Many personal development experts recommend surrounding yourself with the people that you want to become like. This is because you will assimilate some of their habits, world views, etc. Another powerful example of unconscious learning occurs through personal relationships. With regards to children, the expectations that have been put on children have been shown to have a strong correlation with their performance. Children that get a sense from their teachers and family that they are limited, often live up to those expectations. Similarly, children that are gifted also live up to the expectations put upon them. In the workplace, we often have top down hierarchies, where the top of the hierarchy makes decisions and pushes them down to those below them. Over time, it often occurs that those below them tend to stop making as many decisions. They only make the decisions that they are “allowed” to make. This is a severe detriment to the company as a whole, because the further away from the source of the communication the less effective the decision making process is going to be. It has also been shown that when you take a group of peers and you give one of them the title of “leader” they tend to trust in their own decision making more and will be more dominate in the group to the exclusion of the followers. So much in our life we are relegated to consumers, where we choose from a few different options that are available to us. It is becoming more and more rare for us to choose which options are available to us to select from.

In order to maximize our ability to achieve our goals, we need to consciously program into our subconscious the neural pathways that will help us achieve the results that we desire and to breakdown the neural pathways that remain as obstacles to us. We need to understand that any bit of information or meme comes from a source and it will have its own frame of reference that it will be based from. It is challenging but important to be aware of the frame of references and assumptions that information carries with it. Surround yourself with media that conveys the frame of references you want. Instead of watching TV that tells you how little you have, watch inspirational youtube videos of people just like you that have succeeded in doing what you want to do. Put up messages in your workspace that you notice in your periphery that reinforce what you want to become. Work with people who empower you and have tendencies you want to acquire.

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