How to Hijack Your Subconscious Brain? – On Open-mindedness

Our subconscious brain strength is deeply rooted in our biology. We have four brains with a clear hierarchy. This hierarchy is so strong that it determines which part of the brain gets access to oxygen and nutrients first!!! It looks pretty much like a totalitarian regime!

Any stimulus follows an engraved pathway all humans share. There is no way our conscious brain can overrule our subconscious one. Biologically, “survival” has the priority over “life”. Taking this fact into consideration, trying to manage our subconscious mind may seem like a lost battle…

…Is there anything we can do about it?

Yes, but we need to understand the intricate functioning of our brain to be able to get a hold on it… Doing so requires clarifying a few elements:

  1. Find out how our brain is wired.
  2. Have a (long) diversion on Indian & American elections.
  3. Figure out what “thinking” really means to our brain.

BRAIN WIRING

Photo by Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash
Photo by Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash

Recent MRI technology advancement allowed to follow the route of data processing while it is actually happening in our brain. I have to admit, the finding took me a while to digest. What we consider to be a conscious decision is not… or at best our conscious brain plays only 2% of it if we do not stay aware of our own functioning!

Let’s consider the below-simplified circuit any stimulus follows:

  1. External stimulus.
  2. Transformed to signal through our perception organs: ears, eyes…
  3. Signal (sound, light…) is transmitted to our brain through the corresponding neurological circuit (e.g. optical nerve for light).
  4. Our brain makes sense of it. It is important to understand that the raw data (e.g. light) does not make any sense at first, it needs tedious processing from our brain to start fitting in the way we see reality. There is so much going on that what we consider to be spontaneous requires in reality 0.24 seconds to be processed!!! In fact, we live in the past! Whatever we consider as happening now is at least 0.2 seconds old… I know it sounds odd, you may see the following documentary for more perspective.

5. Our subconscious brain searches for possible (needed) reactions and sends those options to the conscious brain. To note that above 99% of stimuli are never reported to the conscious brain. Surprised? Here are some examples just to cite a few: Do you feel your clothes on your skin? Did you hear the car that just passed by? Did you see the nice mug on your co-worker’s desk?… You got the point, most of the stimuli are considered irrelevant by the subconscious brain and are simply brushed aside.

6. It’s only then that the conscious brain gets activated and takes a decision by choosing one option. In fact, even choice does not really exist as such in or brain but that’s a different story… ☺

According to INC (Institute for NeuroCognitivsm), we take 5’000 decisions a day, not even 10 of them are actually conscious. We spend most of our day in auto mode. This is how nature chose to avoid an energy drain. Our brain is already consuming 20% of the energy of our metabolism for only 2% of body weight. Taking every decision in conscious mode would be totally unbearable. The direct consequence is that we are beings of habits. Whatever habits we seed, we perpetuate.

By the way, remember the 2% number? Where does it come from?

From India elections…

A while back, I read an article about a failed attempt to amend the Indian legislative law… A similar law was applied for ages in the USA and doesn’t seem to aggrieve electors. This section could be considered as a diversion from the subject at hand but it is a relevant (and useful) analogy.

What was that law about?

It consisted of having only 2% of the Indian population voting for representatives. As expected, the natural response was rejection. On the other side of the ocean, many Americans considered this law as totally anti-democratic yet a very similar operating mode has been running in the USA for ages and it seems like nobody cares.

A quick reminder on American elections

Any candidate who wants to run for the Senate needs funding. No funding, no elections. Money is majorly collected in the form of donations from people & organizations. Most donators do so with limited interventionism; i.e. they do not get into the specifics of the program and intentions of the candidate. They just hold a general knowledge about which party the candidate belongs to and have a vague idea of her/his political convictions. But there is a different type of donators, those that have specific agendas they want to see materialize in their daily life (or business).

Each candidate receives donations from thousands of donators, which raises several questions:

Question: Among the lengthy list of donators, whose agenda to prioritize?
Answer: That of the most significant donators of course.

Question: Who are the most significant donators?
Answer: Those that donate $3’500 and above.

Question: What proportion of the population do these donators represent?
Answer: 2% of total voters!!! (Oh my god 2%!!!).

Question: Who decides on which candidates can run for Senate?
Answer: In reality 2% of the population! ONLY 2% of the population! If candidates do not abide by the desired agenda they change the candidate before the general public even gets a chance to vote!!!

Question: Who thinks has decided on who will run the country?
Answer: All voters.

Question: How does it link to the topic at hand?
Answer: Just like in the case of American elections, your subconscious brain plays the role of the 2% of significant donators. It provides the conscious brain with pre-selected options. Just like when you end a sales pitch with “Do you want the blue or the red car?” And your conscious brain believes there is no other option on earth so it selects the best or to be more precise, it rejects the worst!

This is a key learning so allow me to paraphrase it. What we absolutely need to keep in mind is that however conscious our decisions are they are directly dependent on whatever information and experiences are already stored (i.e. known) in our subconscious brain. On top, information is filtered before being conveyed. Spending our lives in auto mode also means we will never try anything new, continue responding to today’s challenges with yesterday’s solutions… We, too, become outdated.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Hijack your subconscious brain!!! ☺

Yes but data processing mechanisms are hardwired in our brain, we now know that the conscious brain cannot overrule the default mode network. Well, overrule no, but hijack why not?

Doing so requires understanding what “thinking” means to our brain.

Side note: we’re almost there so bear with me ☺.

What is thinking?

The word “think” doesn’t mean much to our brain. For instance, when we ask a child to “think” of a solution when faced with a problem, the natural response is to bug. In general, nothing happens, and if anything happens it required the child (or the adult) to insert a step between the “think” you just threw at her/him and the answer. This step is asking a question. In effect, thinking exists for our brain only in the form of answering questions. When we do so, we retrieve information. This information is mostly used as-is (auto mode) or combined with new information, then evaluated (conscious thinking).

Thinking = ask question => retrieve information + combine + assess

SOLUTION

So quick recap. We know that:

  1. Any information will go through our subconscious brain.
  2. That the latter will serve us few (stored) options in return.
  3. That those options may not be adapted to the immediate problem as they rely on past experiences…

…What can we do about it?

As beings of habits, the gist is to install habits that help stay open to new situations. When faced with new conditions, you should simply train your brain to send you questions instead of sending you options (or worse, single answers).

Questions not Answers!!!

So what’s the best question(s) to “install”, life events are vastly diverse, there is no single question that covers them all. Well, maybe there is one. I call it the meta-question. I ask my brain to send me always the same question:

“What would be a good question to ask in this specific situation?”

So long folks!

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