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Improving Self Talk: How to Use the Conscious Mind to Effectively Impact Subconscious Processes

Updated: May 16


A Different Way to Look at the Mind

 

Self talk is a big topic in the world of mental health, and I think it is most useful to approach the subject of improving self talk by first defining and understanding the function of both your conscious and subconscious mind. As a Rapid Resolution Therapy Specialist, I spend a good portion of my time considering how the conscious and subconscious mind are impacting both myself and individuals that I have the pleasure of meeting with. As you read, please keep in mind that this is coming from my specific background and training, and that others may have perfectly acceptable and plausible theories for the unconscious or subconscious; this is just one way to look at it. But, this way of thinking has been extremely personally helpful, as well as helpful to my clients, so I figured I’d write it down to share with you! 



Woman looking towards distance in grass field


What is the conscious mind vs subconscious?

 

The best way to understand the difference between the conscious and subconscious mind is to distinguish it between the things that you are aware of or not aware of. If you can remember having a specific thought, or can notice it presently, then that thought is or was within the conscious mind. Conscious thoughts can also be chosen, we’ll circle back to that a little further down in this article. This means that the vast majority of what is happening within our minds is caused and controlled by the subconscious. There are different theories that will try to give you different percentages, but for now, it is simply fine for you to understand that basic difference.




Woman looking in small mirror


What does each part of the mind excel at? 

 

The conscious mind we experience is uniquely human for all intents and purposes. This part of our mind is capable of abstract reasoning, the consideration of things or concepts that one cannot see, touch, or sense in any physical way. This would include concepts like the past or future. Our conscious minds can imagine and remember, and it is also the part of our mind that we tend to identify with when we say things like “I just can’t get myself to wake up earlier.”  Think of the I in the sentence as your conscious mind and the myself as the subconscious mind. 


The subconscious mind, for our purposes today, we will think of as the part of mind that is controlling most bodily functions, as well as runs the systems in the background out autopilot, making space in the conscious mind to consider those abstract things like relationships, plans for the future, or new content for their business. This part is to thank for when we arrive home in the car, having very little specific memories of choosing to go down the streets that lead to your house. Your subconscious mind is very present-focused and concrete in the way it understands information, a consequence of not processing through abstract reasoning (like an awareness of past or future.) And its main priority is your survival. 




Man looking towards a distant wall


What is Self-Talk?

 

Through this way of thinking about your mind, self-talk would then be best described as the thoughts your conscious mind intentionally engages in about yourself, your mind, and your body. This is not to be confused by the thoughts you simply notice having about yourself. The subconscious mind may cause a thought to rise to consciousness if it believes that that thought would in some way be valuable or critical for your survival, but unless you feel that this thought was purposefully selected and chosen, I would encourage you to use language like “I noticed this thought coming up.” 


While subconscious thoughts can not always or usually be directly altered from the conscious level, continued shifting from a noticed and invaluable thought to an empowering chosen thought can and will make positive changes to the thoughts that are simply noticed rather than chosen. A phrase I find myself telling people often is “You can’t always choose your first thought, but once you’ve noticed it, you have power over what the second thought can be.” 




Woman looking towards window holding coffee


How do you improve your self-talk game?

 

Once we are clear on what self talk is, we can now talk about how to use it for our advantage and overall well being. Many people in the mental health world will talk all about how amazing positive affirmations are, and hey, if you’re a person that feels a benefit from giving yourself compliments in the mirror every morning, knock yourself out. However, I am regularly meeting with people who have just about had enough of that crap and can’t seem to see much of a difference. The issue here might be that your subconscious mind cares more about your survival than it does your happiness. And your survival has nothing to do with what kind of thoughts you have, it depends much more on action. What other life form needs to think positive thoughts about itself before it takes action to get the thing it wants?! I can’t think of any. So here are three things that you can do with your subconscious mind to actually shift away from negative thoughts either happening consciously or subconsciously. 


State the obvious

If you notice negative or uncomfortable thoughts popping up about yourself within your conscious mind, rather than trying to switch it to the opposite, like changing “I hate myself” to “I love myself,” try stating the obvious and objective things about yourself that your mind cannot disagree with. So instead of “I love myself,” I personally might consider thinking “I am a 27 year old female that is 5’3” tall. I live in Florida, and I have two cats.” A switch like this gets your mind out of an emotional and judgmental space and focuses it toward observation of logic and fact. 


Say Thank you

If we think together that your subconscious mind is working toward your survival at all times, that means it is always working toward your overall good, even when it stirs up some pretty unliked or disturbing thoughts. That means, instead of getting angry at your mind for messing stuff up for you, talk to it more like you might talk to a toddler that’s trying to help, but just doesn’t have the skill level yet to truly be helpful. First thank your mind for what it is intending, your survival, as well as thank it for all of the things it is doing for you that you don’t have to consciously remember (like breathe!) Once you have thanked your mind, you can simply inform it that the thought you didn’t like was unnecessary, and you can allow it to be without taking any action on it until it drifts away. 


Focus Outside of the Self

Finally, shift your focus toward the opportunities right in front of you in the present moment. Ask yourself “What can I do, make, give, have, or say right now that would be beneficial to me, someone else, or the world as a whole?” Then, no matter how small the opportunity seems, as soon as your mind becomes aware of something you can take action on that would be good to have done, DO IT! The more that you focus and act on what can be done, the less room there is for negative thoughts about yourself in the first place. 




Want to learn more? You can reach out to me at megstephens@bearlighttherapy.com. Let's embark on this journey of positive change together.

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