Read an Excerpt
Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance
By James Mapes
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2016 James Mapes, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MIND
"Brains exist because the distribution of resources necessary for survival and the hazards that threaten survival vary in space and time."
— JOHN M. ALLMAN, EVOLVING BRAINS
The purpose of this book is to enable you, through a series of exercises, to create and live an exceptional life. In order for you to do that, though, it is absolutely imperative that you have a clear understanding of how your mind works. So I'm going to start by presenting the basic "mechanics" of your mind. I will also explore why the decisions we make and the beliefs we form as very young children color our lives as adults, why it is necessary to uncover these beliefs, and how, if necessary, we can restructure them.
In my first session with a new client, I always take the time to define the terms and concepts I will be using, because a clear understanding of this information ensures that the exercises I will ask him or her to do make sense. Creating and living an exceptional life requires each individual to begin assembling a personal "tool kit for the mind." The foundation of this tool kit is a working knowledge of what is commonly referred to as the "conscious" mind and the "subconscious" mind.
Being of Two Minds
As odd as this may sound, your "mind," as opposed to your "brain," is, figuratively speaking, divided into two parts. These parts — the "conscious" and the "unconscious" mind — are invisible and dramatically different, yet they must work in harmony if an individual is to live an exceptional life. On the simplest possible level, the "conscious" mind is your awareness, your selftalk, the voice in your head that is always chattering away. It is the seat of your imagination, the visionary part of your brain. One of its greatest talents is to make up and tell stories. However, while the conscious mind can be positive, rational, and visionary, it can also be extremely pessimistic, judgmental, and overanalytical. It maintains the illusion that willpower can overcome any obstacle, and when it does not attain what it wants, it is quick to justify the reason for failing. In addition, it has a tendency to worry and fret, get mired down in overanalyzing, and be easily overwhelmed by too much choice.
The "subconscious" mind (the common, everyday term often used to replace the term "unconscious") is incredibly powerful and has its own unique attributes. In a sense the subconscious is the machinery hidden behind the curtain that controls the conscious mind. Hidden away and deeply etched in the subconscious of our brain's circuitry are the successful programs that have kept us alive for hundreds of thousands of generations. At the core of the subconscious lies the need to survive. It is designed to keep us safe by playing it safe, sticking to the familiar, and, if threatened, instantly launching into a fight-or-flight mode.
One of the most extraordinary characteristics of the subconscious mind is that it cannot tell the difference between a real experience and one imagined by the conscious mind. It also contains our imprinted memories, and responds very strongly to imagined, emotionally charged images and pictures, both positive and negative. This is because the subconscious has no real sense of time. As a result, an event that was experienced many years ago can be perceived as though it occurred yesterday. As I will explain later, the combination of these characteristics makes visualization (imaging) the ideal tool to influence the subconscious.
Thus we really are of "two minds" and these two minds are often in conflict. What we think we desire (our conscious mind) can be drastically different from what we want at a much deeper and invisible level (the subconscious mind). This conflict of the two minds can be seen in action when willpower alone fails to help us permanently take off undesired weight, stop smoking, cease procrastinating, or attempt to break any unwanted, negative habit. Learning to help your two minds work in harmony to achieve peace of mind is one of the keys to achieving an exceptional life.
The Power of the Subconscious
There have been dozens of self-help books that tout the power of the subconscious, but it has only been in recent years that scientists are starting to take notice. By the applied use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to the brain, scientists are just beginning to realize the impact that the subconscious has on our conscious decision making.
An eye-opening article on this subject by Benedict Carey entitled "Who's Minding the Mind?" appeared in The New York Times in 2007. Suggesting how unique and powerful the subconscious mind really is, Carey wrote, "... the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known. Goals, whether to eat, mate or devour an iced latte, are like neural software programs that can only be run one at a time, and the unconscious is perfectly capable of running the program it chooses." This observation is intriguing because it implies how little control we actually have over our conscious decision making. Carey further notes that "We have company, an invisible partner who has strong reactions about the world that don't always agree with our own, but whose instincts, these studies clearly show, are at least as likely to be helpful, and attentive to others, as they are to be disruptive. ... [T]he results suggest a "bottom-up" decision-making process ..."
As part of my research I also contacted Dr. Richard Granger, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College, and co-author with Gary Lynch of Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence. When I asked him how much control the subconscious has over our conscious decision-making process, he said, "The most recent brain research strongly indicates that the unconscious mind controls ninety percent of our choices and the conscious mind controls ten percent." These scientific insights suggest that it is to our great advantage to learn how to assist the two parts of our mind to work together in a collaborative manner and develop the tools necessary to empower our conscious mind to influence the subconscious mind. Although forging a partnership between our "minds" is challenging, we can do a great deal toward that ideal once we discover the secret of creating harmony between our two "minds."
The Conscious Rider and the Subconscious Elephant
Over many years of speaking on the power of the mind I searched for the ideal metaphor to describe the conscious and subconscious. For a short period I used Plato's imagery in Phaedrus, in which Socrates refers to our conscious, rational self as a charioteer who is holding on to the reins of two horses, one disciplined and the other unruly, which together represent our subconscious. The weakness in Plato's metaphor is that he assumed the conscious mind, the charioteer, had far more control over the subconscious than it actually does. Nevertheless, it was quite an insight, particularly considering that brain science did not even exist yet!
Then, for some years I described the subconscious mind as "computerlike" and the conscious mind as the "programmer." That all changed, though, when I received a call from a close colleague. It was with great enthusiasm that he suggested I read the new book by Chip and Dan Heath entitled Switch. "You must read this," he exclaimed. "This book supports everything you believe and will expand your ideas on how you teach." He was right.
In Switch, the Heath brothers present a clear and concise picture of how to manage change. But it was their vivid and easily understood metaphor for the conscious and subconscious minds (the Rider and the Elephant) that prompted me to reexamine my approach to describing the workings of the human mind. What was even more impressive was that they gratefully acknowledged borrowing this delightful metaphor from University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt's impressive book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. "Haidt explains," the Heaths wrote, "that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider's control is precarious because the Rider is so small compared to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He's completely overmatched."
This description resonated deeply within me, at least partly because, while visiting India several years ago, I had the opportunity to ride an elephant, and it was one extremely edgy experience. Although I had received some instruction in signaling to the elephant the direction in which I wanted it to move, despite my best efforts, that elephant did just what it wanted to do, and I had only as much control as it allowed me to have. I felt very small and insignificant. As a result, when I subsequently read Haidt's book, I found myself viewing the principles I teach through a different lens, and began to refer to the subconscious and the conscious as the "Elephant" and the "Rider."
* * *
In order to help you develop your own insight into how our two minds work, I have listed below what I consider to be the ten most important characteristics of the conscious Rider and of the subconscious Elephant. Remember that the Rider is the rational side, which needs focus, and the Elephant is the emotional side, which needs motivation and direction. Remember, also, that both have strengths and weaknesses. The greater understanding you have of their characteristics, the more you will be able to help them stay out of each other's way and work in harmony.
THE CONSCIOUS RIDER ...
is the creative visionary who can imagine alternative paths of choice, and is proficient at crafting mental movies of possible futures.
is a master storyteller, even if many of the stories are complete fabrications.
can proactively direct the imagination to influence the Elephant.
is our rational, reflective side, what is often referred to as our "inner voice," "mind chatter," "inner dialogue," or "self-talk."
thinks it is in charge but is actually always at the whim of the Elephant, and because it has limited reserves of energy, can easily become exhausted from trying to override the Elephant's power.
can see both problems and opportunities, but since it has a natural tendency to see mostly the negative, it often focuses on solving problems rather than searching out opportunities.
is overanalytical, easily paralyzed in the face of uncertainty, and often overwhelmed when presented with too many choices.
is a master of rationalization and justification, and can almost instantaneously make up logical reasons when overridden by the Elephant's ingrained habits.
is able to delay immediate gratification because it is willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs.
can only see its reflection or know itself with the help of other Riders or by using tools for introspection.
THE SUBCONSCIOUS ELEPHANT ...
is the heavy lifter, taking care of the autonomic nervous system (heart rate, respiration rate, digestion, etc.), and freeing up the Rider to do what it does best — think, contemplate, create stories, and visualize.
is the core of our emotional self, and therefore reacts very strongly to emotions and feelings, especially those of fear and love.
does not think, contemplate, or reflect in the traditional sense but, rather, reacts with absolutes, constantly and automatically deciding between right or wrong, good or bad, left or right, flight or fight, etc.
cannot tell the difference between a real experience and one imagined by the Rider.
is extremely suggestible.
is basically in charge of our choices and actions, but can be influenced by the Rider when presented with emotionally charged, vivid, crystal-clear, and easily understood directions in the form of pictures and images.
is fearful, skittish, and programmed with the basic default setting for survival.
does not like to take risks, think out of the box, or follow "the road less traveled," so when the future is uncertain it always follows a familiar path.
is fundamentally lazy, always wants the quick payoff of instant gratification, and is accordingly unwilling to make long-term sacrifices for short-term gains.
responds to suggestions given by the Rider that are clear, precise, realistic, and logical, and is more comfortable moving on a different path when taking small steps.
It might help you to think of the Rider as a new chief operating officer (COO) of a large and complex company, and the Elephant as the entrenched, unspoken, and underlying rules that guide the organization. The new COO steps into a culture whose rules have been part of the company for so long that they have become the norm, the status quo, a set of invisible paradigms. They just are. What can the COO do?
The COO can certainly make every attempt to learn about those rules, but most likely will only get a glimpse. He or she would most likely learn a lot more by studying what has made the company successful, as well as what belief systems within the company have created barriers to success. Ultimately, the job of the COO is to both define a vision and develop short- and long-term goals that will move the company forward to turn that vision into a reality. So while the Rider, the COO, can only influence rather than control the Elephant, the company, it can develop a vision for the company and teach the skills that are necessary to support its success.
Our Three Brains
We all carry around our own unique programming or conditioning. Most of it comes free of charge, locked away in our genes, and the rest is a reflection of what we have learned. But we didn't start out that way. As is the case with every part of our bodies, our brains developed into what they are today over a period of thousands of years by a process of natural selection. That is, of the countless random changes that occurred over time, only those that proved to further our survival were retained.
In the early 1950s, neurologist Dr. Paul MacLean created one of the most well-known and efficient models for understanding the evolution of the human brain. In his theory, three distinct brains developed — one in front of the other — to form what we now label as the human brain, all of them cohabitating in the human skull. Interestingly enough, it turns out that the brain has a structure very much like my family's cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The cabin started off as a house trailer. Many years later a second section was added, which included a living room. Years after that another bedroom was built onto the existing structure. Each addition incorporated and enhanced the one that came before it to form a well-functioning and roomy cabin. You can, then, view the development of the human brain like the progression of my family's cabin, except of course on a much, much longer time frame.
BRAIN ONE: THE REPTILIAN BRAIN
According to MacLean's theory, we can thank our reptilian brain (Brain One), the most ancient and primitive part of the brain — developed around 250 million years ago — for all our basic survival mechanisms. This so-called Brain One not only controls the required body functions for sustaining life, such as body temperature and breathing, but all our instinctive and automatic responses. It is primitive as well as compulsive.
As part of our packet of survival skills, our reptilian brain gave us the ability to quickly spot anything that was a threat to us. It is like a Secret Service agent constantly watching our backs, scanning for potential threats. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that due to this encoded, protective skill, our species still exists. The bad news is that this survival skill now gives us the penchant to see the bad before we see the good. As Jonathan Haidt notes in The Happiness Hypothesis, "Psychologists find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. We can't just will ourselves to see everything as good because our minds are wired to find and react to threats, violations, and setbacks."
BRAIN TWO: THE MAMMALIAN BRAIN
Subsequent to the development of the reptilian brain came our mammalian or limbic brain (Brain Two). It's like the first addition to my family's cabin, and was added on around 150 million years ago. I say "around" because the exact timeline of our brain development is fairly vague. Brain Two is wrapped about Brain One and forms what is referred to as the "limbic system," which accounts for our animal instincts and emotions.
Excerpted from Imagine That! by James Mapes. Copyright © 2016 James Mapes, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.