The limitless potential
of your mind
We are all a part of the same world, breathing in the same air and standing under the same blue sky, but our individual experience and understanding of this world is as unique to us as our fingerprints.
We all view reality very differently. Two people can sit in exactly the same room, can be a part of exactly the same business meeting and be presented with exactly the same information, but neither will ever be able to give exactly the same account of that meeting if questioned about its contents later. And interestingly, although both accounts are different, they will still in their own unique way be completely true.
This is because, despite the fact that both individuals have sat side by side in the same meeting, their individual perceptions of the discussed agenda, the speaker and the issues raised, as well as their personal judgements, will still end up being completely different.
During that meeting, although both people will have observed exactly the same presentation, it will have been observed through different realities, resulting in different concluding interpretations, in which the speaker’s intended message may or may not have been fully understood.
Imagine how many arguments are caused and deals lost because of a simple misunderstanding or a miscommunication of information. No two people are ever looking at the world from the same point of view. There is no such thing as reality, only our perception of it.
There is no such thing as reality, only our perception of it.
The reason why the police are always keen to try and get as many witnesses as possible to come forward after a crime has been committed is because one witness statement is unfortunately not enough. Evidence based upon the opinion of one person alone will only highlight one singular viewpoint, influenced by that person’s individual understanding of events, and therefore cannot account for all the other valuable information that was potentially available at the time.
Perception is like a Rubik’s cube
If we were to view just one side of the Rubik’s cube, we would observe only one colour – for example, green. On that knowledge alone, we could then assume that the entire Rubik’s cube was in fact green, and even go as far as to argue to others that this was the case, based on our current understanding.
However, should someone then come and turn our Rubik’s cube over, we would notice that it now presented a completely different side with a different colour – yellow, say. Based upon this new understanding, should we now conclude that the entire Rubik’s cube has become yellow, or has it become yellow and green?
We could accept the new judgement, or we could then decide to go one step further and choose instead to look at the Rubik’s cube from every possible angle, becoming aware that actually this cube has sides of many different colours, including blue, white, orange and red.
Our originally perceived green coloured cube has suddenly evolved into a multi-coloured cube, and what’s more, it can be evolved even further should we ask the magical question “What if?”
What if we then chose to spend some time twisting and turning the Rubik’s cube’s various layers into different directions, and did this until all the individual, tiny coloured squares were mixed up together and no side displayed just one colour – what could we then learn and what would our conclusion be?
Just this: nothing can be fully understood by one viewpoint alone. And from this springs another lesson: every problem has a solution; it may sometimes just need another perspective.
Every problem has a solution; it may sometimes just need another perspective.
In NLP we use the analogy of “maps” to describe the neurological blueprint that we each work with when attempting to understand and decode our personal experience of the world around us.
The “map” is simply our interpretation of our own reality, our past, present and future. It is constructed through our learned lessons and behaviours, our beliefs, values, identity and interpretations of objects, sounds, tastes, smells, feelings, people and events. Each and every single element of all of our experiences is broken down, recoded, recreated and stored within our mind as a neurological map. This map is an intricately detailed blueprint for our subconscious mind to follow, to refer back to and to utilize in our translations, judgements and understandings of how to appropriately relate and interact with our surrounding environment.
Our maps are predominantly influenced by our perceptions of life and are created as a result of our past understanding. The perceptions we have create a major directional influence upon all of our interpretations of the world, and can alter the way we in which we view life’s opportunities and our available choices. But the map is not the territory.
The map is not the territory.
How your mind works
Have you ever noticed yourself behaving in a way that you wished you could change, and subsequently found yourself arguing and reasoning with that internal voice inside your head?
Have you ever begun shaking like a leaf the moment you started to contemplate giving an office presentation, even though you know your subject matter inside out, much better than anyone else does?
We can all sometimes behave in a way that we would consciously prefer not to, and consequently we can be left regretting or resenting some of our actions – even occasionally our lack of them.
We can all sometimes behave in a way that we would consciously prefer not to.
However, if you are finding you are experiencing and responding to the world in a way that you wished was different, it is important for you now to recognize that these unwanted perceptions and behaviours are not always entirely your fault, or not consciously anyway.
The driving forces behind all our various behaviours begin within structures that are so deeply rooted and complex that if we attempt to control them with conscious and analytical thought alone, we will often struggle to have any influential impact upon them at all. Every action we perform is a response to a combination of various different thoughts, programming, systems, structures, patterns and conditioned understanding. All of our behaviours are a result of more than just one, singular conscious idea, making it very difficult to influence them through logical thought and reasoning alone.
Our minds function on two separate levels:
The conscious mind (logical thinking)
The subconscious mind (automatic functioning).
Our conscious mind processes all of our logical thought and analytical reasoning. Our conscious mind is the part of our mind that is constantly alert and aware, making value judgements and assessments and arriving at inevitable conclusions. We use our conscious mind to perceive our reality of the world and provide the meaning to all of our experiences, thoughts and actions in a way that can we can understand, recreate and compartmentalize.
Our conscious mind is the part of our mind that is constantly alert and aware.
Your conscious mind will be used for, among other things, dates of meetings, colleagues’ names and company statistics.
Our subconscious mind (or unconscious mind) is the part of our brain that runs all our automatic functions. It operates all of our behavioural strategies, habitual patterns, emotions and memories. Everything that our subconscious mind does is based upon systematic structures, sequences and linked understanding. It is governed by our beliefs, values, identity and expectations, and is constantly seeking out new ways of evolving its systems and streamlining its processes towards efficiency.
Our subconscious mind is the part of our brain that runs all our automatic functions. It operates all of our behavioural strategies, habitual patterns, emotions and memories.
Your subconscious mind is used for, among other things, getting to work, operating computer systems, typing emails and making the morning coffee.
Did you know that the subconscious mind actually has no analytical abilities whatsoever? It does not have the logic to decide between right and wrong, or positive and negative.
To understand even negative information, our subconscious must first turn it into a positive, which means every program our subconscious mind is operating has a positive intent driving it. Every bad habit we now have has been originally created for a very good reason… and that includes biting your nails!
The conscious mind
Your conscious mind is the part of your brain that is aware of reading and understanding this statement right now.
Logical and analytical, our conscious mind can be recognized as the thoughts going on within our head, as we perceive and interact with our surrounding world. It’s the part of our mind that we use to analyse company statistics or debate the choice, colour and impact of a colleague’s tie.
Our internal and external environment is so incredibly detailed and complex that our mind has to operate on a multitude of levels in order to constantly manage this fluctuating information effectively. By processing our information in this way, we become free to manoeuvre through the daily process that is our lives, reacting and adapting to all its experiences.
There are in fact approximately 4 billion pieces of separate information bombarding our senses every single second, and out of all this intricate data our mind must select the elements deemed relevant to us so that they can be processed and responded to accordingly.
To handle this constant level of input, your mind processes most of this information in such a way as to leave your conscious mind aware of only a tiny proportion of it, and free to interact and analyse our daily events. (See also Chapter 3 on the senses.)
For example, in this moment you are able to read this book, debate and reason its content, and at the same time still function on many other levels. You heart is beating, your lungs are breathing, maybe you are holding your body posture upright, while your eyes automatically scan across the pages, your fingers automatically knowing when to turn each page; and at the same time your subconscious is probably keeping a quiet track of the time, the jobs you still have left to do by the end of the day, and the millions of other functions that are simply overlooked by your conscious awareness until we mentioned a couple of them, just then.
In fact, according to the theory of American psychologist George Miller, “The magic number seven, plus or minus two”, the conscious mind is only able to keep track of five, seven or nine pieces of information at any given time. This information is not size specific, and can be anything from the thoughts within your head or your awareness of your external environment.
Focus your attention on your surrounding environment right now, and start to notice all the different noises you are beginning to hear going on in the background.
What sounds are you now aware of? Are there any new noises that maybe you hadn’t heard or noticed earlier?
The subconscious mind
Not unlike a computer, your subconscious mind operates all of its functions through a series of pre-programmed systematic processes. Every action, gesture, facial expression, movement or habit you now perform is the result of a previously learned and perfected behavioural response.
Think back to your early days at school. Remember how much time you spent sitting at your writing desk, carefully copying down the large letters off the board and on to the page, learning and understanding the meaning behind every single word, the shapes and sound of the letters. How many times did you practise over the years, expanding upon your knowledge, repeating the processes of writing, reading and spelling time and again until eventually you mastered the art of basic reading and writing?
Now think about how many times you’ve probably jotted down thoughts and ideas, probably taken countless memos, ploughed through numerous reports, and all without a second’s conscious thought.
You don’t now look at the words on this page and debate the meaning of every single letter and phrase: instead you automatically read the words and immediately understand their meanings. This is because the processes of reading and writing have now become a perfectly formed subconscious program and habit, driven by an intent (understanding) and formed through combinations of various patterned structures. These structures are neurological thinking (sentence structure, phonetics) and physiological, motor responses (holding a pen or a book). In fact it would be almost impossible for you to look at the words on this page and not understand what they mean.
Through a process of trial and error the subconscious mind lays the foundations for all our future movements, understandings and gestures. Over time your subconscious mind will gradually expand upon them, condense them down and then overgeneralize these patterns, meanings and purposes, so we can seamlessly function through every element of our lives, leaving our conscious mind free to debate the meaning of life and our next pay cheque.
Through a process of trial and error the subconscious mind lays the foundations for all our future movements, understandings and gestures.
Programs of behaviour
Before our subconscious mind attempts to learn any new behaviour, it must first perceive an intent for doing so, a reason “why”.
When we originally learned “how” to open a door for the very first time, the original intent (“why”) instigating the processes may have been anything from “freedom” to “independence” or “attainment”. It may have been “freedom” because as a child we may have wanted to open and escape from all closed rooms, or “independence” because we wanted to choose where we could go and when, or it may have been for reasons of “attainment” because there was something shiny and very interesting that we wanted and that was kept behind a cupboard door. Whatever the original, driving intent, it will have been motivating enough for our mind to begin the processes of learning, applying hours of conscious of trial and error, understanding all the tiny elements and processes involved (cognitive and motor skills – that is, moving our fingers, clutching the handle, contracting our muscles, and so on) until eventually our conscious mind finally understood “how”.
Once this “how” was achieved, this new process would have been repeated again and again until eventually our mind had patterned, sequenced and understood it enough to turn it over to our subconscious mind and subsequently for it to become a behavioural program, to be run whenever a combination of intent (why) and a door handle (how) is perceived. But before our subconscious mind attempts to learn any new behaviour, it must first perceive an intent for doing so, a reason “why”.
Before our subconscious mind attempts to learn any new behaviour, it must first perceive an intent for doing so, a reason “why”.
It’s all in the learning
In NLP, the process of learning can be explained in four stages:
1. Unconscious incompetence
Our mind is completely unaware that there is something it may want to do but currently cannot do. We are unaware of the door’s existence, its function and its potential impact on our lives.
2. Conscious incompetence
Our mind is aware that there is something we want to do (intent/why) but doesn’t yet know how to go about achieving it. We are aware of the door’s impact and we want to know how to open it, but haven’t yet figured out how to go about doing so.
3. Conscious competence
Our mind is aware of “how” we can achieve what it is we want, but it still has to stay focused upon the process in order to achieve it. We have now worked out how to open the door and have identified all the processes involved to facilitate achieving this, but we still have to focus and think consciously about every element of it.
4. Unconscious competence
Our mind understands the process and has turned it over to the subconscious mind to become a habitual program, to be run automatically without any conscious thought or awareness. We are now able to open a door at any time we perceive one and have intent for doing so; we don’t have to think consciously about it, our subconscious mind just runs the program automatically.
Exercise: Never too old to learn new tricks
Read through this exercise, take a piece of paper, and write down the answers to the following questions:
1. If you were to think of something now that you really want to learn, what is it?
Maybe it’s how to give great presentations, acquire confident interview techniques or play golf. This stage is taking an idea out of unconscious incompetence and bringing it into conscious incompetence.
2. What is the intent and what are you going to gain?
Create the intent, the “why” for your subconscious. “Why” do you want to learn this? This stage is taking the steps towards conscious incompetence.
3. What do you need to do to start learning “how” to do this?
What are the steps you need to put into action? How are you going to begin learning this new program? At this stage you turn your new program into conscious competence.
4. What do you need to do to make this program second nature?
How many times a week are you going to practise this new program? How will you recognize you have got there? What will you be doing, and how will you be doing it?
What will you feel, see and hear when you have finally made this new program an unconscious habit? How will it affect your life and what difference will it make?
This is the practice stage – the more you practise something, the better you will become.
This leads to unconscious competence.
We can all experience situations within our lives that would benefit from a simple shift in our perceptions at the time.
1. Think of a recent situation where you have perhaps experienced conflict with another person, or felt overwhelmed by a potential decision or unsettled by the thought of impending circumstances.
2. While you are thinking about the situation, become aware of all the different elements that concern you, or that you don’t like or understand, or want to change. Has someone maybe responded in a way you hadn’t expected? Are you worried your decision may turn out to be the wrong one? Is there something about a particular situation that is making you uncomfortable?
If you are struggling to hold all of these thoughts in your mind, write them all down on a piece of paper.
3. Now think about how you would like your situation to resolve. What would be your desired outcome, and what would you like to achieve?
4. With this outcome in mind, now think again about your particular concerns about your situation. Now imagine shifting your current perspective on them so that you alter your viewpoint from being negative to positive (in other words, from seeing the glass as half empty to seeing it as half full).
What can you gain? How can you use the information you have to achieve your outcome? What will you learn? What opportunities can you now perceive? Who will benefit?
Why is someone responding in the way that they are? Imagine looking at the situation from their point of view. Could they simply have misinterpreted your words or actions? What are they trying to achieve? How could you positively alter your response to lead both of you towards your goal?
Think about all of the positive outcomes to your possible decision. What could you gain? How will you or others benefit? What could you do instead, and what would make you happy?
Is there something about this situation you can learn from? How can it positively influence your life? Is it something you can positively accept, and if not, will you choose to change it? What other alternatives or opportunities are out there, that you may have simply overlooked?
Remember – there is no such thing as reality, only our perception of it.
Go for it! Whether you have a difficult client, an unsuitable product or a conflict of opinion, the chances are, you are probably only perceiving the problem from one perspective and from one point of view. Occasionally choose to step out of your comfort zone, dare to ask the question “What if?” and then tilt your angle of perception. What new opportunities await you, when you actively choose to look for them?