If we’re going to talk about communication, I want to make sure we’re on the same page first. At its very core, communication refers to receiving information. If you’re the sender of this information (i.e., the one talking) you want whatever you’re saying to be heard, understood or “received” on the other side. If you’re the recipient (i.e., the one who’s listening to someone else talking or giving info to you) then the same applies. You want to understand the information thereby “receiving it.”
You talking at someone isn’t sending the information you want. The other person isn’t listening to your content or they’re dismissing so much of what you’re saying.
If you want your information to be received, you need to be aware of these three components of communication:
- Your body language
- The actual language you use and (most importantly)
- Your underlying unconscious motivations – what you’re communicating unconsciously
In this post, I’m going to speak about the most important of these three: what’s happening in your unconscious. In the next few weeks, I’ll be covering the actual language you use, and then we’ll talk about body language.
I’m starting with your unconscious motivations because, once you have this down, the rest will feel like a cake walk.
Is it My Subconscious or Unconscious?
First things first: which term is correct: Subconscious or Unconscious? I get asked this a lot. What’s the difference? The short answer? There isn’t a difference in the therapy world.
If you’re speaking to those of us who do counseling (psychologists, psychiatrists, and the like) we use the term unconscious but if you’re speaking to any old person on the street, they’d likely tell you that unconscious means passed out.
In other words, those of us in the mental health professions would use the term unconscious as a noun (that guy is ruled by his unconscious – he doesn’t understand why he’s acting that way) while someone else would use it as an adjective (that guy is unconscious – he got knocked out).
When I hear the term “unconscious mind” I think of Freud and psychoanalysis. For the record, the idea that there were feelings, thoughts and memories outside of our conscious awareness predates Freud. However, no one before Freud has theorized that these hidden thoughts and memories got repressed and made unconscious, and that this is what made us mentally ill.
Freud used the terms subconscious and unconscious interchangeably initially probably because these words are almost identical in German (subconscious is das Unterbewusste; unconscious is das Unbewusste). Ultimately, he only used the word unconscious.
So, in general, in psychological and neuroscience professional literature you’ll see the word unconscious used. The word “subconscious” generally shows up in what’s considered “lay literature.”
I use these terms interchangeably, usually depending on the setting.
You might also be interested in 4 Ways to Be More Self Aware
Why Do You Care So Much About the Unconscious Abby?
I care so much about your unconscious because it’s at the base of ALL your communications.
Here’s what usually happens: you learn some great tool from me and try it out. Your conscious mind is thinking: “This makes sense – backed by research, great success rate and seems smart.” But your unconscious mind is thinking: “These tools never work for me. I get that other people get something out of them but I’m different/ my problem’s been going on longer/things really can’t change because my partner refuses to do anything.
So, you use the tool but nothing changes (or it changes briefly and goes back to the way it was). The real reason it doesn’t work is because your conscious brain is thinking the right things, but your unconscious brain isn’t, and your partner is picking up way more from your unconscious.
Remember, your brain processes 11 million bits of information per second and only 40 bits of that are with your conscious brain!
So your partner picks up on all this unconscious intention and doesn’t make any changes. Then you say: “See! I knew this wouldn’t work!” You basically prove yourself right.
People don’t hear what you say, they hear what you mean!
And then they act accordingly.
You’ve absolutely GOT to align what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling (your conscious and unconscious motivations), or your communication isn’t going to be as effective as you want (if at all).
If you want to start communicating effectively here’s your three-step process:
Step #1: Come from Love, Not Fear
In my experience, the number one culprit for poor communication overall is your conscious or unconscious fear. Your fear shows up with a number of feelings and behaviors: your anxiety, jealousy, worry, concern, helplessness, hopelessness, rage, overwhelm – all of these feelings leave you wanting to control, lash out, punish or withdraw. Your partner picks up on your fear and that’s what they’re reacting to. If you take care of the fear FIRST, the conversation will blossom.
To get yourself to move from fear to love quickly, you can do the next step.
You might also be interested in Why Your Lizard Brain is Keeping You Stuck
Step #2: Ask Yourself Some Questions
First things first: there are some questions you need to ask yourself before you do anything else. Once you’re clear about your answers, you’ll be able to have a more fruitful conversation.
- What am I feeling right now?
- What’s my motivation to have this conversation/to give feedback? Are you pissed and want to take it out on your partner for “making you feel that way?” Are you trying to control your partner or a situation?
- What’s my endgame with this conversation? What are you hoping to get out of having this conversation? If you’ve had the conversation before, it means whatever you’re saying isn’t working – are you just wanting to bitch or complain?
- How do I want the other person to feel at the end of this conversation?
- How do I want to feel at the end of this conversation?
I’m sure you can already tell how answering these questions will put you in a love-based frame of mind instead of a fear-based one.
Step #3: Act like the person you want to be
In one of my favorite books: Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson, he’s clear that, if you want to align your conscious and unconscious mind, a great place to start is to deliberately act like the person you want to be.
To do that, you need to change your behavior. As Wilson eloquently puts it:
“Act your way into a new way of being.”
I think I loved reading this so much because it’s a big part of something we learn in the 12 steps (Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous). We have a couple of sayings, “Fake it until you make it” and “Bring the body and the mind will follow.”
When you’re trying to stop drinking or drugging, trust me, you don’t really want to. Your brain is, literally, hijacked and you’re driven by all kinds of physical and mental motivations – most of which are happening without any conscious awareness. And most of them telling you to continue drinking and drugging!
So, in the beginning, you’re just going through the motions – doing the new things but they feel uncomfortable and fake.
This is the “fake it” part. Over time, things start to change, and you start to align your conscious and unconscious minds and this is the “make it” part!
There are basically two ways that having new actions and behaviors leads to shifting your unconscious mind so it’s more aligned with your conscious.
First, when you start behaving differently your brain gets to unconsciously infer that you’re a new person. Your brain now has new information, new data to incorporate so it starts to reconstruct its knowledge of you. Identity formation is all about your beliefs. Your beliefs are just thoughts you’ve had over and over. If your actions are different consistently, then your thoughts start to shift. “I’m the kind of person that” is your new mantra. “I’m the kind of person who jogs daily.” “I’m the kind of person who does nice things for my partner.” These create a new self-concept – new beliefs.
Second, the more you practice a new behavior, the more automatic it becomes.
Without a doubt, research has shown over and over that changing your behavior often precedes changes in attitudes, thoughts and feelings.
Changing your daily behavior to match what you consciously want, is a great way to bring about change in your unconscious mind.
Even small changes in your behavior are beneficial. Again, these small changes can definitely lead to small changes in your self-concept. And small changes in how you think about yourself, will make the next change easier. And that’s how all this grows.
When you have consistent practice of new tools, thoughts, intentions and feelings, you’ll train your unconscious mind to think what you want!
Now that you know all this, I’ve got a challenge for you: I call it the “Align Your Mind Challenge.”
Download the Align Your Mind Challenge Quicksheet for this episode by scrolling towards the bottom of the page and entering your name and email address. Then you’re going to write down the new thought you want to align between your conscious and unconscious minds. Next, you’re going to write down one action you’re going to take each day.
Here’s how it works: Think of the thought you want to have in your unconscious. Some examples could be:
- Our success as a couple is inevitable
- Big change can absolutely happen in a short amount of time
- My partner and I are on track to create a relationship beyond my wildest dreams
- I’m the kind of person who takes excellent care of my health
If this was true, what behaviors, what actions, would you be taking each day? What focus would you have? For one week, I want to do or say one new thing each day. Some examples could be:
- Text daily with gratitude to partner
- Do one random act of kindness per day
- Call every day in the middle of the day to say hello
- Say yes to every single thing they ask of you today
- Set a daily intention for X
Then you’re going to set up some accountability to make sure you follow through. I give you some excellent ideas for how to make yourself accountable on the Quicksheet.
Go download the Align Your Mind Quicksheet, start the challenge, and watch your life change for the better in just a week!