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Vectors: Changing Bearings and Freeing the Mind

I haven’t been happy for quite a long while. I have a good job, great friends, and enough spontaneity to keep things interesting, but (besides the gaping existential void, of course) I feel like something is missing. After evaluating my environment, I determined that the problem lay within myself. I have fallen off my Path – the mission I set out for myself upon graduating college and entering the “real world.” It has been difficult to determine, even in hindsight how I - for lack of a better term - strayed.

It was a strange thing to realize that my own thoughts, words, and actions were the root causes of my suffering. As I intently and actively strayed from the Path, I did not realize that I was the source of my own unhappiness. It truly felt like the world was against me and that’s why I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life. Every moment was a battle and everything needed to be conquered. Eventually I grew tired of fighting. After this initial “aha” moment, I decided to gaze within, tear down the scaffolding of my persona and rebuild my words, habits, and self. I needed a process to enter my mind in order to change my behavior, and I found one. If you have been looking for a road toward a higher purpose, may this help you as well.

What is the mind?

The mind is comprised of the unconscious and the conscious.

The unconscious mind is the foundation of one’s lived experiences and also the imagination. The conscious mind speaks to the unconscious mind, directing it where to go.

Without the unconscious, the conscious lacks impact and power. Without the conscious, the unconscious lacks direction.

I symbolize this in my head with a vector, where the orientating head of the vector symbolizes the conscious mind and the shaft of the vector indicates its magnitude, providing the impact and power of the unconscious.

The unconscious mind performs many actions autonomously and automatically, sometimes without the awareness of the conscious mind, but if the conscious mind becomes aware of these unconscious words and actions, it can wield influence upon and change the unconscious. When this happens, the conscious mind begins to develop a filter, and the unconscious in turn absorbs what is input into it, enabling behavioral change over time. In order to change behavior, we need to recalibrate this filter.

Enter the Mind

Begin this process by cultivating confidence. Remind yourself that you are alive, fantastic, and have happiness in your life. Confidence gives us permission to possess thoughts that allow strides toward the Path we want to travel. Sometimes events happen which we cannot control. These events might affect behavior in a myriad of ways or might cause damage to us or those around us. Although affirming behavior is counterintuitive when we are not going down the Path we want to be going, accepting and believing that the best is yet to come produces will within the human mind to produce positive change.

Remove Negative Thought Patterns

We have positive and negative thoughts constantly, and all types of thoughts can be harmful or helpful. Negative thoughts, defined here as thoughts that are caused by dormant beliefs that damage the present moment, have the tendency to cultivate anxiety because you may believe they are constantly influencing your behavior. These echoes of the past create a cycle of anxiety-inducing hypothetical scenarios, chipping away at the effects of positive thinking and further increasing anxiety. This anxiety, not these imaginary thoughts, is what robs us of joy, regardless of what’s actually going on in the present moment. Only by actively refuting this impulse with the conscious mind do we influence the unconscious mind, under the hood, to cultivate the energy and will to achieve our goals and to take upon risks with the intent to succeed.

All thought states pass – the positive and the negative. Anticipating these states is counterproductive; this causes paralysis by analysis and these hypothetical scenarios propagate more anxiety, influencing our beliefs. Examples of the states of belief cultivated by anxiety include the fundamental attribution error. All people are preoccupied with their internal worlds. By forcing ourselves to cultivate what seems like a leap of faith, we avoid comparing ourselves to others, resulting in the growth and cultivation of the best traits within the one person we are in service to first: ourselves. Instead of attributing others’ behavior to internal characteristics rather than externalities and assuming, quite ironically, that people are more self-aware than they are, we have the option to make the choice to cultivate energy, act in concert with our intentions, and our subconscious will slowly start to reprogram itself, and the world will mirror our perspective back accordingly.

How do we further minimize the impact of inevitable negative thoughts as they arise while we pursue our dreams?

Recognize anxiety – and all things, for that matter - as impermanent.

Optimize the Impact of Positive Thought

We know that the conscious mind can filter positive or negative unconscious suggestions or can be bypassed completely with gates open and the unconscious mind can be implanted with suggestions without our control. Awareness is a skill cultivated by practicing meditation. It teaches one how to let thoughts pass by the conscious mind without attachment to them. Awareness slows down the process of conscious action, and allows us to select which thoughts to follow and which to filter.

Meditation is a tool that teaches us all states of energy – positive and negative – are impermanent. Latching onto happiness creates fear of its departure, and that fear creates anxiety. This anxiety tires the mind, and a tired mind creates a tired body.

How to Meditate

To reduce attachment to the fleeting thoughts that inevitably arise during meditation, focus on and bring attention to the breath. Pay attention to how the body reacts and what happens when your conscious mind tries to monitor the body’s inhales and exhales. During this practice, one starts to observe thoughts instead of being swept away by their influence. Even if the attention is torn away from the breath, we can observe the frustration that arises instead of acting upon it while simultaneously, gently bringing the attention back to the breath.

In waking life, by not getting swept away by our own thoughts, we become more present and aware of other peoples’ thoughts and feelings. This awareness creates compassion, and becoming untethered to our own thoughts unleashes boundless creativity. When awareness increases and we become more present in the moment, we become more relaxed and in control of our own minds and bodies.

Implantation and Persistence

The content and magnitude of our thoughts – how intensely we think them – influence our lives. Like adding vectors together, a single thought is not powerful, but repeated and emotionally charged thoughts are. Our thoughts command our will, and that will acts and carries out desires. How can you think and act accordingly?

Positive language and suggestive desires allow you to project the things you actually want instead of negative language that implants within the subconscious things you disdain. The goal of this behavior is that, moving forward, you begin to think of new assets rather than old faults. This cultivates a healthier sense of self-esteem while it reduces guilt, shame, and other negative emotions.

If we look to the past to see how far we’ve come, it’s possible to become attached to a version of ourselves that will never falter again. But as stated before, attachment to thoughts creates fear, which creates anxiety, which creates a downward spiral of emotion and drains energy. By focusing on the present – the breath - strength develops in order to create a better future.

Another tool in our toolbox is the ability of the unconscious to communicate with the conscious mind. The unconscious communicates with the conscious mind through images and emotions. Another tool is the use of visualization in order to imagine success in great detail. Accompanying visual affirmations with emotion increases their potency. “Power words” are words that evoke powerful emotions.

Here are some examples: Grateful, Excited, Brilliant, Magnetic, Beaming, Attract, Effortless, Enthusiastic, Free, Naturally, Abundant, Prosperous, Vivid, Spry, Radiant, Young, Secure, Irresistible, Fast, Infinite, Peaceful, Reassuring, Profound, Rich

By combining positive self-talk, vivid imagery, and powerful words, we pave our Path forward by acting on it instead of saying, “I will eventually do this.” Repeated affirmations slowly start to reprogram the subconscious mind with positive imagery and powerful emotion, stoking the kindling for the fire of our dreams.

Note: The idea of the subconscious communicating with the conscious mind through images and emotions was an extremely helpful concept for me to internalize and apply in my day-to-day life. Positive affirmations have, in the past, never worked for me and although I consider myself to be an emotional person, “stoking the kindling for the fire of my dreams” sounds like quick-fix/feel-good hooey. Meditation, Stoic philosophy, the temporary nature of thoughts and being, and quickly gauging my emotional state via the images my subconscious presents, though, have been immeasurably helpful.

As time progresses and the habitual behavior becomes fortified in your subconscious, you will continuously go through a sub-process of cultivating awareness, increasing competence, and eventually develop the ability effortlessly wield the skills of your choosing. This is summarized in four stages.

The Four Stages of Learning

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – A person is unaware that he or she possesses some deficiency in a skill.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – The person is aware that the skill exists but does not have the ability.
  3. Conscious Competence – The person can perform the skill but must concentrate to apply it.
  4. Unconscious Competence – The person can perform the skill as if it is second-nature.

As I gain more competence in understanding myself, how my mind works, and how to regain my bearings, I am working to revise the internal script of my subconscious. Persistence, practice, and the strength I cultivate through positive impact are the goal. Like a vector – forward.

Credit for this post goes to Sal Marotta.