The Role of the Unconscious Mind in Decision Making

Our conscious mind is a peculiar thing. The thought processes that run through our head indicate to us that we are consciously ‘thinking’ about whatever it is which is occupying our mind at any given time. But, in truth, most of the time that we think we’re thinking, we’re actually not at all; this is because that almost all of what is occupying our thoughts and the decisions that we make, stem from a place which is out of reach from us, our unconscious.

The conscious mind, being simply a carrier for information hasn’t really got much power in its own right, it is the unconscious which holds our true potential. It is all too easy to believe that our free will, deciding to turn left or right or accept that job offer stems from our conscious mind – we think these things through right? So, it seems obvious that when we ‘make our minds up’ we do so consciously. Unfortunately our minds doesn’t function like this.

The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is the aspect we are all familiar with; it is the ‘voice in your head’ if you like. This is the mind that is responsible for our personal thoughts and is the main instrument that we use to experience reality around us. It is through the conscious mind that we experience situations and what the tapestry of life has to offer us, both objectively and also subjectively. It is logical, analytical, it has reasoning and capable of making decisions. It controls our actions on the conscious level, discipline, discrimination and concentration among others. This is the mind which controls our intelligence factors.

The conscious mind exists in the here and now, the instantaneous ‘us’. The limitation of the conscious mind is that it seems to have very restricted abilities regarding memories. The jury is out on whether it can access memory at all of its own accord, and if it can achieve this then it is likely linked to the short-term memory. So, in this context the conscious mind is not that powerful on its own, as it is so restricted to what it can actually achieve; having no point of reference to build any decisions upon and this is where the unconscious comes in and between them, there is no limit to what can be achieved.

The Unconscious
The functions of the unconscious are as complex as it is facetted. Awesomely logical, its primary role is that of the storage of information and to relay said information into the stream of thoughts coming from the conscious mind, forever influencing them with what it has received in the past and for this reason, it is intrinsically linked to memory. Influences grow in strength when situations that it has been exposed to are either repeated in number or have been reinforced in some way; for example, we could associate a particular song with something current happening in our lives when we are first exposed to it, maybe beginning a romantic relationship. Then after, whenever we hear that same song we automatically ‘think’ of the other person and feel the same emotions as we did when we first heard it; it now holds a personal significance – the song has been reinforced with an event, in this case falling in love.

The unconscious also creates function beyond any thought process both within the physical body itself and also with our actions and activities. Then there is possibly the most significant function of all, its ability to create our belief systems; the possibilities and conversely, the restrictions that we place upon ourselves. The deep recesses of the mind are the domain of the unconscious. It is the storehouse and infrastructure to our personalities; our opinions, values, ethics and morals all stemming from this single place. Since our very first breath the unconscious has been busy soaking in the information contained within our environment like a sponge absorbs a liquid, to build a picture of the reality we find ourselves in. This process continues throughout our lifetime, only stopping with our last breath.

Conscious-subconscious-functionsThe physical self could run quite successfully using only this feature of the mind as it is more than able control all of the important aspects that make us function on its own. The conscious mind could be seen as the captain of the ship with the unconscious being the crew below deck who are hard at work doing the actual sailing. This ship could easily transverse from one side of the Earth to the other, absent of any captain, as each crewmember are adept at their own role and work as their own team. An all actuality this is indeed a major function of the unconscious; when we wake in the morning we know who we are; our sex and identity for example, we don’t need to ‘think’ about this, we don’t ask ourselves “who am I?” ; this information is stored on the unconscious level and permeates through our being. We also do not need to give any conscious thought to the workings of our organs, the movement of our muscles and limbs when we decide to go for a walk and so on.

As soon as the unconscious mind begins to fill with information it is able to influence the conscious thought processes, whatever we ‘think’ in any given moment is underpinned by the information held within the unconscious. The unconscious can act as captain of the ship if needs be and for most of society, does so, much more than it should. The unconscious is a powerful beast and is such an influence on our lives that for the most part we can exist in a form of unconscious hypnosis. When we learn a new skill, say, learning to drive a car, we have to ‘think’ on a conscious level about everything that we do; the rules of the road, the order of sequence to make the car move, the pedals, gears, lanes, what to do at junctions and so on. We have to concentrate hard, assimilate information and during this learning period we have constant thought processes. Over time, with practice and experience these conscious thoughts begin to fall into the realm of the unconscious, until we no longer have to think about what we are doing at every turn and our ability to drive become second nature. This skill is now within the realm of the unconscious and we can now do so from an almost hypnotic ‘auto-pilot’. How many times have you driven a familiar joinery, perhaps the morning commute and when arrived safely at your destination, have no recollection of the journey at all? This is just one example, but the same method applies with whatever it is we learn to do. Functioning on auto-pilot is something that the marketing industry knows all too well and does it’s very best to manipulate this trait.

The unconscious is our friend; it works for us as a faithful employee. It is not however, the boss. It is not the dominant-conscious it is the subservient-conscious. The main problem that we face is that instead of letting the unconscious lay the foundations to our everyday lives, we allow it to completely run it.


Interestingly, when we remove the conscious mind altogether, great things can occur:
•    Inventions and great ideas happen in the middle of the night
•    That idea popping into your head when you are distracted or undertaking an activity completely unrelated to the subject matter – i.e. when in the shower
•    Creativity is best when it allowed to flow, that is, when we just work on instinct.
•    Quite often we hear songwriters say in interviews that their latest ‘hit’, one which usually always stands out above all others and often regarded as a classic was written in just 5 minutes or on a train or they woke up first thing in the morning with the lyrics in their heads etc.

These examples demonstrate, when we actually remove the conscious level of the thinking part of our minds altogether, that great things can happen – or they were destined to happen anyway but our upper consciousness simply gets in the way.

So, whatever decisions we make on the conscious level, the information coming to us is estimated to be around a whopping 95% of the time, what we have stored within the unconscious.

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