Psychologists and neuro-scientists are increasingly finding that the unconscious mind is far more powerful than we realise. Our unconscious mind if often way ahead of our conscious thought when it comes to making decisions, processing all the inputs which come through our senses, sifting through relevant memories and taking control of our actions, before we have even realised what is going on. The unconscious mind checks in with our conscious awareness at some point briefly after the decisions have been made, and our conscious mind may then try to justify our decision to ourselves or to others with rational argument. Often, however, the decision has already been made, and this conscious process is almost an afterthought.
This is not necessarily a bad thing – our unconscious mind can sift through large amount of information, deal with vague or ambiguous information, may be better at noting information that makes us uncomfortable and can come up with more creative solutions than the logical part of our brain. Intuition may send us in exactly the right direction, especially if we take time to mull over a problem rather than rushing to a decision. Auto-pilot saves us a lot of energy when it comes to making routine decisions.
When we try to put the conscious, logical brain in charge of our decisions, by creating lists of pros and cons, assigning scores to different options or matching interests to jobs, we focus in tightly on a small number of variables, and our decision-making may actually get worse.
So, if we want to help our clients to tap into the powers of their unconscious brain, what can we do to help? Here are a few tips:
- Don’t rush your client’s decision-making – stress weakens the ability to pay attention to information on the margins of the thought process.
- Be playful – the less invested the client’s ego is in getting the “right” answer, the more they will be able to access information from the unconscious mind. Felt tips, toys, Plasticine, building blocks, stickers and coloured materials create a playful vibe.
- Use pictures, metaphors, visualisation and images, since these help the client to by-pass language and access feelings or information that cannot be easily expressed in language.
- If you do use logical decision-making tools, such as occupational interest quizzes, pros and cons lists, or scoring sheets, discourage your client from making a firm decision immediately afterwards. Allow the client plenty of time to digest the activity and mull over any ideas or issues that arose.
- Allow plenty of time for silent contemplation. Forcing the client to keep up a running commentary on their thought process can make it harder to capture what is going on in the unconscious.
- Encourage the client to listen to their heart or their gut feeling. If something seems right logically, but feels wrong, this may be a sign that the logical brain has overlooked something important.
- Encourage the client to take a break from problem solving and do something to take their mind of it, or sleep on it. The unconscious will continue to mull over the problem even while the conscious brain is otherwise occupied, and may work better without the conscious brain peering over it’s shoulder.
For a good read on this subject, try “Hare Brain Tortoise Mind” by Guy Claxton. The Hare Brain is the quick thinking logical brain, whilst the Tortoise Mind is our more creative intuition, which takes time to mull things over before telling us what our heart knows is right (although, of course, our unconscious mind is also responsible for a lot of quick, auto-pilot decisions as well).