Often, when we're trying to get to the next level, it feels like we have to force it. When things get hard, I think, "I just have to push harder!" That’s the athlete in me.
It’s easy to see the downside to this way of thinking when it comes to physical workouts. A pulled hamstring or tweaked back will teach you that lesson quickly. But pushing too hard mentally when things aren’t working can cause its own type of damage. It’s great way to waste time and energy, invite fatigue, discontent, and general anxiety.
When what we really want seems way out of reach, and we feel like we’re spinning our wheels trying to get to it, the problem isn’t usually that we aren’t working hard enough, it’s usually that we’re not training our subconscious brain, and likewise, the deep, inner thoughts that drive our actions.
In this blog, we'll discuss the role of the subconscious brain and how it influences virtually every choice we make. We'll also discuss various ways you can train your subconscious to work for you and help you achieve your biggest goals.
When we start training our subconscious brain, we begin to remove the self-imposed barriers that have been keeping us from reaching our full potential.
So, are you ready to nerd out on the human brain? Let’s get into it!
There is a lot we don't yet understand about the subconscious brain. but anytime we talk about mental training, we have to talk about the role of the subconscious brain.
The subconscious brain is directly linked to the Reticular Activating System (RAS), which is the part of your brain that organizes and filters the billions of bits of data you absorb at any given time. It lets in only what your subconscious believes to be the ‘most important’.
Because your subconscious brain is always looking for evidence that it’s right, your RAS spotlights the information that confirms your inner beliefs to prove that you are. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as confirmation bias.
It can be really hard to notice the RAS and confirmation bias in action, because it’s such an automatic part of who we are. But here are a couple examples that you might recognize:
The subconscious brain tells your RAS to filter information to prove whatever you believe to be either true or important.
In caveman times, this function of the subconscious brain was super important because of the many life-or-death dangers you might face on any given day. But today, most of us aren’t having to fight for our lives on a regular basis (unless you’re Wonder Woman), so all this really does is keep you inside your comfort zone, protected from non-life-threatening things like public embarrassment, failure, and rejection.
Your subconscious brain wants you to do the exact same thing today that you did yesterday because you survived yesterday (thanks, but no thanks, brain!)
One of my favorite metaphors for the brain comes from Jonathan Haidt (depicted in this animated video) who describes the relationship between our rational and emotional brain as a human rider and an elephant (respectively). The rider represents the rational system, the conscious brain that makes decisions about where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. And the elephant represents the emotional system, the subconscious brain that provides the motivation and power to go do those things.
The rider can try to move the elephant in the direction he wants to go by pushing, pulling, and pleading, but if the elephant doesn’t want to move, guess who’s going to win that battle? The only way to create change is to motivate your ‘inner elephant’ by appealing to emotions, shorten the path, and remove any obstacles in the way.
All that to say, at the end of the day, your conscious actions will reflect the deep, inner beliefs of your subconscious brain.
For more on this topic, listen to Season 5, Episode 87 of The Inner Game Podcast, The Elephant and the Rider.
If you think of the subconscious brain like the elephant in the previous metaphor, you’ll realize that your conscious and subconscious brain have to be in alignment, otherwise, you’ll struggle and feel internal resistance. You’ll find ways to self-sabotage. You’ll feel stuck, frustrated, and discouraged. You’ll want to quit.
This is not something we’re taught. It’s no wonder we feel burnt out and overwhelmed. We want immediate satisfaction so we try to force results. We’re told that in order to succeed, we need to work harder, but that’s not the case at all. What you need to do is work smarter by training your subconscious to work for you. That is what is going to ultimately move you forward.
Training the subconscious brain will set you apart. Because long-term shifts happen in the subconscious.
Unlike a pulled muscle, it’s not always clear when your brain needs special attention. Here’s are some telltale signs that it’s time to stop pushing and get your mind right.
Athletes often think discipline is unrelenting but self-discipline is finite. Self-discipline comes from the conscious brain, and will only go as far as your subconscious brain will allow. That is why it’s imperative that you adopt routines and systems to keep your subconscious brain aligned to what you really want.
In the next section, we’ll outline specific things you can do to train your subconscious to help you get what you want.
Training your subconscious brain is not something you do, it’s something you practice. It takes real, consistent practice over time to see real, consistent results.
This is not by any means a comprehensive list, but here are 8 ways you can start training your subconscious brain today.
You have to start by challenging your beliefs, because your brain will filter out anything that contradicts what you believe. So if you believe you are worthy of your big goals, and are capable of achieving them, you’re more likely to see the opportunities in front of you. Start by recognizing that your reality is shaped by your beliefs, then be open to seeing if something more is possible. It sounds simple, but this part of the process is imperative.
People’s opinions are always a projection of their subconscious, internalized beliefs. If you talk about starting a business with someone who’s always wanted to start their own but never had the courage, they may respond in the same discouraging way they talk to themselves. Conversely, if you surround yourself with people who are going for their big goals, you’ll be met with excitement, support, and great ideas; three vital components to success.
Stop thinking about your success as a destination and start thinking about it as something you’re working on today. Use present tense, first person affirmations.
Many of us have deep, internalized beliefs that keep us from making money, or putting ourselves out there. Challenge these beliefs. Making money isn’t amoral, being the center of attention isn’t selfish, selling something isn’t manipulative. Give yourself permission to do these things, otherwise, you’ll continue to self-sabotage and hold yourself back.
As you begin to go for your goals, you’ll experience growing pains. It’s just plain true. Pay attention to those things. Do you get queasy at the idea of cold calling? Do you dread the idea of raising your prices? Do you make excuses for why you’re not going out for the team this year or entering that competition? Your inner thoughts define your actions.
When it comes to breaking down my limiting thoughts, I use something called The TEAR Process (below). When I’m faced with a challenging situation, or simply want to work on an unhealthy mindset, I go through this process. I write down my unproductive Thought, its associated Emotion, the Action I take, and the Result of that action.
T - THOUGHT - The coach hates me
E - EMOTION - Self-defeat, frustration
A - ACTION - I don’t try as hard in practice
R - RESULT - I don’t get any playing time + don’t progress in my sport.
Then, I ask myself, "What’s another, healthier way of thinking about this?" I switch my Thought which impacts my Emotion; this sparks Action that gives me positive Results.
T - THOUGHT -The coach is hard on me because I have potential
E - EMOTION - Motivation
A - ACTION - Try harder in practice, take direction, put in extra time
R - RESULT - Healthier relationship with coach, progress in sport, achieve potential
It's harder to admit defeat than it is to insist you never really wanted it in the first place. What is your big goal? Have you ever said it out loud, even just to yourself? Have you ever said it to someone else? When you have the courage to say your goals out loud and tell people (even if it’s just one person you trust), you put that goal into the universe and you open yourself up to support and help.
For more on this topic, Listen to Season 7, Episode 138 of The Inner Game Podcast, Say Your Crazy Goals Out Loud.
Many people get so caught up in ‘how’ they’re going to achieve something, that they never fully commit to doing it at all. It’s important to focus on your ‘why’ and take it one step at a time, leaving room for unexpected creative solutions (i.e. magic) along the way!
Remember when I said “self-discipline is finite”? Well, routine is what’s left standing after you’ve drained your self-discipline. Make mindset work as much of a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth, and you’ll begin to see consistent growth.
Here are a two simple ways to incorporate mindset work into your life.
Daily Mindset Beast - a 10-minute morning routine that incorporates visualization, journaling, and task management to keep you focused on what you really want and start your day on the right foot.
Podcast - The Inner Game Podcast makes mental training easy to add to your daily routine with daily, 5-10 minute episodes on topics related to mindset.
For more on creating bulletproof routines, check out our blog, How to Actually Live What You Teach: Actionable Self-Improvement for Coaches.
Last but not least, visualization! In our last blog, we taught you that visualization is the single best tool for training your subconscious brain to get on board with what you really want.
Doing a visualization (or a ‘mental rehearsal’) is a powerful way to practice a sport, activity, or situation without physically doing it because it allows you to ‘experience’ it before it happens. This builds your subconscious belief that what you want is attainable (and not all that scary).
For more on visualization, check out our blog, You’ve Got to See it to Achieve It: A Beginner’s Guide to Visualization.
You don’t have to wait for things to feel hard to start training your subconscious. Start doing it today and you’ll be shocked at what happens.
If you want to get the life you want, you have to start training your subconscious brain, only then will you open the door to opportunity, fulfillment, and success in your life.