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Why Your Unconscious Mind Craves Meaning

Vision statements. Most of us have made a few with colleagues over the years and can recall the hours spent in discussion, carefully wordsmithing, scribbling on flip chart paper and a white board, finally agreeing on the perfect vision statement, then filing it away or posting it on a wall and pretty much forgetting about it.

If you’ve had that experience you may be wary of the practice. So were we, until we began experimenting and eventually developed an entirely different process, which seems to keep people engaged and helps deliver real results. The first innovation is to expand our understanding about how the three levels of our minds work. We found a great article on line that provides this helpful description:

“Your conscious mind is a bit like the captain of a ship standing on the bridge giving out orders. … it’s the crew in the engine room below deck (the subconscious and the deeper unconscious) that carry out the orders. The captain may be in charge of the ship and give the orders but it’s the crew that actually guides the ship . . .

“The unconscious constantly communicates with the conscious mind via our subconscious, and is what provides us with the meaning to all our interactions with the world, as filtered through your beliefs and habits. It communicates through feelings, emotions, imagination, sensations, and dreams.”

The author provides a triangle graph (see image above) to represent the mind, divided into three sections. The conscious mind is shown as the top 10%, the subconscious is directly below it at 50 – 60%, finally the unconscious resides on the bottom at 30 – 40%.

The subconscious and unconscious levels do not use the language of words and this immediately explains why merely using words in a vision statement is doomed to failure. Those words will only be grasped by our conscious minds, which represent just 10% of our total mind power. To access and activate the other 90% we need to include, as the author advised, “feelings, emotions, imagination, sensations, and dreams.”

We solve this in our Thriving visioning process (described in detail in our book Thriving in Business and Life) and in our Thriving Online Leadership Training) by utilizing three steps, the first of which does employ words. The challenge here is to focus and distill meaning into a very few words. For instance: “It’s March 31st and we surpassed our projected quarterly earnings.” Or, “It’s October 10th and we’re enjoying a family celebration; Brian is joining in.”

Notice that these sentences state “future”possibilities as realized “facts” that have already been achieved, with a date. This is a vital distinction. In our process, visualization is not aspirational (hoping for something to happen in the future), it is "conformational" (i.e. acknowledging a present reality, acting “as if” the goal has already been achieved).

Our second step engages visualization practices to create a realistic picture of successfully achieved results. The point is to convince your mind that what you’re intending has already happened by imagining a realistic future scene, using as many of your senses as possible. Where are you? What time of day is it? What’s the temperature? What do you hear, and smell, what are you touching, etc.?

Our final step relates to emotion. After coming up with a few words to describe realized success, locating yourself in some location in the future where you are reflecting on that success, now you tune in to how you feeling. Again, this is conformational, not aspirational. It’s now. The future is here now. How are you feeling now, as you contemplate your achieved success?

Initially, your emotional vocabulary may be sparse. You may start with words like happy and relieved. Over time, your emotional literacy will improve. You’ll get increasingly precise and nuanced, choosing more descriptive words like “exhilarated” and “appreciative.” Your aim is to identify the wholly unique way you will feel when this particular success has happened, by proactively creating that feeling state.

Generating emotional states is not something any of us have been trained to do. In fact, we probably assume that all emotions arise in reaction to circumstance and others, or whatever happens to be going on inside our heads and hearts and bodies. The idea of choosing what we feel … it takes some experience over time to realize that this is an actual skill any of us can develop with practice.

Say it, see it, feel it, is our short hand description of the Thriving visioning process. We hope you give it a try.

Your Thriving Challenge for the week:

Think of some specific short-term goal you would like to achieve. Day dream, write, and edit, while using our three-step process to say it, see it, and feel it, finally coming up with your mind friendly “vision statement.” Enjoy your explorations as you develop Thriving visioning skills.

Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding

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