The Power to Create Change Through Our Subconscious Beliefs
Advertising works so well because it slips past our conscious brain and speaks directly to our subconscious fears and desires. Around 95% of our brain runs via procedural learning and subconscious beliefs, while only 5% of our brain makes decisions with our conscious awareness. We can harness the same powerful force that advertisers use, but rather than as something that distracts us or works against us, we can use it to work alongside us, aligned with the values and goals we are reaching for. All that this requires is commitment to intentionally setting up our environment in a way that leverages our subconscious thinking.
Let me give you an example.
When I was a teenager, I went through a phase of buying magazines at the store which were directly targeted at femmes. The pictures were beautiful and glossy and promised a route to beauty in the products that they sold beside the models. However, over time I started to realize that my mood noticeably plummeted after looking through the pages. I became more critical and self-hating of my own body and more energy and focus went into trying to improve my physical appearance. Looking back, there were multiple negative consequences of reading these magazines. Not only did it increase my body image issues and worsen my depression, but it also stole energy that could have been used for creativity, learning, or other more satisfying pursuits. The reason why staying hyper-focused on my physical appearance proved unhelpful, is because it wasn’t something I had the power to change anyway. I could learn to feel better in my body, but that path was never going to be connected to coveting bodies that weren’t mine.
So, once I realized that my mood was negatively impacted by consuming these magazines, I decided to cut them out of my life completely. When I was growing up, social media wasn’t prevalent yet. These days, young girls have even more images and platforms where their body image fears can be constantly stoked: but the answer remains the same. We have to learn to intentionally curate and choose the information, images, and messages that we want to immerse ourselves in.
Our subconscious works off of repetition. Our experiences and what we consume become the fuel that feed our internal beliefs. Our internal beliefs lead to either inaction (via doubt, hopelessness, overwhelm) or action (via courage, motivation, and vision) and our internal beliefs are created through years of subconscious thinking. Therefore, in order to change our subconscious thinking and plant the seeds for motivation, we have to be consistent and intentional about what experiences and information we are ingesting.
In the same way that I once cut magazines out of my life, I similarly choose not to follow Instagram model accounts or dieting and fitness accounts. Not because I think there is anything inherently wrong with people who choose to model or share fitness tips, but because I have to be the arbiter of what I want my life to look like and what impacts my mental health in a positive or negative way. Following these lifestyles has never boosted my mood, they only momentarily worsen it or distract me at best. When I made the choice to dis-identify or not put my attention on images or stories that impacted my body image and mood negatively, I found that over time I thought less and less about my body. There wasn’t a rushing in of body positivity, but instead there was a calm neutrality that provided the space for me to start thinking about other things.
I understand and appreciate that some people prefer the body positive response and choose to curate their feed as an inspirational and subversive retort to the more status quo images, which is it’s own reclamation of power. However, for me, that still keeps my mind in the world of physical appearance. There would be nothing wrong with that if external appearance was connected to my vocation, my passion, or my career, but in my case, it has little to do with my values or the day to day. So, for me, it makes sense to immerse myself in the messages, images, and information that I do value and which align with my goals.
Over time, what is the impact on our subconscious thinking and how does this lead to actual change? Well, for me as I moved my attention away from unachievable standards of the beauty industry, I began to become more curious about what is healthy, what does improve my mood, and what does make me feel powerful, alive, and connected. I began to choose podcasts and books and social media pages that spoke to these questions and over time, my environment slowly changed.
I was led into the world of embodiment and learning about my body from a grounded place of how does it feel in this moment? What feels good? What gives me energy? What are the signals that I need to rest? This requires letting go of any preconceived thoughts of “what should be” (our conscious brain) and orienting to the “what is” of our biology. Over time, I re-connected to my body, not from a place of judgment or self-punishment, but from a place of curiosity. I learned that I loved movement not as a form of exercise to lose weight, but because my body loved to stretch and because it actually gained more energy back when I played around with movement. I learned that I loved nourishing foods of all kinds, not based on what was considered “good” or “bad” by diet standards, but by what gave me increased energy or clarity, and sometimes what just gave me pleasure. I learned that the things in life that improved my mood the most was my relationships with other people and my creativity. I learned how to build self-efficacy and trust in myself through starting to experiment and then complete small goals.
The important element that kept me in the mindset to do all of this though, was the immersive quality of the information I was ingesting: the repetition needed for my subconscious. I lived and breathed mental health through what I listened to, through what I read, through what I talked about and experimented with. My environment became perpetually self-reinforcing so that over time it had an impact on my subconscious thoughts and desires. It is like having an encouraging coach in your ear that doesn’t let you forget what you value or what you’re working towards. It was easy to stay focused, because I was intentional about what I consumed. I only had one barometer check. Is this something that adds value to my life, feels good in my body, or lifts my mood? Keeping in mind of course, that some meaningful pursuits aren’t going to be pleasurable in the moment, but offer long-term benefits.
Although my particular journey led to mental health and then neuroscience and then spirituality, there are countless other options of what someone could choose to immerse themselves in. I am sure that for some people they have the opposite experience when they look at fitness accounts or glossy fashion magazines, they may feel more energy and excitement in their body. That would then be their barometer. As long as we are able to get quiet enough to feel the sensations and impact on our body and mood, there are no right or wrong answers to what we choose to consume. The point is, it is a choice.
We might not always have power over where we live or how much money we have or the external realities of our environment, but the one place where we always have power to transform ourselves is through where we put our attention, through what we consume. Because in time, this becomes the subconscious beliefs that either propel us towards our goals or keeps us imprisoned in our own self-doubt. Rather than the advertisers or our early life experiences having the final say of how are are going to show up in this world, let’s make the choice ours.