Our conscious mind likes checklists. Once a goal is set, it can use all the tools of reason to create a plan. And checking off that goal is a satisfying reward. We know that we’ve accomplished something!
For the subconscious, the checklist isn’t so sexy. It’s not concerned with “what do I do?” but with “how am I?” In the beginning, “how am I?” is basic: am I comfortable? Hungry? Sleepy? As we gain control over those needs, our concerns change. Am I loved? Excited? Smart? These “how am I?” questions don’t go away. When we eat, we know that we’re going to be hungry again. Even if we are smart at math, we may need to work on our grammar.
The conscious mind struggles with “How am I?” problems because conditions change. We finish eating the cherries (om nom nom!), leaving the brussels sprouts (yuck!). We finish fourth grade, and our fifth-grade teacher doesn’t teach math so well. And eventually we grow up and our parents expect us to take care of ourselves. When changes like this occur, our plans break down.
It’s left to the subconscious mind to make certain that we recognize and adapt to change. Motivations help us focus on changes that matter; behaviors are how we react to those changes. For example, our motivation to be indoors at night causes us to watch where the sun is in the sky. When it gets low, our behavior is to head back home.
In most animals, behaviors are driven by material change: weather, growth and injury to the body, and other creatures. For people, there is another powerful source of change: our minds. When we learn to manage our basic needs, our mind becomes the most important of all. Paradoxically, its greatest power is in imagining things that haven’t happened or that don’t yet exist.
So how is the subconscious going to deal with that, ensuring that “we are like we want to be” when we get to the unknown? Particularly when the “unknown” includes how our brain works? Well, the subconscious relies upon the conscious mind to monitor and predict our progress. When a behavior fails and we end up sleeping cold and hungry in the open, the “why it happened” goes from our conscious mind into our subconscious mind which works during sleep to adjust our motivations and behaviors.
It’s that ability that makes us different from machines, and leads us into the realm of spirit.