It can mean different things to different people, so for the purposes of this article I will offer the dictionary definition:
“Consciousness is the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings.”
This means that we use our sensory perception to know and recognise things. Our sight, smell, and touch all work together when we are consciously aware. In effect we all have two parts to ourselves the conscious and the unconscious self. So if being conscious means being aware, the opposite would be true when describing the word ‘unconscious’, not being aware.
To highlight this point lets explore a learning theory. Basically when we study or learn new skills we go through the following 4 stages of learning:
1. unconscious incompetence
2. conscious incompetence
3. conscious competence
4. unconscious competence
So an example we can use to illustrate the above in simple terms could be as follows.
A learner driver has Unconscious Incompetence when taking their first lesson as they do not know how to drive having never driven before.
After a few lessons they move to the Conscious incompetence stage- they realise or are conscious of how little they know as they continue to learn and practice driving.
Nearer to the time of their driving test after many lessons they become consciously competent as they have learned the skill of driving but are not fully aware of their ability hoping that they are skilled enough to pass their driving test.
Lets say this person then goes on to pass their driving test and has been driving for a few months- they move into the unconscious competence level. This is where they become so competent they no longer have to think about what they are doing when driving as it becomes second nature. The term ‘autopilot’ comes to mind. Have you ever got in to your car to go somewhere and arrived quickly without realising how you got there? Thats the brain performing at an unconsciously competent level allowing your conscious brain to attend to more pressing thoughts and leaving the body and unconscious mind to do the driving.
People can become conscious of unconscious things. For instance in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the brain has a habit of pattern matching- it puts together sensory evidence of the original trauma. So if during the original trauma eg. Being mugged- a car had been driving past at the time beeping its horn or a cat had been mewing in the background then in the event of these things occurring again at a later date a person suffering with PTSD could find that each time those sensory things are present they act as a trigger and can cause them to become traumatised again. This is because the brain pattern matched the original trauma to the current day event due to the similarities in sensory evidence between both events creating anxiety and triggering the flight or fight mechanism.
This in turn heightens the anxiety and can cause a physical reaction as well as have a psychological and emotional impact. Constantly living in the fight or flight mode is exhausting for anybody and it is in understanding how this works and why we are stuck in these patterns that will eventually free us to change our patterns of behaviour and think/act differently in the moment.
The past does not have to define our future but in some cases it can and does. It is our conscious mind that collects good and bad habits as we repeat them over time. Conditioning our brains to act, think and behave in certain ways. These things can be changed with conscious effort, time and awareness. Being mindful is one way of challenging our negative processes. Mindfulness is attentive practice and it can help if we engage in at least 10 minutes daily mindfulness practice which is to sit and reflect on the day and be here and now in the present.
Being mindful is about teaching your subconscious how to function. Try practicing being present and mindful for just 30 seconds. Focus on what you are doing in this present moment-notice with all of your senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch the moment you are in right now- really focus on the present and notice your breathing. What do you see, smell, hear? How do you feel?
The truth is that you cannot be constantly mindful or present that is difficult but you can have flashes and moments of it. Be mindful of your present task, think of thoughts as a dandelion – once blown they scatter in the wind blowing around silently in the background. To be mindful you could choose one of those flying pieces (thoughts) to focus on and be mindful about.
So moving forwards how do you get motivated in a moment?
Well there are five specific questions that you can apply to any scenario in order to plan ahead:
1. What would you like to have happen in your life?
2. What would need to happen for those things to be achieved?
3. Is there anything else that needs to happen?
4. Can you do what needs to happen?
5. Will you do what needs to happen?
Activities like this can help you get un-stuck and move ahead in life.