I was indulging in some professional reading and picked up Havens R.A. & Walters C. (2002) book about Hypnotherapy, I came across an interesting metaphor about the role of the captain and a crew member that very neatly explains how the mind works. And more specifically, describes the key roles and relationship between what are known as ‘unconscious’ and ‘conscious’ parts of the mind beautifully,
Many of us are of course familiar with the differences between the role of a captain and a crew member, but how does this relate to the way that the mind works?
Lets start with the explanation of the common psychological theory which holds that the mind is divided into two parts; a conscious and an unconscious part;
The conscious part of the mind, as name indicates, is where our rational and analytical thinking takes place and holds thoughts that we are largely aware of. It is also responsible for our willpower and temporary memory and receives millions of pieces of information every day through all of our senses, and is protected from an overload of information by rules that it works by. These rules are the values and the beliefs that we have inherited and learned through our life experiences, and hold in the model of our inner world. These rules, in other words schemas, are used to filter, delete and generalise all the data that we receive. As a result of this activity, we will end up holding only 7 plus-minus two pieces of information at any time in the conscious mind. This is, by the way, why presentations that have anything between 5 to 9 points per page will work for most audiences. Anything more would be an overload!
Our imagination, permanent memory, emotion, habits and self-preservation impulses on the other hand are held in the unconscious mind. It is very much the seat for our emotions and the most powerful goal achieving agency because of it. When we are motivated on the unconscious level, we can harness an amazing strength and determination to make most unexpected goals become reality. Without realising it, we also rely upon our unconscious mind to master the complex skills we need in order to cope with everyday life. Walking, talking, driving a car or suddenly remembering something important, - these all depend upon unconscious activities. The number of activities our unconscious mind carries out is absolutely amazing!
Relating back to the nautical roles mentioned earlier, the relationship between the unconscious and conscious mind could be described as a relationship between a captain of a ship and the crew. To keep the ship on a safe course to the desired destination, the captain and the crew must work closely together. Similarly, both roles of the mind are important and needed for our wellbeing and to ensure that we operate well.
The captain is responsible for developing charts, maps and plans that that describe the journey and are used to tell the crew where to go. Our conscious mind develops schemas, the rules influenced by our values and belief that determine the way that the world should look, what information is filtered, deleted and how it is generalised, and then uses these schemas to tell the unconscious mind where to go.
The conscious mind, similarly to the captain of a ship, also decides what skills the crew (unconscious mind) must learn in order to operate the ship. This arrangement works reasonably well as long as the charts and maps are accurate, the crew has learned right skills and the captain and the crew work closely and co-operate. And depending on the captain’s flexibility (or lack of), it also works as long as the crew does not upset the captain by pointing out the things that the captain does not want to see. And whether or not the captain wants to see an ice-berg that has been pointed out, the crew will keep a track of them. The disasters and navigational errors occur when the captain constantly refuses to use the crew’s skills and accept the new information given by them, and refuses to update the charts to reflect reality.
Just like the important co-operation of the captain and the crew can able the safe journey of the ship to its destination, our ability to cruise along the river of life successfully navigating through the many new harbours, islands and icebergs and storms are dependent on the flexible co-operation between our conscious and unconscious minds. Through its mind and body connection, relationship between the two parts of the mind therefore determine the state of our emotional and physical wellbeing.
In the simplest terms, the goal orientated coaching and hypnotherapy work in that it helps the captain to utilise the skills and knowledge held by the crew so that the charts and maps can be updated. This enables for the ship to stay on course so it will get to the desired destination, or for co-ordinates for the new destination to be established. And if you want to get to your destination a little quicker, by harnessing the power of the unconscious mind can be used to enhance performance as the emotionally powered motivation can be used to support the conscious will power.
Metaphor source Havens R.A. & Walters C. (2002) Hypnotherapy Scripts – a Neo-Ericksonian Approach to Persuasive Healing
About the Author:
Teija Barr is the Principal of the ICH Clinical Hypnosis Training, overseeing the curriculum and the ethical standards of the training provided by the ICH. She is also a therapist in private practice.