What are the Differences Between the Conscious and the Subconscious Mind?

The idea that there are three levels of the human mind is nothing new. In fact, Sigmund Freud was likely the very first one to bring this idea as we know it to the light. Even now, his theories are being disputed because they’re difficult to prove using science. However, Freud was the one to create a very useful model of the mind, separated in to three sections:

  • Conscious mind (ego)
  • Pre-conscious (subconscious)
  • Unconscious

How Do They Work?

The best way to illustrate the idea of three levels of the mind is by looking at a triangle. The very top is your conscious mind, occupying only about 10 percent of your brain. Just below that is the preconscious, or subconscious, mind. This is a bit larger than the conscious, occupying about 50 to 60 percent of your brain.

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Finally, at the bottom is the unconscious mind, occupying the whole base of the triangle, and about 30 to 40 percent of your mind. This is a deep area that you will mostly be unable to reach- very similar to the depth of the ocean.

How Do They Work Together?

The conscious mind is the part of you that people associate with who you are. After all, this is where most of us live from one day to the next. However, this is not where all of the action happens.

Basically, your conscious is comparable to the captain of a ship. It stands on the bridge and gives out the orders. However, the truth is that the crew in the engine room (your subconscious and unconscious) are the ones that are carrying out these orders. So, while the captain is in charge- the crew is guiding the ship according to the training they’ve been given through the years.

Your conscious mind interacts to the world around you and brings out your inner self through writing, pictures, thought, physical movement, and speech. Your subconscious mind is the area that is in charge of your most recent memories and is always interacting with the resources of the unconscious mind.

Your unconscious mind is the area where all of your past experiences and memories is stored- from those that you have repressed due to trauma to those that you have just forgotten because they are not important to you. These memories and experiences are what form our behaviors, beliefs, and habits.

Your unconscious mind is always communicating with your conscious mind through the subconscious mind. This is what gives meaning to your interactions with the world around us as they are filtered through our habits and beliefs.

Your Mind in Action

Following is an analogy that may give you some clarification of how these three minds work.

Think about your mind as a computer- each section of your mind is a piece of the computer system.

  • Conscious mind: represented by a monitor and keyboard. Data is put into the system via the keyboard and the results appear on the monitor. This is how your conscious mind operates. The info is taken from an outside or internal stimulus from the environment and the results of this interaction is put into your conscious.
  • Subconscious mind: represented by the RAM in your computer. RAM is where the programs and data that are being used are kept so that they can be accessed quickly when needed. The RAM is quicker than other memory types, such as the hard drive or a CD-ROM. Your most recent memories is stored in your subconscious so that you can recall it easily when you need it. The current information that you use every single day is kept there.
  • Unconscious: represented by the hard drive in your computer. This is the long-term storage for all of the information that has been installed since you were born. Your unconscious mind uses this information to sort out all of the data that you are always receiving from the world to keep you safe.

So, your three minds work well together. Each one has its own special ability that the others don’t necessarily have. The idea is that if something worked in the past, it can be recalled and used again to get you through other situations that are similar.

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