Making (Brain)Waves: The Conscious and the Subconscious Minds
Learn the difference between the conscious and subconscious mind, brainwave activity in each, and how to navigate each level to elevate our awareness.
Did you know that your brain is a subconscious state for the first 6-12 years of your life? If you’re wondering what that means and why you should care, a great place to start would be distinguishing the conscious and subconscious minds.
Our subconscious mind encompasses the roots of our being that grow deeply beneath the surface. This is where our habitual patterns and programming live. The subconscious accounts for somewhere between 95-98% of our brain’s processing. Have you ever driven your car somewhere and upon arriving to your destination, have no idea how you got there? Maybe you experience this when driving to a place you frequent often, such as work or the grocery store or a friend’s house. The route is continuously programmed into your brain to a point that you have it memorized so well that you’re able to go into this autopilot mode where your subconscious takes the wheel. Sometimes, we aren’t consciously aware of the fact that we are making all the correct turns that somehow get ourselves to the right place, but it happens.
The subconscious is a product of all of our life experiences, conditioning, our stories, and the meaning we assign to everything. It is our “feeling” brain.
On the other hand, the conscious mind is limited to just the things we can see above the surface. Think “the tip of the iceberg”. It is all of the things we are currently aware of and are actively thinking about.
Our conscious mind keeps us in the present moment and allows us to form thoughts, make choices, and use reason or logic. It is our “thinking” brain.
When the brain is in a subconscious state, the frequency of brainwaves is slower. When we are in utero and through infancy, our brainwaves are in a DELTA state. This is where we access the deep layers of the subconscious mind, similar to being in a deep, dreamless sleep state. When we grow to be age 2-6, we move into accessing THETA, which can feel like a state of trance or hypnosis, meditation, dreaming, or imagination. This can be seen very apparently by observing children and seeing how they move through the world.
From age 6-12, our brains move into an ALPHA state where it starts to connect the inner and outer worlds through the senses. I like to think of this state as the bridge between the conscious and subconscious minds. An ALPHA brainwave state happens to be the most optimal for consolidating, processing, and learning new information.
Subconscious brainwave states are where we are super impressionable and vulnerable to the way our environment affects our inner world. This is exactly why development and conditioning at a young age penetrates us on such a deep level.
Moving into the more conscious mind levels, later stages of brain development bring us to unlock BETA and GAMMA waves. We can still access the lower levels of ALPHA, DELTA, and THETA, but we begin to use BETA and GAMMA with more predominance. Here, the focus is fully shifted from the inner world to the outer world. These brainwave states are great for getting things done and responding to external threats or stimuli. But not so great when we are trying to learn, communicate, or see things from an objective perspective.
So, which level is optimal?
The optimal level is not one singular brainwave state, but rather we are looking for the ability to be adaptable by shifting to whichever state is appropriate for the situation at hand.
This might look like self-regulation of the nervous system, meditation, and mindfulness practices to downshift to your subconscious, and bringing things into the present moment and the space around you to enter your conscious mind.
We can apply these concepts to our lives in real time through mindful practices. For example, “taking a deep breath” or “sleeping on it” when we are trying to make a big decision or confront a situation, rather than act on impulse. What we’re actually doing here is slowing down the brainwaves to give us access to the subconscious mind. Here, we can get closer to what the reality of the current situation is, rather than our projections that are filtered by emotions, and deactivating the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight response).
Further than applying this in real time, we can even use this to dig up old patterns and rewire maladaptive programming in our brains.
We can identify wounds or traumas from earlier stages of life by accessing a similar brainwave frequency that they were created on (DELTA, THETA, or ALPHA). Through the subconscious, we can reassociate or reframe the old narratives and patterns into something more useful. This is the basis for the hypnosis practice.
I’d love to hear from you on this! How do you shift your state of consciousness to appropriately deal with what’s in front of you? In what ways are you taking the emotional charge out of situations in order to gain a new perspective? Do you have stories, patterns, or programming in your subconscious that you’d like to dig up and free yourself from?