The conscious vs the unconscious - Why your mind is the battlefield you must conquer for success.

human design strategy successful entrepreneurs Jun 14, 2024

As I was working with one of my executive coaching clients this week, we started exploring a topic I love - the conscious and unconscious mind. He wanted to understand the role the unconscious mind plays in whether the dreams we have for ourselves will be realized…or fall flat. 

We set exciting and motivating goals for ourselves. A new fitness routine to get in shape, changing to a healthier diet, meditating more frequently, or even launching a new business. We know at the outset that this goal will require us to change, to form new habits, and we even tell ourselves that we’ll push through. 

Yet, despite our best intentions, we often get stuck and revert to old habits. The new habits are too difficult to maintain, and so we quit (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?)

Why does this happen? We know the changes we are trying to make  are for the best. We want to be fitter and healthier so we can live longer. We want to branch out, start a business because we want that freedom to build a legacy and work on our terms.

So why do our odd intentions often end in failure?

The battle of the minds!

Consider the journey of starting a new fitness routine:

  • Day 1: You’re excited and motivated, picturing yourself fit, healthy, and fitting into that smaller dress size. You’re excited and pumped! You think, “This is easy. Why don’t I do this more often?”
  • Day 2: It’s a bit harder. Muscles you didn’t know you had are a bit stiff. But the goal is stll fresh in your mind, so you push through.
  • Day 3: You’re sore as hell and doubt starts creeping in. Your unconscious mind, which equates change with danger, begins to resist. You start thinking, “You know what, I come from a long line of heavy people, I think this is fine. My grandmother was 50 pounds overweight and lived to be 90, maybe I don’t need to do this.”

Here’s where most people quit. Because our unconscious mind is telling us, “Nope”. 

There are 2 parts to our minds:

  1. The conscious mind: This is the rational, decision-making part of our mind. It’s responsible for setting goals and making plans. The conscious mind is the one that can reason, make decisions, and imagine a future. It's where we dream and set our intentions. But it can only process about four bits of information at a time. 
  2. The unconscious mind: This part of the mind is vastly more powerful, processing around four billion bits of information per second. It stores all our experiences and habits. The unconscious mind takes in everything through our senses, records our life every second, and it does not reason. It just thinks in terms of right, wrong, good, and bad because its job is to keep us safe.To our unconscious mind, change is bad because it’s not ‘safe’. So when we’re trying to make a new habit, for example stop smoking, it doesn’t care if smoking is bad for us, it wants to keep the status quo. The status quo equals safe.

Yes, your conscious and unconscious minds work together, but they can also be at opposites when it comes to change. The rational, conscious mind sets goals, it wants to change, it has all these amazing ideas and creativity. But the unconscious mind is sitting back there saying, “No, I don't think so. All those new goals you set, they mean change. And change might not be safe” The unconscious mind doesn't know the difference between, oh, this is good for us, let's do this, or this is bad for us, stop right now. 

It just wants to keep you safe…and change might not be safe.

It recognizes you're doing something different, and it sees it as bad. So it pulls from that filing cabinet of experience it’s been storing up ever since you were born, it pulls out ‘doubt’, and it throws it at you so that you quit and you go back to the status quo.

But here’s the good news!

There is a way to ‘trick’ your unconscious mind. To make it believe that everything’s OK. 


When you are creating a new habit, there are 4 stages. It’s called the Evolution of growth.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: You don’t know what you don’t know. You’re blissfully ignorant of the challenges ahead. You’re excited by this new goal and you see yourself at the finish line - e.g. fit and fabulous, running your new business, being a non-smoker - all without recognizing the journey’s challenges.
  2. Conscious Incompetence: Reality sets in. You’re aware of the difficulties and feel the weight of doubt and resistance. You realize, “This is harder than I thought.”
  3. Conscious Competence: You push through with determination. It’s hard work, but you’re making deliberate efforts to change. You’re doing the work even though it’s tough.
  4. Unconscious Competence: Your new habit is now automatic. You don’t need to think about it - it’s a natural part of your routine. You become someone who feels off when you don’t exercise. 

Ever drive all the way home only to realize you don't remember driving there? That’s your unconscious mind taking over the safe routine of driving while your conscious mind was off processing your day and planning dinner. An experienced driver has developed an unconscious competence - an unconscious habit.

And that’s the stage we need to get to - stage 4.

But the part where we often fail, the time when our unconscious mind starts throwing all that doubt at us, is stage 2 - conscious incompetence.

The goal is to get our conscious and unconscious minds on the same page so we can push through that stage and get to stage 4 - unconscious competence. 

You feel like quitting? Good. It’s time to celebrate!

To get your conscious and unconscious minds on the same page, here are some steps you can try:

1. Provide Evidence to the Unconscious Mind: When starting a new habit, visualize your success but prepare for the resistance. Understand that initial excitement will fade and be replaced by challenges. 

Make small, consistent changes. Each small success is evidence to your unconscious mind that the new habit is safe and beneficial. Gradually, your unconscious mind will see that this new behavior is not a threat. Think about how a bad habit is formed - say, smoking. People don’t go from non-smoker to 2 packs a day in one leap. They build up slowly, tricking their unconscious mind into believing that the small changes are still keeping them safe - because they’re so small.

2. Celebrate Struggles and Doubts: Recognize that doubt is a sign of change. Time to celebrate! Why? Because now you are consciously incompetent, and this means you’re growing. When it feels tough and you just want to quit, be thankful and celebrate. 

The fact that you’re struggling is a sign that you’re making progress. Each small victory is a step toward aligning your conscious and unconscious minds. When doubts arise, it’s a sign you’re on the right path.

3. Stay Determined and Consistent: Push through the hard days. Develop a routine that gradually incorporates your new habit, making it less intimidating for your unconscious mind. Trick into believing that the changes are too small to pose a threat. 

Small, consistent actions are key.

4. Gentle Self-Correction: When negative thoughts or doubts arise, gently guide your mind back to your goals. Don’t beat yourself up; instead, redirect your focus. Mindfulness techniques, like the ones I teach in my free email course From Burnout to Breakthrough, can support you through the tough times and keep you focused on your goals. 

Be patient and kind to yourself. Change is a process, not an event. Each day you push through, you’re rewiring your brain and moving closer to being unconsciously competent. 

Then you can celebrate all over again!

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