Happiness is a Choice
By Jerry Brownstein
All of us want our lives to be filled with peace, love and joy, so why do we get angry, nervous and worried? It should be easy to choose our moods and feelings, yet many times we are taken over by negative emotions and we feel powerless to change them. These negative patterns are buried deep within your subconscious mind, and they have a powerful influence over your emotions and your actions. The good news is that we have the ability to gain control over these patterns, and the solution begins with understanding how they work and where they came from.
We go through life thinking that we are consciously choosing what we do, say and feel, but the fact is that your conscious mind is in control only about 5% of the time, while the other 95% of what you think and do is controlled by your subconscious mind. These two types of consciousness are completely different. The conscious mind has the ability to create thoughts and initiate action, but the subconscious mind is limited to storing and repeating patterns from your past. It records everything in your life and retains it for future use – but it is only able to reflect these past experiences and has no ability to create original ideas or actions.
Our brains are structured so that when the conscious mind is inactive or distracted the subconscious automatically steps in and takes control. For example, most of us have experienced driving along in your car and then suddenly realizing that your mind had wandered and you had not really been paying attention to the road for several minutes. Who was driving the car while your mind was distracted? It was your subconscious. This subconscious database is also useful because it remembers how to do the countless things that you have learned over the course of your life. You can drive a car, ride a bike, cook an egg, and dance the tango without having to consciously think of how to perform each step, because your subconscious stores all of that information and does it automatically. This is all well and good when dancing or preparing an omelette, but the problem arises when you allow your subconscious habit mind to make the choices that define who you are and how you interact with the world. Let’s look at how the subconscious is formed to understand why it causes us emotional problems.
From birth until about the age of six your subconscious mind has almost no filters. It downloads and stores everything from its environment: every word that it hears, every emotion that it feels, every image that it sees. This accumulation of input from your family, society, television, religion, etc., becomes your basic persona or habit mind. Later in life the subconscious continues to be moulded by outside influences as it obediently absorbs the norms and beliefs of your schools, friends, culture, government and media. You go through life believing that you are making independent decisions, but most of what you think, say and do is actually filtered through this subconscious belief system… a belief system that you have inherited from others. You did not choose these subconscious patterns, but they are controlling your emotions and your decisions.
The way to restore your free will and regain control of your life is by learning to live consciously. The subconscious only takes over when the conscious mind is not paying attention, so if you increase your awareness then the conscious mind will be in control for much more than the “normal” 5% of the time. You can achieve this higher level of awareness by cultivating mindfulness which simply means setting your intention to be in touch with each present moment so that you can remember to use your conscious mind. A mindful person, when faced with a choice of how to act in the world, consciously resists their automatic subconscious reactions and then chooses to follow the guidance of their inner wisdom. When you start to feel angry… or nervous… or worried you stop and ask yourself a simple question: “Is that who I wish to be in this situation?” If the answer is no then you consciously choose to act differently.
This sounds simple, but it is quite a challenge because you must overcome an entire lifetime of being programmed by the ideas, actions and beliefs of others. Even when you are determined to be mindful you may still continue to think, say and do things that are not in harmony with whom you wish to be… and that is OK. It is natural for these engrained reactions to persist, but don’t worry because that resistance will eventually melt away if you maintain your intention to be mindful. The simple key is to become aware of when you have unconsciously followed one of your old patterns of behaviour… and then gently correct yourself. Your mind will automatically start to create new pathways in your brain that are aligned with your new choices, and your old subconscious reactions will gradually lose their strength.
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the Earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the Mind. To make a deep physical path we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path we must think over and over the kinds of thoughts we wish to dominate our minds.” (Henry David Thoreau)
These words were written over 150 years ago, yet they perfectly describe the workings of what science calls neural pathways – the “highways” that carry information in your brain. Whenever you learn a new belief or behaviour your brain creates a small pathway of neurons that holds the memory of this new thing. Every time that you follow this new belief or behaviour that pathway in your subconscious gets stronger. This is why your old patterns are so firmly fixed in your brain – you have been unconsciously following and thus strengthening them since birth. The way to transform this situation is to become aware of when we are reacting with our old inherited programs... and then choose to think/act in a new way that reflects who we really want to be. Every time that you do this the new neural pathways of conscious choices get stronger and deeper. At the same time the old inherited pathways wither away and weaken from lack of use.
As you continue to intentionally create your thoughts, words and deeds so that they reflect the person whom you choose to be, you will find that consciousness will begin to evolve easily and effortlessly in all areas of your life. You are likely to become more discerning about what you put into your body and how to keep it healthy. Your tastes in music and entertainment may become more refined as will your choices of where to go, what to do and whom to hang out with. It all starts with deciding that you will no longer be the victim of old subconscious programs that you did not choose. When you act consciously, rather than blindly reacting, your life becomes a beautiful reflection of the new choices that you make about who you are in the world. •