What About the Subconscious Mind?

One of our readers wrote to me and asked me this question:

Just a short question about a book called The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy. Have you ever read it, and if so what do you think about the basic ideas he talks about? I read it while I was on a holiday recently and was very interested in the idea that we share a connected consciousness and that what we think, and how we think, has a great bearing on what happens to us.

Here is my reply:

I've never read that particular book, but I am familiar with Murphy's work. I think many of his basic ideas are sound. Your thoughts do indeed have a great bearing on what happens to you. I no longer try to influence my subconscious mind, though, and I'll tell you why. I think Murphy is right. I think there is a subconscious mind (a mind that has more knowledge and a different way of thinking than the conscious mind). And I think the subconscious has powers that can be influenced by my conscious mind. But the whole process and the results are hard to see. They aren't tangible enough for my tastes. Did I or did I not influence my subconscious? Who knows? Am I wasting my time? And perhaps more importantly, should I listen to it rather than try to make it listen to me?

Since there are so many concrete and direct methods I know of that produce definite effects — more methods than I'll ever be able to master in my lifetime — I see no convincing reason to spend time on something that may or may not be a waste of time. Concrete, direct methods are more satisfying to apply. The optimism principle is a good example. You can see it work, it is totally in your control, and it has a clear outcome. Those kinds of principles are more satisfying to me. Working with the subconscious mind, in contrast, always seemed vague and uncertain in its effects. Would the result have happened anyway? There is no way to tell.

I'll give you an analogy. I know a young man who drinks wheatgrass juice because he believes it is good for his health. But he doesn't exercise. The amount of research on exercise is enormous and it shows that exercise makes a definite, measurable contribution to good health. The research on wheatgrass juice is minuscule in comparison, and what research there is shows only a small health benefit. If this young man really wants to improve his health, I would recommend exercise. It is more definite, more concrete, and the effects are more obvious.

The analogy breaks down because he could easily exercise and drink wheatgrass juice. But if he was going to do one or the other, he should choose exercise. And if I feel my time is limited, I would rather choose a concrete method sure to produce a result than a method that may or may not work, and even if it works, that I may not be able to say was really the cause of the result produced.

I know working with subconscious ideas is appealing. It is mysterious. It's dipping your toe into the weird and wonderful. It's fun. But I only have so much time in my life, and since I can choose how I spend it, my personal feeling is that applying basic principles is preferable — even if they seem mundane — as long as they produce concrete and clear results.

Here is an example of some concrete principles. If you want self-improvement, if you want to have more confidence with people, if you want to improve your personality, try these and compare them with the more ephemeral techniques of influencing your personality. I think you'll find the concrete methods more satisfying.

Make your relationships easier and more pleasant.

Dealing with troublemakers at work.

Enjoy your work environment more.

Feel more self-confident around people.

Another reader responded to the above with this:

I read some of the extracts from your book online. I agree that these are practical methods that can be useful in some situations. But you are a long way short of the teachings of Dr. Murphy. I also read the comments you made about the subconscious mind and Joseph Murphy's work, and was somewhat confused by them. You say that working with the subconscious doesn't bring forth tangible results??? It does, and Dr. Murphy's books are filled with examples of tangible results. I know from my own work with the subconscious that results come quickly and are there for all to see. I think the practical methods you teach are fine but there is a lot more that can be done.

Here is Adam's reply:

Thanks for writing. We're using the word "tangible" in two different ways. I agree that when you influence the subconscious mind, you get results, sometimes extraordinary or seemingly miraculous results. But was it from your suggestions? Do you know for sure? Would it have happened anyway? Yes, the result was tangible, in the sense that it was real and measurable, but how certain is the line of cause and effect? It may be certain for you if you're a believer, but for others it might seem like wishful thinking, and with legitimate reason.

What I meant by tangible includes that level of reality (concrete results in the real world) plus the certainty that this cause resulted in that effect. If I feel upset right this moment and I change my point of view on what's upsetting me right now and I immediately feel better, the result is tangible and my confidence is high that changing my viewpoint was what did it. If I find myself getting weaker, so I start an exercise program and progressively lift more weights, I am certain the cause of my strength is the exercise I did. That's what I mean by tangible. Some methods produce a tangible, definite result, caused clearly by the method.

I believe it is possible to cause effects on the subconscious mind and have real effects on your body and even the world. But I'm also certain that what works and what doesn't and when it works and to what degree it works is anything but a sure thing. My argument is that if I have something I KNOW will work for sure, I would rather do that than something I am only PRETTY sure will work.

If I had lots of time to kill and the result I was after wasn't very important to me, I might use something that "influences my subconscious mind." Otherwise, I would go for the sure thing.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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