The Thinking Model

The human mind is one of the most extraordinary and complicated things known to man, with more neurones in a human brain than stars in the known universe. We are only just starting to get a glimpse as to what is going on deep within our thoughts.

The Thinking Model does not show you what a mind looks like, or even how it is working, but provides an easy way of understanding the main components and how these work together to make us do what we do.

The activity in our minds can be considered to be operating at two different levels. Our CONSCIOUS mind acts like the CEO or manager, setting the strategy, considering options and solving problems. It then hands over the day to day running to our SUBCONSCIOUS to get on with things.

Conscious thinking is the part of the mind that we are most aware of. The voice in our head, discussing, debating and arguing. Sometimes a close friend, sometimes a harsh critic. It has been estimated that we talk to ourselves approximately five times a minute, commenting on ourselves, others around us and the situations that we find ourselves in or perceive.

This self-talk is made up of the things that you SAY to yourself, often observations or commentary, and what you ASK yourself. These thoughts about the PAST, the current situation (PRESENT) and our perception of the FUTURE create STORIES, building context around the world that we perceive. Our self-talk may be accurate or made-up, helpful or unhelpful, but for the most part, we treat it as the absolute truth.

Something to think about…
How aware of your internal dialogue are you?   Is it helpful or limiting your potential?

The subconscious is running most of the things going on in your brain, and you have very little idea that things are happening. You don’t have to think about breathing, although you can if you choose to. On the other hand, try telling your digestion to speed up!

It is tempting to think of subconscious thinking as one thing, but it’s more like lots of separate bits, sort of working together. The analogy of a big company is useful; The subconscious is like a series of different departments, each with their own objectives and ideas, working together to achieve the same end. There is overlap, with some activities covered by more than one department, lots of collaboration and some disagreement. Like a business, the ‘departments’ of our subconscious are working to deliver the strategy (assuming that there is one) that the conscious mind has set and when things go wrong the subconscious looks to the conscious mind (the Boss) to decide what to do. Ever had the experience of driving somewhere, lost in thought or on the phone, when suddenly you are alert just because of a broken down car at the side of the road. Once you realise that it is nothing to worry about, conscious thought returns to more interesting daydreams and lets subconscious thought get on with the driving.

Your subconscious thinking is doing most of the work, with estimates that this accounts for over 90% of your brains’ activity. Day to day it is getting on with running everything, and it is very good at it.

We actively or accidently program our mind with things so well that they become automatic tasks: what the neuroscientist David Eagleman calls “Zombie Programs”. Imagine the different departments of your mind getting on with the day to day tasks at hand, at the most basic level making your heart beat, breathing, making you feel hungry at the right time; with football free kicks and motorway driving at the other end of the spectrum.

The different parts of the mind run different programs looking at each thing from a different perspective, sometimes unanimous in their answer, sometimes with conflicting and competing answers. Everyone has experienced this at some point, maybe when debating between diet and dessert in a restaurant. This is no different in the workplace, with the subconscious constantly balancing conflicting interests between what is right for you and what you believe to be right for the job, between right and wrong or fun and dull.

Something to think about…
How much are you doing on autopilot? Are the ‘zombies’ in your mind doing what you need them to do or what they have always done?

The neurochemistry of the brain can highlight different areas in different circumstances, giving preference to one set of ‘zombie’ programs over another. An easy way to think about this is to consider that you get to choose between a ‘Rational’ or ‘Emotional’ focus. While it might not feel like it, you can choose and most of the time you do, but the ‘Emotional lens’ has a much quicker on-switch. This is for a good reason – it is designed to protect us from danger; although more from the danger of tigers than meetings!

These lenses focus the various programs running in your mind. The rational lens enhances logic and reason, looking for facts and evidence. It is the more ‘modern’ part of our mind that allows us to think things through. The emotional lens is driven by the ‘ancient’ parts of the brain, designed to help us survive. It is not very discerning, just reacting to the first bit of information it receives. Useful if you are about to be eaten, not so helpful if you are having a bad day.

It is through these lenses that we can connect with others, combining them (like optical lenses) to enhance their power. The rational lenses of several people can come together to solve difficult problems, but they also risk shutting out the emotional lens that helps to see how to get others to adopt their plan. Combining our emotional lenses can create great outpourings of empathy, or allow us to understand how best to motivate and lead others. It can also allow us to ‘wind each other up’ at difficult or stressful times. You will see this at times of change, where the emotional reaction causes groups to focus all their energy on one or two trivial elements, while ignoring the bigger picture and benefits on offer.

We are at our best when these lenses work together in harmony, allowing our mind to feel balance with the emotion of the situation, as well as consider the facts and options. This can be very difficult at times, and although we can train our minds to do this better, we can bring balance to the force by borrowing someone else’s lens should we need to.

Something to think about…
Do you ever regret your initial response to a situation? Are you consciously choosing when to respond emotionally or rationally, or are the ‘zombies’ in control?