In Italian, there is a saying: “Il mondo è bello perché è vario,” which means: “The world is beautiful because it is varied.” In this simple statement, there is truth and wisdom, but also many challenges. Diversity is richness, beauty, excitement, and learning, but it can also be hard to deal with and requires an open mind, understanding, and tolerance.
As much as this may sound foreign to some, reality is an extremely subjective and personal concept. In fact, it takes on a different form and meaning for each person. Every human being develops a unique life map. Such life maps are like instruction manuals, driving you with your own unique perception of reality.
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We all have our own ways of doing things (strategies), even when it comes to small processes, like brushing your teeth or getting dressed. For this reason, it is accurate to say that reality is what you make of it.
From birth, you acquire notions and absorb information about the world through your senses (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory) and develop your own filters. The most significant imprint occurs from birth until the age of 7. By then, you have installed key ways of processing, interpreting, attributing meaning, and reacting to life’s experiences. Because of this, an occurrence that is not particularly important to one person can be fundamental to another.
Each event is interpreted and associated with feelings — some pleasant, others unpleasant — and this influences your life accordingly. Naturally, a human being prefers to experience happiness, fulfillment, love, satisfaction, a sense of belonging, and similar states, all of which drive one’s actions. This does not always happen smoothly, because often, what a person consciously desires, does not correspond to what they unconsciously aim for.
Real or unreal, conscious and unconscious mind: two sides of the brain’s activity
A human being is a complex creature made of body, mind, and soul. The mind can be subdivided into the conscious mind, which accounts for around 5 percent of your brain’s activity and is logical, and the unconscious mind, which is responsible for about 95 percent of the brain’s activity. It has the task of protecting your identity and is often not logical.
Through the senses, a person gathers information and develops filters, which shape his or her perception of reality. According to memory theorists, led by the cognitive psychologist George Miller, the information your brain receives daily amounts to 2 million bits per second. Out of these 2 million bits, you can only consciously process 5 to 9 bits of information (chunks of information) per second.
In order to reach this target, the brain deletes the data it considers irrelevant, generalizes those that are perceived as similar to other inputs, and distorts other information by giving subjective interpretations. This activity is based on your previous experiences and the meanings you gave to them.
From this theory, it is easy to understand the enormous role played by the unconscious mind, which is responsible for managing all of your body’s functions, as well as handling a large number of external stimuli.
If two people look at the same picture, each of them will notice different details, experience different feelings, and read that image in different ways. This process occurs with every life event.
What one might not know is that the unconscious mind is very powerful and it also develops limiting beliefs, fears, and defense mechanisms, which at times go against your logical goals and desires.
The good news is that there are ways to understand, talk to, and connect the unconscious mind with the conscious mind so that they join forces and work in harmony.
The unconscious mind only processes a certain type of language and has its own codes. Therefore, being aware of its purpose, nature, and strategies, as well as knowing how to communicate with it, is very important in order to work out your own perception and projection of reality.
It is easy, sometimes, to tell yourself that you do not have a choice, that you are not in charge of your emotions and behavior because life throws itself at you, but the truth is, you are in charge.
Your feelings, thoughts, and actions are the only things you are in control of, as you cannot change others, their conduct, or external events. What you can manage are your perceptions and reactions. Whenever you do that, your environment adapts.
Your identity is who you are in a broad sense
The concept of identity is broad, as it also incorporates your values, rules, and beliefs. These are the elements that you discover, build, develop, and connect with over the years, based on your experiences and interpretations of life.
You need to be very aware and careful of what you want your unconscious mind to perceive as your identity, or reality, because its purpose is to preserve it and defend it in every possible way. This means that if you allow too much room for your fears and limiting beliefs and let them drive your actions, the unconscious mind will consider them as components of your identity and act to affirm them.
Regardless of our life paths and successes, all of us have fears. At some stage and to some degree, everyone has felt that they were not good enough, they were not lovable, and they didn’t belong. Even though these fears are not you, if you give them power, the unconscious mind will find endless ways to support them.
How many times do you have bad days, when you feel that you are not accepted or are not good enough? On those days, everything you notice and that happens to you “magically” confirms that those feelings are right, because perception is projection. You only concentrate on and filter the world through those limiting beliefs and fears. It is the unconscious mind working hard to “protect” what it sees as your identity and wellbeing.
The moment you realize that this is happening, you have the power to switch your state by working on your physiology, thoughts, emotions, and way to communicate with yourself and others.
All your behavior is in response to specific needs
Your values and rules drive your actions and goals. Some behaviors are dangerous and damaging to the person who performs them and that person is often consciously aware of this, but unable to stop.
Your brain is naturally drawn to experiencing positive feelings and eluding unpleasant emotions to the point that, sometimes, you choose to run from rather than run toward something. At times, your fears are so strong that in order to avoid hurt, you end up missing out on what makes you happy.
One example of this is addictions. They start by delivering positive inputs to the brain: a sense of temporary fulfillment, confidence, relief from an uncomfortable reality, or escape from painful emotions and thoughts. An addictive behavior offers a way out by anesthetizing the conscious mind and weakening — and in some cases, destroying — the person’s willpower. It then ignites a reward cycle that causes the brain to want more and more of it.
When linked to your limiting beliefs, fears, and insecurities, some actions become destructive. The unconscious mind will find all sorts of excuses to justify the continuation of addictive behavior. A certain substance will then become essential to “enhance creativity and confidence,” or the only way to avoid facing situations with unresolved sentiments.
If you feel that you are not good enough and fall into a pattern of addiction, your inability to stop is a further confirmation that you are a failure, not good enough. The job is done and the unconscious mind has preserved that person’s “identity.”
The reason you cannot give up some destructive behavior, despite being aware of the damage it can cause, is that something in that behavior works for you, so your unconscious mind fights to keep it. You, in fact, may have not yet been exposed to adequate support, resources, or evidence showing you that a fulfilling life is possible without the crutch of addictive behavior.
It takes awareness, courage, and strength to reset your complex system, but it is possible and there are strategies and techniques to develop understanding and consciousness, and make the changes.