The Deep Mind and Personal Change

Krys Call

Sometimes personal change seems harder than it ought to be. People who have accomplished many other projects with success sometimes feel surprised and disappointed when they hit a roadblock in a seemingly minor enterprise. And the feeling of frustration isn’t helped when other people explain that it just takes willpower to change eating habits, adopt a more relaxed attitude, or give up those last two cigarettes per day.

The fact is, willpower is often an effort of the conscious mind, and many personal changes require the willingness of the deep mind. From the perspective of the practice of hypnotherapy, if you have a longstanding habit that forcefully resists all your efforts to change, this is no cause for embarrassment or negative self-evaluation. It simply means that your conscious will is going up against the will of your deep mind, and the deep mind is always stronger. In fact, an experienced psychiatrist once gave me his estimate of the power differential: the unconscious mind is more than ten times more powerful than the conscious mind. If those last two cigarettes or that nighttime snacking habit or that tendency to end up in the same type of uncomfortable bind is an unconsciously generated situation, then there is nothing wrong with your willpower. What’s needed is internal collaboration. The situation could be illustrated by the following nonsensically anthropomorphic simile:

The deep mind is like a hiker who is following a trail, not just to enjoy the trees and tall grass and sun-gilded cloud landscapes, but to get to a specific destination at the trail’s end. The conscious mind is like the hiker’s backpack.

Among other ersatz items, the backpack is carrying maps (never used by the hiker, but the conscious mind likes to have, mark and refer to them frequently), a multi-functional knife-tool (for getting out of the little jams that the hiker always seems to unexpectedly encounter), food and drink (if the conscious mind doesn’t plan ahead, who will?), and a cellphone (for interfacing with the outside world.) The backpack feels ready for anything.

As the hiker methodically trudges northeast, the backpack feels increasing confusion; the trail highlighted on the map is the southwest loop. The backpack reflects with indignation that the hiker has no respect for maps, even a highly detailed one that indicates a carefully planned route. The hiker absentmindedly scratches a slight itch around the shoulderblades as the backpack tries to shift its tiny weight in a southerly direction. But it is firmly strapped to the hiker and, as the sun goes down, its high-tech waterproof zipper pouch bounces along farther and farther northeast.

The backpack begins to feel anxiety that the provisions will not last the hike, which is turning out to be longer and harder than the one that was planned. When the food and drink are long gone and the hiker is plunging through swampland in the dark, the backpack finally makes a call on the cellphone. That’s the call that therapists, pastors and hypnotherapists get. The hike back to the southwest loop could be much longer than planned, but the hardest part is often that first cellphone call.