themighty logo

An Analogy to Explain Subconscious Thoughts vs Conscious Thoughts

I’m going to take a slight detour away from the scientific, scholarly thread my writing has been following up to this point and change gears to talk about something more concrete. Specifically, I want to write about something exciting that has been going on this month. I’ve been focused on coaching some very special people along towards the end of depression. What special people, you ask? I’m thrilled to report that I’ve been working with some local veterans who live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There are two reasons I’m so excited about working with veterans. The first is that I’m a veteran myself. I represent the fifth generation of men in my family who have served in the military, so serving those who defend our country is a cause that’s very near and dear to my heart. The other reason I’m so glad to be working with veterans is because people who have served in the military are typically people who are very process oriented. The process I used to cure myself of clinical depression, the very same method I teach to others, is exactly that — a process. So, it falls right into my wheelhouse to work with people who don’t expect instant results. It’s refreshing to work with people who are used to putting their shoulder against a heavy weight and pushing it along one methodical step at a time.

To be clear, depression and PTSD are not the same thing. However, I find that those who live with PTSD often experience depression as well. Furthermore, the work I do to help people defeat depression also tends to work well for fighting PTSD due to the fact that PTSD and depression are often rooted in the very same place. What place is that? The subconscious.

I have found that taking a deep dive into conscious thoughts versus subconscious thoughts can leave people real confused real fast. So, instead of risking losing you with a discussion that sounds more like a voluminous textbook than a blog, please allow me to make a simple analogy that will make the subconscious easy to understand.

Take a moment to think about your computer. On your computer you likely have software programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Chrome or Firefox. Those are programs that you purposefully open and use. Those kinds of programs that you use actively and with intention represent conscious thoughts in our analogy. Simply stated, you use those programs on purpose, and you are aware of them while you use them.

On the other hand, your computer also has a whole host of programs that run in the background without you actively knowing or being aware of it. Those background programs process keystrokes as you type, keep your screen illuminated, track the movement of your mouse and keep the clock running, all without you doing anything on purpose or with active awareness. Those kinds of programs that run in the background without you doing anything purposeful are known as the operating system, and they represent subconscious thoughts in our analogy.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Recovery Warriors group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Recovery Warriors is a safe space for anyone who's in the process of mental or physical healing. Lean on others for support and celebrate your recovery milestones here. Click to join.

Taking our analogy one step further, what happens to programs like Word and Chrome (your conscious thoughts, in other words) when your operating system (your subconscious thoughts) has a glitch of some kind? They don’t always function the way they’re supposed to, do they? One little glitch in the operating system can result in a whole cascade of errors in the software programs attached to it. Similarly, I say that PTSD and depression are often rooted in the same place because much of the time they stem from a “glitch” in the subconscious. Just like Firefox won’t work correctly if your operating system is corrupted, your conscious thoughts, actions, feelings and words are all subject to breakdowns if something puts your subconscious on tilt. To make matters worse, much of the time this happens without you ever knowing there’s anything off with your operating system to begin with.

Here’s an excellent example. One of the veterans I’m working with got into a firefight with insurgents while stationed in Iraq, and there were, unfortunately, some civilian casualties. We’ll call this particular veteran James. While it’s true that James is actively aware of what happened during that incident, he has been walking around entirely unaware of how it jolted his subconscious. For years now, James has been walking around with his subconscious playing the constant background track of, “You are an evil person.” With that kind of head trash always playing in the background without James ever being consciously aware of it, it’s no wonder that he has been unable to enjoy his work, friendships or romantic relationships since returning home from Iraq.

In summary, if something is subconscious, then by definition you are not conscious of it. If something is buried in your subconscious, it’s literally impossible for you to know about it, let alone correct it without help from someone else. That is why I always say that communication is the very first step on the road to the end of depression.

To see more from Jason, visit his site

Getty image via Rawpixel