I can hear the objection from here - I cannot control thoughts I’m not aware of. You would be correct. You cannot. However, the emotions that come from those thoughts are clues as to what those thoughts might be. That is what gives you awareness and ultimately control.
We all have a subconscious, unconscious mind that does not need our conscious awareness to function. It happens in the background all day every day. It tries to be sneaky, but alas it is not very good at it. It gives itself up all the time. The only thing you have to do is be willing to notice when that happens.
What’s your clue? Emotions. Random emotions that seemingly come from nowhere because there was no conscious thought attached to them. Why am I crying? Where did this come from? Those are clues that your subconscious mind has given itself away once again. Your job now is to figure out why it’s sending smoke signals.
Now the million dollar question appears. How do I do that? How do I figure out what my subconscious mind is on about this time? The answer is simply awareness of yourself. The subconscious mind sends the smoke signals and immediately that will activate your conscious mind, even if your conscious mind is offering you confusion to start with. You can approach this a couple of ways.
You can wait it out by allowing the feelings to just flow. Where does your conscious mind go if left to its own devices for a moment? What comes up once the confusion passes?
You can also begin to journal or tune into your intuition and that will also help you gain clarity as to what’s triggered the subconscious mind. Using your intuitive guidance will give you a clue as to what’s going on.
The clue will make sense to you in that moment. It will be based on something that’s just occurred that maybe your conscious mind didn’t react to, but your subconscious mind decided to hang onto anyway. What you will find is some aspect of something that you’ve been trying to heal or let go of. There is an opportunity here to release another piece of that puzzle.
Once you do this work for yourself these thoughts are no longer unconscious. You now have control over them. The subconscious mind has officially given up its cover and will no longer hide that thing from you anymore. You do not have to be at the mercy of your subconscious mind. You just have to be willing to wait for it to give itself up, which it will do all the time through your emotions.
It’s all self-awareness. Think about what happens at full moons. If you’ve ever worked in a retail environment you’ll know this phenomenon well. Crazy people come out at full moons. All the strangest stuff happens in retail on nights when there is a full moon. Every cashier ever knows this to be true. It’s just how it works. But why? What is it about full moons that causes people to be bizarre?
Energy. Subconscious energy. We live in an energetic universe. We are surrounded by the energy of each other and everything on our beautiful planet, the moon, the sun, the other planets, the stars, and the solar system in general. It’s all emitting energy all the time. We as physical beings are sensitive to and reacting to that energy all the time; awareness not required.
When the moon is full and the conscious mind is not aware of the energy or doesn’t understand what the energy is, the subconscious mind is responding anyway. But it’s all subconscious so that you’re just reacting and you’re not even sure what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. It’s just happening anyway.
Most people live an unconscious life. They react and respond rather habitually and unconsciously the majority of the time. They don’t put too much thought or effort into how they respond and react to the things that happen. They don’t care to understand themselves and their own responses to things. They just keep trying to control the outside world, hoping that if they get enough control over that they won’t have to react like that anymore. “You made me do that or feel that way. It’s your fault I behaved the way I did.” Guess what? The full moon energy creates that same response, but now there is no physical being to blame for it, it’s just happening. It’s not understood and it’s not under control. No effort is made to understand it or try to control it. The person just goes haywire and isn’t bothered enough to do anything about it. They live unconsciously and don’t care. It’s always somebody else’s fault and they’ll find somebody to blame for it later.
Having energetic awareness and living a conscious life means when you feel weird you don’t project that outward. You don’t go to the grocery store and act like a nut case because there is a full moon. You understand that the energy is having an effect on you and you manage that appropriately. You are now energetically aware which lessens the amount of control the subconscious mind has. It doesn’t get to play tricks anymore because you know what’s happening and you’re taking conscious responsibility for your own thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
This is what self-awareness and self-mastery are all about - conscious control of your own thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It is the willingness to sit down with yourself and understand why you’re thinking, feeling, and acting the way you are at every minute of every day. You are no longer allowing the randomness of the unconscious mind to sneak up on you and take control without your awareness. You are no longer allowing the pain you’ve held onto in your life to be reflected in your words and actions. You are making the choice to live consciously.
It’s never a perfect system. We’re still human. Even with all the awareness and conscious control we can find, we still have a limited perception, we’re still prone to mistakes, and we aren’t going to get it perfect every day. That’s not the point of the journey. What we’re striving for is to simply be better than we were the day before. We’re looking to be accountable for and responsible for every action, every word, every thought, and every feeling we have. It’s a constant, conscious movement forward in the direction of healing and happiness. Is that easy? Of course not. The willingness to try is what matters.
Unconscious thoughts make for an easy cop-out. It’s too easy to decide that we aren’t aware of them therefore we can do nothing about them. This plays into the unconscious nature of how most people choose to live. They don’t want to put that kind of effort into understanding themselves. Why? Fear. Fear of what they will find. Fear of what it will change. Fear of what it will make them feel or think. Fear of not liking the result. Fear of the process. Fear of ending up alone. Fear of failure. Fear of the ego.
I’ve run into the concept of the fear of the ego lately. “If I get into my head and I start to rationalize things, my mind will go off the deep-end. I’ll end up in a dark, evil place and I don’t want to do that, so I’m going to drop into my heart space and ignore the mind completely.” Fear of thinking causes people to object to the processes and strategies that I offer. It’s a fascinating thing to me because what it says is that we have a group of people that look around at the bad things they see happening in the world and decide that the reason it happens is because people are in their heads. They decide that it is only the mind that creates pain in this way. That’s not completely true.
Yes, the mind makes up a lot of stories. The mind buys into its own ideas. The mind, when left completely unchecked and there is enough pain available to feed on, can potentially go off the deep-end and do some horrible things. That doesn’t mean that each of us is prone to that or that there is a risk of that when you heal in a more logical manner.
I’m encouraging you to recognize the stories your mind tells, not buy into them. I want you to step outside of your mind a little bit so that you can see your mind as a separate entity from you. You are not your mind. You have the capacity to step outside your mind and see yourself having those thoughts. From there you can then question whether the thoughts are true or not. It’s about learning to see the pain in your thinking and then being willing to question what you find.
When you tell the story of the thing that happened and what the other person did or said look for the pain the story. How do you feel about what they did or said? Not good? Okay, there’s your pain. Now where did it come from? It’s not the other person. Blame is a story. Where within you are you holding onto pain that was triggered by this person?
You see you can’t control or change what the other person did or said, so your job is to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. That means you have to go find the pain they triggered. Where is it? Where did it come from? Without any stories of blame, shame, guilt, or victimization, understand why you responded or reacted the way you did.
They did or said something that caused pain within you. The pain is not their fault. The pain was not created by them. They don’t have control over how you respond or react to what they do or say. The pain was created by you and your judgment of what they said or did. The pain is yours. It’s got nothing to do with anybody else. Your job is to figure out where the pain came from. What did you hold onto? Why did you hold onto it? Why is it showing up now? How can you release it?
Now you tell me that they should be more careful in what they say or how they act. They don’t have the right to go around being an a**hole and you’re allowed to be bothered by bad behavior. Not only are you allowed to be bothered by it, you’re allowed to defend yourself against it. They deserved what I did or said in response.
Congratulations. You just made yourself a victim of everybody else’s pain. You’ve given yourself a battle to fight that you can’t win because the majority of the population throws their pain around this way. You’ve taken on the cause of trying to get them to stop doing that and in the process you’ve decided it’s a good idea to take on all their pain and make yourself feel like crap. Just like Dr. Phil would say, how’s that working for you?
It’s not, is it? It doesn’t work because you can’t change the fact that people throw their pain around. You don’t have control over other people. What you can do is decide to recognize their pain while working toward understanding how your own pain is being triggered and then heal yourself. Awareness allows you to see the pain in other people, not take it on, not react to it, not defend yourself against it, and not throw it back at them because you’re no longer triggered by other people’s stuff. You’ve healed your own pain.
This is all logical work. I’m asking you to see your own stories, to recognize your own behavior, to understand why and how you react to everything that happens in your life on a given day. You get mad because other people don’t have control over their own words and actions the way you think they should. But the truth is you don’t either because you pop off every time they do or say something you don’t like. The cycle repeats over and over again and nothing changes because you continue to tell the stories of blame and victimization instead of taking responsibility for yourself.
The problem is yours. It’s not about other people. It never was about other people. But you continue to tell the story of blame and victimization anyway and then wonder why nothing changes. This is all completely unconscious habitual behavior and thought based on untrue stories that you’re not even aware you’re telling. All you have to do to see it is step outside of the stories you tell.
Once you see this, you can’t unsee it. Once you see everything that happens in life this way, you can’t ever go back to the old way of seeing it. Once you break the loop of telling the stories of blame, shame, guilt, and victimization you don’t ever tell them again. You see them clear as day. The ego doesn’t even have to get in there anymore because there is nothing defend. You’re no longer telling the story that would make you defend yourself. You just get stand around and let people throw their pain around all over the place, you don’t have to pick any of it up or doing anything about it. It’s not yours and it’s not under your control.
This is where you tell me that people need to learn how to behave and that if we just stand around and don’t do anything about it that we’re allowing their behavior. But here’s the thing - we can’t control other people! It’s not our job to stop it or change it in any way. That’s not our role with each other. It’s not my job to change your behavior and it’s not your job to change my behavior. Even if I were to work with you in my coaching business, I still can’t make you change your behavior. You’re working with me because you’re willing to do that work, not because I held you down and made you, not because I forced you, and not because we engaged in a screaming match and I happened to win. The willingness to change has to be present for this to work. Chances are that person who did the thing you didn’t like has no desire to change so you trying to make them probably isn’t going to get you very far.
There are all kinds of stories that we tell about why other people do what they do. When we feel pain because of what they do we make up even more stories. Why? Because we feel the need to defend ourselves. The ego gets in there and messes with the story. The ego is going to tell it’s own story of pain. That story is no more helpful to you than the one your mind made up.
How much of this is happening unconsciously? How much of this occurs before you’ve even had a semi-conscious coherent thought? Most of it. You’re already in the story before you’re even aware of what’s happening. The story is already present and the event or the drama isn’t even over yet. You made up the story before the conversation was done. This is a reflection of the unconscious nature of how most people live their lives.
Your job is, even if you get sucked into the story mid-drama, to sit yourself down and understand your own behavior after the fact. Your job is to get a grip on the story, even after the fact, and do something with it so that you don’t keep repeating the cycle. Your job is to manage yourself after the fact until you can do it in the situation itself. Allowing yourself to simply continue telling the story because you’re mad or hurt isn’t going to help you with your awareness. It also forces you to hang onto the pain and just gives you another thing to heal down the road. You’re trying to clean out the boxes of crap, not add new ones!
Since the story is already present, it means it’s entirely unconscious. The fact that you’re able to tell the story before the drama is even over is your clue that it’s unconscious to you. The cycle keeps repeating but you pay no attention to that. You just keep being mad and hurt by what’s happening in your life. You do nothing about it except to hang onto the pain, tell stories, and blame other people. This is unconscious living at its finest.
Then you defend the whole thing by saying you don’t have time to get a conscious thought in. You have to react to what’s happening immediately. What about after the fact? Well, by then it’s too late. What’s the point of doing it then? Do you see how the story goes? We can make up all kinds of excuses, defend the problem, argue that we don’t have time to have conscious thoughts, and then continue to complain about what’s happening in our lives. The unconscious only becomes conscious when you’re willing to pay attention to what you’re doing, feeling, and thinking all the time.
And yes, after the fact is a perfectly good time to give yourself the awareness that you were missing when the experience was happening. Why is that a good time? Because you’re focusing on it and the Universe is now going to give you the opportunity to try again so that you can use the new awareness you now have. This gives you accountability because now you can go back and apologize for your crappy behavior. Now you have the ability to own your own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions and correct them. Welcome to holding your own feet to the fire. This is what accountability looks like when done consciously and with intention.
Personally, I apologize within 24 hours when I handle an interaction badly, even if the other person was projecting their pain all over the place, even if the other person was a jerk, even if the other person doesn’t apologize and wasn’t able to get there. I hold myself accountable for my own behavior and I don’t make it contingent on other people. I make myself do that because I spend time understanding each interaction I have, whether it ends badly or not. I spend time understanding myself every single day of my life, without exception. It’s a focused, disciplined method of self-improvement that I have committed to as a daily practice. I don’t meditate. I don’t do yoga. I don’t journal although I do a lot of writing. I simply focus on the interactions and experiences that matter to me and I correct them when I need to.
Wait, what do you mean it’s not contingent on other people? Don’t you care how other people treat you? Yes. But I care more about how I treat them. I set the example. I know for sure that if I’m apologizing for my behavior it’s going to make them think about how they treated me, whether or not they apologize is irrelevant. I hold myself to that standard but that doesn’t give me the right to hold them to the same standard. I can’t control them. I don’t sit around waiting for apologies. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me whether they do it or not. I’m in control of me, that’s where my point of control is, and that’s what I focus on. I don’t focus on trying to control other people.
My point of control in any relationship is in my ability to limit that relationship if I feel the need to. Once I’m accountable for my own behavior and I’m willing to apologize as needed, that changes the relationship by itself. It actually doesn’t require anything else from me. I’ve changed the relationship by becoming accountable in this way. Now my job is simply to wait for the other person to catch up. It might take weeks, months, or even years. All I have to do is be patient with them and allow them to catch up in their own time.
Remember, they didn’t ask for the change. I changed on my own. I didn’t ask if people wanted me to change, I just made the change. That means I can’t force them to do anything differently. I have to give them as much space and time as they need, while still leaving open the possibility that they may reject the change entirely anyway. I have to make that okay too. I can’t hold any of this against anybody.
If it doesn’t change that means I have a choice to make. I don’t have to be at the mercy of what they do or don’t do. I get to make a choice about whether I want the relationship or not. Am I willing to put up with whatever it is they are doing in order to maintain the relationship? If not, then I have to leave. If I am, then I had better learn to be okay with what they are doing. If I don’t do that, the relationship will be miserable for me.
Your judgment of their behavior is what causes pain. The unconscious ego wants to defend that pain. It tries to tell you that you need to change their behavior, that you need to do something about what they are doing or sometimes it will tell you the story about how you are a victim of what they are doing. Here’s the deal - you can’t change them. It’s not yours to control. You have to let them do what they are going to do. While you watch them do whatever it is, you have to manage your judgment of their behavior. If you do not manage that judgment and your perception of what’s happening you will find yourself in a bunch of pain, even if what they are doing has absolutely nothing to do with you.
The pain from watching other people do things that you don’t like or agree with is completely self-inflicted. It’s based solely on your judgment of what they are doing. It’s based on the story you’re telling yourself in your head. That story isn’t necessarily true. The decision they are making is not based on your perception of things. It’s not based on your thoughts. It’s based on their thoughts and their perception of what’s happening. Those things may not be true either. But you can’t change they believe to be true. It’s not your job to change their perception of their own reality.
The idea is simple - everybody gets to be where they are. Everybody gets to have their own ideas. Everybody gets to have their own reality. Our job is not to argue with people about what that is or should be or what we would like it to be. The unconscious ego wants that argument because it wants everybody to believe what it believes. The unconscious ego believes that its way is the only right way to do things. We will unintentionally project that on others all the time if we’re not paying attention. This is one of those places where we get caught in unconscious behavior all the time. Our responses to other people are frequently unconscious and based on judgment. This leads into a discussion around the need to be right, which we can have in another essay.
There is a lot of unconsciousness in our thoughts, words, and behavior. It’s hard to spot, even when it is blatantly in your face because you’re the one doing the action or saying the words. Why is it so difficult to find? I believe it’s simply because we’re scared of what we’re going to find. We choose to ignore it because it’s easier. This happens even when we recognize a problem. We just decide we have no desire to fix said problem so we ignore it or we complain about it. Either way it doesn’t get fixed because we’re scared of the work we have to do to fix it. We’re scared of change. We’re scared of the truth. We’re scared of the emotions. We’re scared of our own minds.
The reality is that there is nothing there that you don’t already know about. You planted everything that’s there. You put it all there on your own. You may have forgotten about it somewhere along the way, but you’re still that one that put it there regardless. Why are you scared of the things that you hid on yourself? What are you afraid you’re going to find? The story of the unconscious mind keeps you stuck in a fear of ghosts and shadows. It keeps you in pain. It prevents you from healing and moving forward. It keeps you in unconscious, repetitive cycles that aren’t helping you. You can change that. You just have to decide you’re ready to let go of the fear.