Your thought processes control your effectiveness and performance. Understanding the thought process empowers you, because you see it as a way to create your future rather than waiting for some outside force or inspiration to change you.

The Thinking Process

There are three parts to the thinking process: the conscious, the subconscious, and the creative subconscious. By understanding these functions, you can learn why you think and act as you do.

1. Conscious thought.

In the conscious process, there are five basic functions: perception, assimilation, association, evaluation, and decision.

Perception. Through your senses, you perceive your feelings, thoughts, and emotions, as well as the external world. Your senses tell you, “This is the way the world is.” Perception takes place even before your birth. You start gathering information about the world in the womb. That’s when you first perceived movement, balance, and sound. And you add other senses after birth. You pick up added information about the way the world is. You call this information “the truth.” You also call it “reality.” But it’s not really reality, as reality might be; it’s your version of reality. That information is part of a subconscious encyclopedia about you that you’re continually updating.

Assimilation. You assimilate good and bad models, correct and incorrect information. As you grow up, you record and store all the information gathered through your senses in a sort of data bank: your first words as a baby, the books you read, every fight you had, every time you cried, people you met, places you went, secrets told you, the joy of every triumph, the pain of every loss. You store what you perceive and assimilate it in your brain. All the information you’ve been exposed to from birth the radio and television programs, the conversations, the school, the playground, the books you’ve read, magazines, stories all of that information is stored in the neurons of your brain, never to be lost, never to be forgotten. There are various ways of retrieving it to recall things you wouldn’t even know you had stored in your memory.

Association. Once you perceive and assimilate something, you associate it with anything similar stored in your “data bank” by asking, “Have I experienced anything like this before?” If you’ve had a similar experience, the event will make sense to you. Association is bouncing this perception off the reality that you have stored on the subconscious level. You ask, “Have I seen anything like this before?”

Evaluation. After associating what you perceive, you evaluate it against previous information in your “data bank” by asking, “What is this probably leading me toward?” You assess the probabilities. “Is it leading me toward happiness, pleasure, and fun, or is it leading me toward stress, discomfort, and pain?” In other words, ”Will this be good or bad for me?” We judge probabilities based on the experiences we’ve had. And then we make evaluations. “What is this leading me to?”

thought process photo

You and I could view the same event and have very different evaluations. For example, when two critics review a movie, one might say, “It’s an original film with real people full of real passion. I give it four stars.” The other might say, “Original? Oh, c’mon! It was one long cliché. ‘Real people full of real passion?’ More like stick figures full of baloney! I give it half a star. Save your money.” They saw the same film, but recorded different versions of “the truth.”

Decision. You decide on a course of action based on your immediate needs and goals. You may react by taking action; you may let someone else make the decision; you may choose to ignore or repress the matter entirely. Our choices are often based not on what could be, but what once was. Many decisions you make are based not on what is happening to you presently, but rather on what has happened to you in the past.

For example, suppose a 10-year-old boy gets up in front of the classroom for his first “Show and Tell.” As he starts telling his story, he is very serious. But everybody cracks up laughing. So he gets flustered, forgets what he wants to say, and hurries back to his seat. His friend leans over and says to him, “Dummy! Your fly is unzipped!” The boy’s emotional response to this even this feeling of humiliation is recorded in his “data bank” as a strongly negative experience.

Now, suppose that 25 years pass. At age 35, he has an opportunity to speak to a local Boys Club. He thinks, “Have I experienced anything like this before?” He evaluates, “What is this leading me toward? Nothing good!” So he makes the decision: “I’m too busy to give the talk.” He makes this decision, at 35, very likely because his pants were unzipped when he was 10.

2. The subconscious mind.

Your subconscious mind is like a high-fidelity sensory tape recorder that captures and stores your version of “reality.” It stores all of your experiences what you think, say, sense, feel, and imagine about yourself, along with your emotional attitudes and reactions to your experiences.

Your subconscious is like a blank canvas at conception. With every life experience, you dab a little paint on the canvas. You paint your own picture of “the truth” about yourself the “real” you. Every artist paints his or her own version. Like fingerprints, no two are alike. Once you dab on attitudes and opinions about yourself and the world no matter how detrimental they are you’re stuck with them, until you decide consciously to repaint the picture.

The subconscious also handles learned functions of living, like tying your shoelaces, walking, driving, playing sports, adding, and subtracting. These activities originate on the conscious level. But through repeated brush strokes, a picture emerges on your subconscious canvas, incorporating them as habits. You perform them with a free-flowing ease because you no longer have to consciously think about them.

Tying your shoelaces, walking, and knowing how to add and subtract are positive habits. They allow you to function efficiently. But some subconscious habits can become barriers to growth. They can become obsolete like an old, ribbon typewriter in the computer age. They still do the job, but they lock out change. Because they’re so “comfortable,” they can keep people from venturing into new situations such as accepting a new job, adjusting to a new environment, or risking a new relationship.

3. The creative subconscious.

The creative subconscious enforces your behavior. It maintains your present version of reality by causing you to act like the person you believe yourself to be. It maintains order and sanity by maintaining the inner picture of “the truth” that you’ve come to accept as “just like me.” Once you get an idea about who you are, you don’t need to get up every morning and remember how you are. As long as that self-image is imprinted into your belief system, you will automatically behave like you. That’s not so bad because it keeps you from being different every day in every situation. There’s something inside you that allows you to consistently be you.

Suppose you’ve convinced yourself that you always get lost when you drive to unfamiliar places. You don’t have to wake up every morning and remind yourself, “Don’t forget to get lost today.” Your creative subconscious will take care of it automatically. Maybe you feel you have a mental block when it comes to remembering people’s names. You won’t need to remind yourself to forget: your creative subconscious will take care of that for you. “Oh, I’m forgetful.” Okay. Don’t worry. You don’t need to remember to be forgetful. Your subconscious will make you forget even though you have the potential to remember. “Oh, I’m lazy.” You don’t have to remember to be lazy; your subconscious will get you to act lazy. “Oh, I’ve got a terrible temper.” Well, you don’t need to remember to blow up. Your subconscious will allow you to blow up in situations that you deem appropriate.

Your creative subconscious always maintains your presently dominant self-image. It maintains your present idea of how good you are, how successful, how athletic, how smart, how loving. It isn’t concerned with what you used to be, what you want to be, or what you have the potential to be. It maintains whatever you decide is good enough for you right now.

Your creative subconscious is so powerful in maintaining your present self-image, it can influence how other people act toward you. We know, for example, that body language and tone of voice are tied to self-image. In communicating to others what you believe, words carry only about 7 percent validity; tone of voice about 37 percent; body language about 58 percent. So you can negate what you say with your body language and tone of voice.

If you think of yourself as shy, and you’re invited to a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone, your creative subconscious will invent ways to keep people away. You might stand in a corner, arms folded, feet crossed, eyes averted. Your body language will scream, “I’m shy. Leave me alone.” If people get too close, you’ll escape away from the crowd. Afterwards, when you’re home alone, you’ll reaffirm, “See, I am shy.”

If you want to be a leader, but believe yourself to be a follower, you will automatically act like you believe yourself to be when a crisis occurs. If you feel out of place, tension constricts your vocal chords so your voice changes. That’s why, when someone gets up in front of a group of people and says in a squeaky, timid voice, “I’m looking forward to this,” you sense they’re lying.

To your creative subconscious, maintaining your present idea of “reality,” your idea of how things are supposed to be, is more important than wealth, happiness, success, even health. You maintain your sanity by making things on the outside match what you believe inside. Then you won’t seem crazy to yourself for believing what you believe.

For example, suppose that you’re 30 pounds overweight, but you suddenly decide to look better and feel healthier by losing some weight. So you skip breakfast and lunch. But your creative subconscious knows you don’t see yourself as thin. So it goes to work, not to make you look thinner and feel healthier, but rather to maintain your dominant self-image. So, when you skip breakfast and lunch, it corrects for the mistake by getting you to eat two helpings of dinner. Your creative subconscious says, “Well, you didn’t eat enough earlier in the day.” You say, “Enough for what? I want to lose weight!” It says, “You don’t believe that. It’s not like you. You believe you’re 30 pounds overweight. If you get thin, you’ll feel crazy.”

If you lose weight, your external picture (your body) will no longer match your internal picture of being 30 pounds overweight. So your creative subconscious sets off its sanity alarm: “Hey! Don’t try to be thin! That’s not you! Get back to being you.” And so you eat two helpings of dinner.

The creative subconscious won’t quit pressuring you until the two pictures match again. So, after dinner, it works even harder to correct for the mistake: “Hey! Get hungry again!” Finally, at about 10 p.m., you feel starved. You say, “I’ve gotta have a piece of cake but no frosting.” That’s your conscious mind talking. Your creative subconscious says, “Oh no. We need all the frosting we can get. And some ice cream!” So you go back in, and you not only eat one piece with all the frosting but you end up eating the whole cake with some ice cream on the side. You wake up the next morning and say, “Why’d I eat the whole cake? It doesn’t make sense!”

No, it doesn’t make sense consciously, but your creative subconscious knew you couldn’t stay 30 pounds overweight if you didn’t eat the whole cake. So it automatically maintains your present picture of you until you change that picture.

What would happen if you knew you didn’t deserve a good marriage, but your spouse was always gracious, warm, loving, and kind, and the marriage was going well? Your creative subconscious would correct for the mistake by causing you to do dumb things to mess up your marriage. And your spouse would say, “What did you do that for?” And you’d say, “I don’t know. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?” It made sense to your creative subconscious, because it made you act like the person you believed yourself to be. Not what you wanted to be, not what you could be. Maintaining sanity was more important than a happy marriage.

I suppose that’s why the rich get richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. Imagine a gambler who wins about $300,000, but in a few weeks he’s broke again. He gives money away, throws it away, gambles it away, drinks it away. Could his self-image have been, “I’m poor. I don’t deserve all this money. It’s a mistake for me to be rich”? Do you suppose his creative subconscious corrected for the mistake?

Have you ever observed rich people who “know” they should be rich, and then they suddenly go broke? They will correct for the mistake and come right back to being rich again.

The term “poverty consciousness” applies to more than simply money. It applies to an attitude about life in general. People know, subconsciously, whether they’re supposed to be rich or poor with regard to life’s bounty relationships, friendships, family, spirit, career, love. If you know you’re supposed to be rich in life but things go wrong, you correct for the “mistake.” But if you believe you’re supposed to be poor in life, and you have a chance to get a raise, go into business for yourself, or have a better house in a nicer neighborhood, your creative subconscious will sabotage your chances for success to “get you back where you belong.”

Again, we behave not according to the real truth, but “the truth” as we believe it. When you do dumb things, it doesn’t make much sense consciously. But subconsciously it makes perfect sense. Because your creative subconscious keeps you from coming unglued. It keeps you from being one thing today and something else tomorrow. It maintains consistency in your behavior whether it’s to your benefit or not. That stability is necessary. But it also makes it tough for you to change unless you know how to alter your inner picture of what you deserve.

If you have the idea that the world is against you, you go out and unconsciously do things to get the world against you. It isn’t genes, it isn’t coincidence, and it sure isn’t luck. Change you, and the world will change around you. When you learn how to change your picture, your belief, your self-image, and bring it closer to your real potential, you will automatically behave like that until you change the picture again.

Examine your beliefs about yourself by asking, “What do I believe about my physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, and financial potential?” “Who have I allowed to see ‘the truth’ for me?” “What negative wizards have I listened to?” “Do I tell myself, ‘Oh, it’s impossible to change. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” “Do I believe, ‘I was born this way. It’s just my nature?”’ “What do I expect of meas a parent, spouse, friend, professional?” “What’s good enough for me?”

If you change the way you think, you change the way you act. If you change the way you think about yourself, people will respond differently to you. You aren’t born “lucky.” You make your own breaks based on “the truth” that you believe about yourself. You make your own “reality.” If you don’t change your negative self image, people will behave toward you the way you see yourself and you’ll believe you were born that way.