What If Your Unconscious Negates Self Development?

Disclaimer: My dear reader, in this article, I talk directly to YOU. I may even ask you to do something. However, my point of view merely reflects my own life experience. I invite you put it on like a shoe. See if it fits and take it for what it's worth.

Self Transformation and the Limits of Technique

There where times in my life when I felt like a sports car without a spark plug. Everything was in position, everything was optimized, the gas tank was full. But I couldn't get started. It was a nightmare.

For instance, whenever I sat down to work on my master thesis, all lights went out. It took abnormal amounts of energy out of my system. It wasn't enough to just get over some threshold and get started. The whole time, it felt like putting the pedal to the metal while the emergency brake is put on. So exhausting. Unbearable.

Why did that task suck the life out of me? Because it was linked to fears. All that life hacking doesn't do much, when you're blocked by your subconscious mind. Most of what I did back then to develop myself was just technique, just optimization of marginal conditions. But the biggest challenge in growing as a person and achieving your goals is to overcome deep seated fears.

The glasses through which we see the world can produce a very disadvantageous picture. A picture that scares the shit out of you without you even realizing that you're scared. Scared that everything goes wrong, scared not to be enough, scared not to live your full potential, scared to choke on being detached from yourself.

How to Treat a Sabotaging Brain

There is a booming industry of superficial self development that can suck you in and distract you from what you actually need to do. Real transformation cannot be sold, and certainly not as a dehumanized digital product.

The brain has no simple switch that you can just turn on, no spark to ignite and release your potential, no magic trick. Don't expect that. Don't search for that. The mentality of "Just fucking do it!" is useful and works for a moment. But it costs will power, and sooner or later, the reality of who you are at your core will have its way, no matter what self development techniques you apply to cover that up.

Unconscious fears and harmful patterns of thought and perception root in past experiences and are deeply ingrained in your nervous system. Of course, you can intentionally change the structure of your brain. But reversing such fundamental traits takes time. You need to recondition your brain by overwriting its old program with a more useful one. This will only work if the process meets 3 requirements:

  1. Think long term and practice patience and perseverance.
  2. Start with small steps and slowly increase the challenge from there.
  3. Utilize emotions with whatever practice you apply.

Point 3 is of particular importance. Embodiment and excitement are necessary ingredients in reprogramming the subconscious mind.

The Hero's Journey as a Mental Training Protocol

The book that coined the term "Hero's Journey" had changed my life long before I heard business people talking about it.

The basic 5 step process of training your brain to overcome fear is closely related:

  1. Acknowledge the fear, accept it, feel it.
  2. Identify an obstacle that triggers the fear. This should be neither too small nor too large. Like in physical training, the stimulus should cause the system to adapt but not overwhelm it.
  3. As Tai Lopez preaches: Lead with reward. Define it, visualize it. Imagine how it would feel to have overcome the obstacle.
  4. Here's where Dan Pena comes in: Just fucking do it!
  5. Enjoy the reward. Celebrate your success. Savour all the positive feelings that come up. Relive the emotional journey you've just been through over and over again.

The crucial factor here is that you do it deliberately. One way or another, life forces you to go through this process countless times. But to improve your habits of thought and behaviour, you need to go through this with intention and awareness. Seek out opportunities to turn obstacles into positive experiences. Concentrate on every of the 5 steps. Feel it.

What you actually achieve by overcoming the obstacle is not that important. It can be a very small thing. The purpose of this practice is not to achieve specific results but to redefine how your subconscious mind generally reacts to obstacles. When a challenge presents itself, you'll get butterflies in your stomach. Confidence, curiosity, playfulness and the joy of anticipation will flood your body. You will not freeze but attack.

Real Growth Every Day

There are many ways to weave this process into your life. A good start is to recognize little everyday obstacles and turn them into little positive experiences. You can also use such mini obstacles to establish good habits.

One practice that I do every day is this: Every morning, I think of a (sometimes really small) obstacle that I overcame the day before. I focus on the positive aspects of how I felt afterwards and embrace that emotion for a moment.

You can extend that practice to big obstacles in the distant past or turn it into a long formal meditation. Even any regular meditation practice can help. It promotes self-awareness and can loosen you up so you're more playful and open to experiment:

  • Meditation can help you recognize immediately when you start to procrastinate out of fear.
  • Meditation can sharpen your perception of what exactly triggers your fears.
  • Meditation can make you more aware of what kind of success induces positive emotions.
  • Meditation can dissolve your sense of self and your identification with what you have or do.
  • Meditation can free you from the pressure of your own expectations.

You can also use the process to prepare yourself for the obstacles ahead. I personally have come to perceive bigger projects through the same lense. I employ it in techniques like priming, planning, visualization and journaling. I prepare a reward and take the time to go through all the steps.

Become a detective of your own fears and see them as opportunities for deliberate practice. Plan and setup your positive experiences so they can change who you are!

Further Reading

Here are 5 interesting related books. As mentioned, the first one was life changing for me. The second one inspired this article: