Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More
“All greatness is unconscious, or it is little and naught.”
—Thomas Carlyle (from Sir Walter Scott, 1838)
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer,
believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
—The Bible, New Testament, Mark 11:24
It’s nothing short of astonishing that the basics for how to work most productively with our unconscious has not been easily available to most of humankind throughout the ages and right to today. In a word, it’s abominable. The ones who have known how to work effectively with the deep self have often jealously guarded this knowledge like it was a precious secret. Precious it is, secret it need not be. All manifestations of God, prophets and agents of God have known this knowledge. I suggest that most great contributors to humankind’s progress have known and worked very well with their unconscious. Many have written eloquently, yet rather cryptically for our modern mentality. So have all successful politicians, change agents, intelligent consultants and advertisers since the dawn of time. How come the rest of us neither know nor practice the principles of working effectively with our unconscious? It’s time well past time we did. The purpose of this chapter is to provide the essential tools and strategies to accomplish this.
The ancient Greek story of Pygmalion underscores the core psychological finding that your expectations tend to be fulfilled in reality. It was first told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and retold several times thereafter, including the 1913 George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion that later served as the basis for the film My Fair Lady. The story tells of a sculptor and King of Cyprus who fell in love with his own ivory statue of Aphrodite, although he hated women. Given his most earnest prayers for this statue to come alive, Aphrodite gave life to the statue and he married her.
This phenomenon is sometimes called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such prophecies are characterized by the belief that certain events are true that leads them to become true in reality. In their book Pygmalion in the Classroom, research psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lawrence Jacobson present empirical support for their conclusion that self-fulfilling prophecies are operating with students meeting the positive and negative expectations of their teachers in elementary public schools. Therefore, such teacher expectancies set up some pupils to be failures while other students to be successful, and this is exactly what they found. 1
While other researchers criticized these studies for improper statistical procedures and lack of sufficient evidence to strongly support such expectancy effects, the widespread agreement in the field of psychology is that there is the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecies. The next time you or another expect wonderful things from you, notice how much more you tend to put into making this a reality. Unfortunately, the reverse is often equally true, so watch out what you expect. You may just program it…and get it!
I encourage you to cancel and erase the image of the unconscious as the troublesome reservoir of all our dark instinctual drives, mainly sexual and aggressive ones, as Sigmund Freud envisioned. Instead imagine the cognitive unconscious referred to by Seymour Epstein and as psychologist Barbara Brown and master hypnotherapist Milton Erickson saw it-as a wise, powerful, intuitive and tremendously helpful ally in living well. 2
Author Barbara Brown reportedly sees the unconscious as operating by a “W4 function”: the wise, wonderful wizard within. It is neither rational nor irrational—rather it is passionately and workably non-rational. The unconscious shares this defining quality with feelings and emotions. An essential tool is to know and use four cardinal principles for working with your unconscious.
Four Cardinal Principles in Working With the Unconscious
- Your unconscious says: “I only know how to accept, agree, validate and affirm whatever you expose me to, say, think, believe, know and do. Thus, I say, “Yes, my darling” to everything that you program.”
- Your unconscious says: “I do not hear, understand or make any sense of negations, such as stop, don’t, shouldn’t, can’t, not or no. I only receive the issue, predicate, attitude and emotional tone. Thus, I say, “I do not hear or understand any negations, only the issue that is spoken.”
- Your unconscious says: “I mean you only good and I need your careful direction. Work with me and I can be your greatest asset in working for you. Work against me or in fighting me and I can be your greatest enemy. It is wholly up to you. Thus, I say, “Work with me and I will work magnificently for you; don’t work with me or fight me and I will work you over (not that I want to or mean you any harm).”
- Your unconscious says: “Please say “cancel and erase”, to all unwanted, negative, destructive garbage you happened to expose yourself to, and thereafter rewrite it by saying, “The truth is. . . ” and state what you do want to program. Thus, I say, “Say “cancel and erase” repeatedly when junk gets programmed; then do an immediate rewrite using “The truth is. . . ” with what you do want to program.”
Even more specifically, the following eight languaging strategies are essential knowledge to productively speak, work and program your unconscious. They are the same ones employed in all effective affirmations, advertisements, visualizations, auto-suggestions used in hypnosis, self-talk, stress inoculation and, of course, prayer. They can be used for the good or misused for wayward purposes. They are important to identify and apply, know and value, as well as sometimes recognize and protect.
Eight Language Strategies for Speaking with the Unconscious
- Exclusively use the here-and-now, present tense: Use “I am”, “I enjoy”, “I do” and shun “I will”, “I could” and “I plan to”. For your non-conscious, whatever you state as presently so, is in your imagination, even if it is yet to be so in reality.
- Wholly be affirmative and positive: Be willing to learn the new language of solutions, answers and remedies while shedding the old language of negativity, problems and snafus. See, feel and experience in your imagination only what you do want and program solely this.
- Choose emotionally passionate and powerful words and ideas to thoroughly engage your creative imagination: Passionate emotional energy behind each message enormously impacts, imprints and penetrates the unconscious.
- Use brief (seven words or less), pointed and highly personal messages: Boil down and refine your communication to the essentials to grab and hold the unconscious.
- Visualize solutions both as a spectator and as a participant: Using all your sense modalities (i.e., see, hear, touch, smell, taste and intuit), image yourself accomplishing the task goal as well as being someone sincerely congratulating you on your success.
- Be completely pleasant, appealing and inviting: It costs nothing more to be utterly charming, amusing and attractive so that messages are most easily, accurately and willingly recorded in your non-conscious. Even Freud noted now unconscious feelings and thoughts operate on the pleasure principle, that is, depend on their strength as well as to what degree they meet the demands of the attraction of pleasurable stimuli and avoidance of non-pleasurable ones.
- Speak the language of pictures, passions and symbols: This enduring language apparently translates well between all cultures, countries and times as the entertainment and advertising industries can validate.
- Repeat your communication frequently: By repeating your communication seven or more times, you help root and impact your unconscious. Notice how often the same short slogan with the product name is used in commercials.
Expressions like “it would cost me an arm and a leg” or “what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him,” or believing that “Only the good die young” are examples of language-based self-programming of your unconscious. Do you really want something to cost you an arm and a leg? Do you want to believe that what you don’t know won’t hurt you or that only the good die young? Upon reconsideration, you might watch what you say, think, expose yourself to and program. And, by the way, everything is programming as you can see.
Author Barbara Hoberman Levine suggests that “seed thoughts”, including clichés, popular expressions, song lyrics, emotional phrases, all kinds of beliefs, metaphors and stereotypes, serve as important triggers or catalysts for emotional and physical responses. Here’s a few illustrations: “I can’t stomach her,” “I froze with fright,” “I am dying to get that,” “That will be the death of me,” “No pain, no gain,” “Ignorance is bliss,” “You can’t trust (any group),” “Break a leg,” “Read it and weep,” “It’s just not fair / right,” and “It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.” 3 Levine commented that the unconscious “…can be a garden where you plant seeds, or a weed field left to chance.” 4
One implication from all this is the pivotal significance to stay awake, alert, and sensitive to what thoughts, images, impressions, symbols and other stimuli you expose your modern brain to since this will be selectively passed right on to your primitive brain. To be crystal clear about the seed thoughts you carry, you might write on one side of a piece of paper what are your favorite ones, then cross each one out in red while writing on the other side of the paper the positive, life-affirmative and life-supportive decisions you do want. Overlearning in the service of life is a joy to behold!
Before going on an important job interview, many industrious and intelligent individuals preplan and bring a letter personally introducing himself or herself to their interviewer. Here’s an introduction to your unconscious adapted courtesy of a favorite author, Author Unknown:
A Letter of Introduction to Your Unconscious
To Whom It May Concern:
I accept as fact whatever you feel is true. I do not presume to change anything about you.
I remember everything and file it away in perfect order, quickly and efficiently, and then I return it to you exactly as you gave it to me.
I do not argue, judge, analyze, question, or make decisions; I accept all impressions easily and readily…and then I act upon them without any hesitation or criticism.
I am the reservoir of your deepest, most heartfelt desires and, one way or another, I see to it that you get what you program and, therefore, must really want. I cooperate fully when you feel or say you are “this” or “that”, and I faithfully see to it that your every expectation is fulfilled. I bring your feared or wished prophesies to realization, since I will deny you nothing you give so much energy to.
My forte or great strength is deductive reasoning, memory, and association. Plant seeds of dumbness and I will give you all varieties of new dumbness; plant seeds of brilliance and I will bring forth all varieties of new brilliance. With everything you give me, I express and manifest all possible conclusions and results in accord with what circumstances will allow.
I am with you always; nothing can impede my activity. I always exist in the here and now. In fulfilling your wishes, remember I have infinite power and resources at my disposal.
To get the best results, always communicate with me in my native tongue —the timeless expressions of pictures, symbols, and images writ large on the walls of ancient caves.
I take everything you hold inside you and project it out; therefore, the world you see is what you are. If one level of reality can be likened to a House of Mirrors and I’m always reflecting you to yourself, then the trick is to work well with me in gliding through life, without bumping into yourself. Always remember, I rely on your discrimination and I respond to your choices and decisions.
—Sincerely yours, Your Unconscious
Practically, you can start to notice and value another whole dimension of life—the emotionally-laden, disguised messages of the unconscious. Be willing to over learn, at least for a while, the four cardinal principles and the eight language strategies for working effectively with the unconscious after gaining a healthy respect and admiration for it. The height of respect is learning to speak another’s language. It would motivate almost anyone to open one’s eyes and keep them knowledgeably open in order to fully see the incredible implications and meanings of this statement: all is programming.
Remember that nothing, absolutely nothing, whether wholesome or unsavory, is denied us by our unconscious! It will support you in heading and arriving at the heights of all you can dream and imagine, or to the depths of all you most fear and dread. In my experience, God only supports the Good and not anything different from this. Our unconscious is not as discriminating. So, my dear brother or sister, be most wisely careful in specifying exactly what you presently want, and particularly in how you positively, passionately state this. Your unconscious hears, believes, accepts and brings forth whatever you program, so far as reality will allow. Prophecies you expect and invest in repeatedly today have a funny way of coming true in the near future. Be sure they are the ones you truly want.
Since each of us is intimately experiencing innumerable levels of consciousness and unconsciousness all the time, consider holding these descriptive concepts in a new way. Author G.W. Farthing notes how some psychologists prefer to talk about the non-conscious-conscious continuum that stretches from the extreme of total non-conscious process through various levels to the other extreme of reflective consciousness. 5 This would seem to more accurately reflect the range, diversity and subjective qualities of the conscious, preconscious and non-conscious versus using strict, black and white categories.
Sigmund Freud wrote, “We can come to know even the Unc. only by making it conscious.” “Unc.” stood for the unconscious (AKA, the non-conscious). 6 This is the royal road to “Know Thyself” and to an enhanced quality of life. Because much that is too painful gets hidden or repressed from conscious awareness according to Freudian theory, such reclaiming of these awarenesses needs to be most carefully approached, sequenced and handled. Meditate on this: The best success imaginable is making my unconscious my very best ally.
1. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, Pygmalion in the Classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1968.
2. Seymour Epstein, “Integration of the Cognitive and the Psychodynamic Unconscious,” American Psychologist, 49 (8), August 1994, pages 709-724.
3. Barbara Hoberman Levine, Your Body Believes Every Word You Say. Lower Lake, California: Aslan Publishing, 1991, pages 49-94.
4. Barbara Hoberman Levine, 1991, ibid., page 153.
5. G. William Farthing, The Psychology of Consciousness. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc./ Simon and Shuster, 1992, 1992, page 16.
6. Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923). In Peter Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader. New York: W. W. Norton and Company,1989, page 632. .