"A house divided against itself cannot stand.”Abraham Lincoln
According to the noted Stanford University neuro-scientist and psychologist Prof. Robert Ornstein, we don’t have a single unitary mind, rather we are a multi-mind made up of numerous simple and relatively autonomous mini-minds. The cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky calls it a ‘society of mind’.
We appear to experience a single mind and stream of consciousness, but the scientific evidence suggests that this sense of unitary self and consciousness is really a fiction. In reality, our mind is the result of a synthesis of many unconscious processes operating and negotiating together.
Many brains - a society of mind
Let’s examine this idea in a bit more detail. For a start we know we have at minimum three separate brains – the head brain, the enteric or gut brain and the cardiac or heart brain. The head brain itself is also composed of two relatively autonomous functional half-brains – the right and left hemispheres. Within each of these brains, groups of neurons and structures operate, build and perform competencies and unconscious skills. And importantly, these mini-minds communicate with one another to operate the totality that appears as the ‘self’.
This works fine when all parts of your multi-mind, your ‘society of mind’ are aligned and congruent. It’s problematic however when there’s disagreement or dissension in the camp; when parts of your mind are incongruent or at odds with one another. Such incongruence or mismatch undermines your resolve and leads to incongruent behaviour and outcomes. You literally sabotage your own success.
We all have experiences of this. Think of times when you’ve felt torn on a decision. Where one part of you has agreed but another part has not. Notice also that the two ‘sides’ of this disagreement are often represented on the two sides of your body. You’ll see and hear people say “on the one hand I feel/want/believe X… but on the other hand I feel/want/believe Y”; and you’ll literally see them hold their hands out as they say this.
In NLP terms, this linguistic expression is a literal descriptor of the unconscious process of the two hemispheres being in disagreement with one another. Remember that the left side of the body is connected to and controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, and the right side of the body is controlled by the left hemisphere. When the two hemispheres are in disagreement with one another, this incongruence is represented and embodied across the physical body and often experienced as mismatched feelings at the midline of the body.
Think about something you are undecided on now, or something that was important but you were divided about in the past. You’ll probably experience exactly what I’ve just described. Notice also that the left and right brains also communicate to the heart brain and gut brain and lead to feelings of discomfort or disagreement in your gut region or heart region – in your gut brain and heart brain.
When you negotiate and integrate all these disparate parts, you'll often find that you feel the coming together, the aligning, at the center of your heart -- you finally feel like you've gotten to the 'heart of the matter'. Interesting how the heart and gut brains are pivotal in generating congruence, motivation and encouragement.
The Cybernetic Loop
A great example of this is when someone gives you a gift you really don’t like. It’s almost impossible to congruently express gratitude and thanks without some non-verbal indicator of your dislike for the gift. In fact, psychologists have developed tools to read the fleeting and small micro-muscle movements that occur whenever you attempt to lie. The part of your multi-mind that knows it hates the gift will fleetingly take control of the muscles in your face and show a micro-expression of disgust before your conscious mind directs the muscles to make a smile and voice your appreciation of the gift. These fleeting micro-expressions are picked up by the other person’s unconscious mind and form part of the intuitions that we all use to know when someone is being genuine or not.
Another great example of the effects of incongruence occurs in sport. Golfers are well aware of the ‘yips’ – unconscious and involuntary patterns of movement that derail successful shots. Even the most skillful sportsperson knows that if they allow any part of their mind to think a negative thought or focus on failure then their performance will suffer.
Aligning for success
There are two important things to note from this insight about your multi-mind and the effects of incongruence within it. First, if you want success, you need to make sure all parts of your self are aligned and supportive of that success. Incongruence and inconsistency are not life enhancing and are indeed enemies to happiness and success. You need to learn to detect incongruency within your society of mind and be able to negotiate with all parts of your mind to bring them into alignment and agreement.
Secondly, incongruence within a person’s multi-mind is usually embodied and expressed (typically outside of their conscious awareness) in their physical stance, their micro-muscle movements and facial expressions and in their non-verbal communication. You can learn to notice and track these signals and detect when someone is not fully supportive of the outcomes you are working towards with them. Equally, any incongruence you are feeling will be non-verbally expressed to other people’s unconscious minds and will undermine your chances of successful outcomes with them. In part, this is how self-fulfilling prophecies work within human relationships. We literally express and communicate all the messages from our multi-mind, and get responses from others that recapitulate our expectations.
So I hope you are fully and totally realising right now, with all your heart and mind, all the parts of your society of self, that congruence and alignment of your multi-mind is a life enhancing and vitally important skill. You need to become a master at ‘congruence-ing’ – at tracking for and generating congruence and alignment within your mind/body. And with that in mind, in upcoming blog posts, we'll learn about detecting congruence and incongruence signals and some techniques for aligning the various parts of your self(ing).
Until then, start to notice the various signals and messages within your body and your multi-mind. Listen to your dreams, because that is one of the key ways that the heart and gut brains communicate with the head brain. Tune into and trust your intuitions and your hunches. And start to talk kindly and lovingly with your unconscious mind -- with all the parts of your multi-mind. Talk to your 'self' like you would talk to a loving caring friend. And learn all you can about hypnotic languaging techniques such as the Milton Language Patterns from NLP. The more skills you have in communicating, directing and aligning your unconscious multi-mind, the more life enhancing success you'll have in achieving your heartfelt outcomes in life.
positive smiles and life enhancing wishes,
You might like to read these key books by Robert Ornstein:
Multimind: A New Way of Looking at Human Behavior
The author of The Psychology of Consciousness here defines the human mind as a "bastard hybrid system." Each of us has many "small minds" that simultaneously process feelings, fantasies, ideas, fixed routines, interpersonal responses and bodily skills. Multimind helps explain why our emotions and attitudes are easily swayed, the difficulty of ever really knowing oneself or another person, and how mental shortcuts we rely on to make snap judgments can harden prejudices.
The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemispheres
"I began this book with a pretty firm prejudice," says Robert Ornstein of his survey of the two halves of the human brain. "I believed that after two decades of research we'd find ... that there might be little to distinguish the two sides." Instead, he concluded that "the division of the mind is profound," with deep roots in evolution, embryonic development, and society. It is profound, but not simplistic: Ornstein shows how the right hemisphere is neither a chimpanzeelike moron nor a mystical genius. It provides the context, the big picture, while the left hemisphere keeps track of the details. Doris Lessing says, "I have always admired Robert Ornstein's ability to explain difficult scientific ideas to ordinary people"; Paul Ehrlich calls The Right Mind "the most innovative, fascinating work yet to appear on the role of the two hemispheres of the brain."