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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Your Subconscious Mind May be Making Critical Errors in Judgment

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 20th 2010

subconscious mindMalcolm Gladwell wrote a book you may have heard of a while back called Blink.This is a very interesting book about how our minds react below our layer of consciousness that is called rapid cognition. Gladwell's initial argument is that deliberate time consuming reflecting is not as good as that rapid cognition that just gives us a sense about what needs to happen. In other words, studying a situation to find out if we should engage in it or not may be less effective than our initial snap judgment. He goes onto describe situations where this rapid cognition can also lead us astray like when a police officer pulled him over convinced he was a bank robber he was looking for because of his hair style and skin color.

Reading Blink it brought up ideas in my mind about how snap judgments come to be and why they can be an issue when it comes to our emotional lives. Sometimes they can be a highly refined focus we have for survival where our minds can sense danger and other times our history and experiences throughout our lives wire our brains to be overly sensitive for danger or to have biases around certain groups of people, or perhaps ingrain deep seeded beliefs that we "can't" do something or that something is wrong with us.

If we grew up in a house where we didn't know when the next shoe was going to drop, we likely lived in a state of anxiety developing a consortium of coping skills to defend against threats. These coping skills lay beneath the surface of our consciousness and we inevitably carried them with us as adults. Later on in our intimate relationships our minds are still refined to looking for danger and our rapid cognition can interpret benign situations through a fearful lens. In other words, we just have a sense of danger around us that often times may be an inaccurate representation of reality and keep us from getting close to others in relationships.

However, through an understanding of our histories we can become more aware of these snap judgments and the reactions that they automatically come with. To work off the earlier example, the snap judgment that something is wrong may come with tightness in the chest and the emotion of fear or anxiety. This may not be something you can control when it happens because it is occurring underneath consciousness when it happens.

However, we can become aware of it as it is occurring and that is the moment we can begin to change the way we relate to it. For example, noticing the thought style that is occurring (e.g., catastrophizing), then coming down to the facts (e.g., tension in the chest), and naming the emotion (e.g., fear). Breathe in; breathe out, reminding yourself the history of experience that this snap judgment came from and attending to this feeling of fear with a sense of compassion.

Easier said than done, but little by little we can begin to disrupt the soft wired neural networks that hold the complex of these experiences and create these snap judgments.

This is some of the content that is in my upcoming book The Now Effect: How this Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life (Atria Books, 2011). To go a bit deeper, feel free to attend the free 1 hour online seminars Wednesday, July 21, 2010 and Wednesday July 28, 2010.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction below provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.  

This rapid cognition happens in the blink of an eye where we're not aware of it and can help us scan a situation and give us a sense that something doesn't seem right or of a sense of

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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