WINNING THE UNCONSCIOUS GAME
To play any game you must know the rules. However, just playing by the rules won’t give you any advantage. Everyone plays by the rules and the ones that don’t get ejected from the game. The fair unfair advantage comes from knowing the rules and exploiting any loopholes to your benefit. Exploiting loopholes is not cheating -- it’s smart.
Investor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss gives a great example of this tactic in his bestselling book The 4 Hour Workweek. In Chinese kickboxing the way to win is to fight your way to victory overcoming your opponent with strength and strategy. This is done through punches, kicks and various forms of attack. On a dare and with only four weeks of training Ferriss entered the 1999 Chinese Kickboxing tournament. Ferriss knew he was not a better fighter. He was new to the sport and his opponents had been training for years. However, after studying the rules Ferriss found a loophole. It is considered a technical knockout if your opponent falls off the elevated platform three times. He made this his sole strategy. While Ferriss’ competitors attacked with kicks, punches and jabs he just pushed or pulled them until they fell off. His only chance to win was being a smarter fighter not a better one. This method was considered taboo by other athletes and judges. It lacked finesse and sportsmanship and carried a hint of cheating. But to the chagrin of his naysayers it was effective. In fact, it was so effective he became the gold medalist. The techniques he pioneered are now standard practices in the sport.
When it comes to the mind game, our unconscious has an unfair advantage. It’s like dark matter in the universe. Stephen Hawking noted in his 2013 speech at The California Institute of Technology, “Normal matter is only 5 percent of the energy density of the known universe; 27 percent is dark matter, 68 percent is dark energy.”[i] Dark matter and dark energy cannot be seen or even measured yet scientists know it exists due to its effect on nearby celestial bodies. Our conscious awareness is in a similarly disadvantaged position in regards to our unconscious. We can’t access it but its effect on our lives is undeniable.
Here are two examples of the impact your unconscious mind has on your daily conscious awareness. Think of a scary moment from your childhood? Got it? Mine was when I was ten years old and nearly stepped on an enormous poisonous snake. Where was that memory seconds ago? It was encoded in my unconscious regions of the brain waiting for retrieval.
Second, have you ever found yourself doing or saying things that you later regretted? For example, let’s say you and your boyfriend are at a party. It’s getting late and everyone has had a few drinks. In his tipsy state your boyfriend attempts to make a joke at your expense but it misses the mark and embarrasses you in front of your friends. It’s awkward but the moment passes.
You realize he is intoxicated and just trying to be funny. You try to brush it off but you can’t. You excuse yourself from the group to get a drink but find yourself alone in the bathroom breaking down in tears. In a fit of temporary insanity you burst out of the bathroom and march right up to your boyfriend, “You have disrespected me for the last time. It’s over! Go find someone else to be your punching bag. You are dead to me!”
You breakdown in tears again. Your boyfriend tries to comfort you but you shove him away. Your girlfriends come to your aid and escort you to the back porch where you apologize for ruining the party. You don’t know what just happened.
What happened was there were parts of you that had been keeping a silent tally of all the rude comments your boyfriend has been making lately. His insensitivity has caused you to lose sleep and lost focus at work. These parts of you have tolerated his jokes long enough and are exhausted with his immaturity. Tonight was the last straw. With the help of some liquid courage those parts pushed back. They refused to be anyone’s “punching bag” any longer. This storm of temporary insanity has, in fact, been brewing in your unconscious for quite a long time.
Most of us only have a passing understanding of our unconscious, our personality, and the multi-layered structure of our mind. Yet these are pathways to gaining an unfair advantage in your relationships, professional life and personal happiness. When I say unfair advantage I do not mean being deceptive or manipulative. I just mean knowing certain information that most other people don’t know and understanding how to use that information to your benefit. This is what gives you an unfair advantage in the game of life.
If personality, adult attachment and parts are the games then what are the rules? The first rule is that none of us can directly access our unconscious. It’s like mental dark energy. The second rule is to learn to catch thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as they emerge from your unconscious as quickly as possible. The third rule is what I call Flapjacking. Flapjacking is just like it sounds: putting one good decision on top of the other like a big pile of pancakes.[ii]
Flapjacking follows these steps: Awareness, Curiosity, Study, Action, Iteration. Every solution to any problem you have ever had started with awareness. In other words, you cannot change what you have not named. Next you must be curious. How have other people solved a similar problem you are facing? What about friends? What options are there for me to learn new strategies for solving this problem? What I use in my private practice to help clients access their unconscious are the Enneagram, Adult Attachment, and Internal Family Systems. Once you have found suitable resources you must create intentional space in your life to study what you have discovered. There comes a point when you must take action. You must put into play what you’ve learned. Finally, iteration means to pause and reflect on what you have just done, evaluate what has worked and not worked and try again.
These strategies will help you build a resilient mind and give you an unfair advantage in life, love and work.