How The Unconscious Shapes Our Destiny

How does the unconscious affect our actions, our character, and, ultimately, our destiny?

You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” Of unknown origin, this saying is often thought to have emerged out of Zen Buddhism. However, taken literally (or superficially), it does not appear to be true. When you are at your day job you don’t do it with the same attitude or spirit as when you are working on your passion, having sex, or hanging out with friends.

Yet, on a deeper — unconscious — level this saying recognizes a fundamental truth: We are affected and shaped by the things we grow up with to such a degree that it is often impossible to see how they have affected us. The best way to uncover our deepest, unconscious, assumptions is to look at different cultures and periods of history and to compare the differences. 

A couple of decades ago I came across an exhibition of the paintings of Chinese children (about the age of twelve years old). I was amazed at their brushstrokes, which were far in advance of Western children. The strokes were long, flowing, and quite confident. 

Several years later, I was watching some new art school students drawing. They held the paper on the table with their left hand and used their right hand to draw. Back-and-forth, they went with the pencil, going over the same line several times, as if etching or cutting into the paper, rather than drawing. 

Why were Chinese-educated and Western educated art students so different in their basic approach? In both cases, their motions are related to eating (which is perhaps the first way that we train the movements of our hands). The Chinese students had the swift, steady, singular motion of picking food up with chopsticks and the Western-educated students drew as if they were cutting up meat on a plate — back and forth over the same area. 

These motions had been ingrained through the most basic element of culture. But, it might be argued, the cultures themselves developed these basic motions and their corresponding mindsets. The culture with the ingrained smooth, swift motion of the chopsticks created The Tao Te Ching and — by extension — the Japanese haiku poem, both short texts, intended to send the reader or listener into a meditative — or, perhaps, into an almost a dream-like — state. From Aristotle to Newton, the West, in contrast, has always been more analytical, more about dissecting and examining things.  

Not everything that shapes us is as subtle or integral to our society. Our upbringing — whether we were encouraged, nurtured, or criticized — is going to have some effect. The examples of behavior we saw from other people — our parents and other children, especially — is also going to have had an impact on us. 

Our unconscious stores all kinds of assumptions and tries to get us to act in alignment with them. Think of the person who is nervous about everything and sees danger everywhere. One day they are afraid because of what they see in the news, the next day because of something that might happen to a family member, and the day after that they are frightened because they have a slight ache in their legs and fear that they are sick.

And think about the go-getter. He, or she, wakes up energized. They give 100% when they work out or when they try something new. And they give 100% to their career.  They are social and friendly. They ask questions without feeling self-conscious. Their basic assumption is success — not only that they will succeed but that others are on their way to success as well, or, at least, could be on their way with enough dedication. 

Of course, neither the nervous person nor the go-getter is going to do everything in the same way. But their unconscious minds are going to shape everything they do to varying degrees. 

Hypnosis and life coaching are two ways we can try to get past negative assumptions in our unconscious and start to focus on the positive and the possible. But here are some other things you can do:

Learn to relax deeply. Take up meditation and practice for a few minutes, at least, every day. Get a massage occasionally. Take time to lie down and listen to relaxing music that you enjoy. 

Reflect on your life and re-evaluate. Think back over your life and see if your self-image is correct. Often, we forget much of our childhood and have a skewed image of ourselves and who we naturally are. If you have a negative self-image in some areas think about the ways in which your personal history contradicts this negative self-image. (Perhaps, for example, you think that you were bad at sport but, perhaps, you liked athletics, or swimming, or running, and perhaps it was really the attitude of some of the players in team sports that made you dislike the experience.)

Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to try new things, especially when they will help you to improve yourself mentally, physically, or culturally. Often, we surprise ourselves when we try a new skill. 

Use Self-talk. When you’re doing something challenging, use self-talk such as “you’ve got this” or “you can do this” to get your mind off of your nervousness and back onto the task at hand. 

Make new friends. If your current friends have a limited image of who you are, and seem to want to keep you down, it might be time to get some new friends. (If you take up a new activity you’ll probably make new friends as well.) You want to have people around you who see your potential, and are encouraging, while appreciating you for who you are now.