Updated: Mar 4, 2020
… instead become more concerned with growing your level of consciousness, which will indirectly fuel your personal growth!
Upon becoming less concerned about certain goals you may have set, and direct more attention toward training your mind as a versatile vessel of your consciousness, personal growth becomes a side effect.
Let me explain …
For those of you working on the topic of personal growth or transformation, there are three important dimensions to consider: The brain, the human mind and consciousness.
Since these terms are usually associated with different meanings, and each of us may have a different understanding, I thought it would be helpful to first explain them clearly.
As a next step once we have developed a shared understanding, and we want to personally grow in each of these areas, we are able to determine performance indicators on how we can measure progress.
We will also understand why training the mind to increase your level of consciousness is a prerequisite for your personal growth.
Therefore if you are not familiar with the differences between brain, mind, and consciousness, you will not be able to succeed in personal growth or achieve mediocre results at best.
The separation between mind and consciousness is critical, and can be experienced with simple exercises.
Consciousness is awareness, and the underlying motivation for all your transformation efforts.
Have you ever tried to lose some weight and gave up after a while?
Have you ever signed up for a class you really were motivated to complete and then dropped out or quit in the middle of it and had a bad conscience?
Have you ever reacted in way as a response to a situation too harshly, and felt sorry afterwards, knowing there were better ways to respond yet you didn’t chose them?
This is where consciousness will give you the superpowers to stay on track and quickly make more quality decisions. But let’s first understand the basics …
We can distinguish between raw brain capacity for signal processing and problem solving, and memory.
Memory allows you to store information, but there is also working memory to support faster processing of information.
Brain capacity is more static and can be evaluated through various IQ tests. It shows the brain's overall ability for complex problem solving.
Working memory on the other hand is how much horsepower you have available for processing information.
Think about a big barrel full of water to represent the brain’s capacity. The bigger the barrel the more capacity is there for problem solving. Working memory is the thickness of a pipe connected to the bottom of the barrel where the water flows through. The thicker the pipe, the more water can flow at once (throughout), and the faster you can process information.
Both aspects of the brain can be upgraded with the appropriate exercise.
For example, there are many courses to train your brain, or apps (e.g. Lumosity, Neuronation) that let you solve different type of problems and puzzles, and based on the time it took you to solve these you will obtain a score. If you do this regularly over time you typically see a measurable improvement of brain performance.
For working memory improvement, apps and games such as dual-n-back have also been proven to have a massive impact. This one specifically feels like a brutal workout, and therefore requires diligence, but if properly done for a month is proven to grow your working memory by up to 40%!
Again, we learn later how growing your consciousness first will help you succeed.
The human mind is powered by the brain. It is a complex construct which allows you to think, visualize, and perform actions using your body.
In the analogy with a computer the brain is the hardware, and the mind is the software.
The human mind receives input through your brain from millions of sensors in our body.
For example, our ears, eyes, skin, mouth, nose, and all organs are producing continuous signals that are processed by the brain, and then the mind makes sense out of them.
From the day you are born the human mind is evolving. Every experience is stored in your memory and is shaping the story of who you believe you are.
The mind evolves through learning, explicitly or implicitly. For example, a teacher in school is teaching you the concept of multiplication (explicitly), or you just observe how your parents are fighting over money and you learn through observation that money is scarce (implicitly).
Usually at the age of two, the ego is born. Ego is the story of who you think you are, also sometimes called the “little I”. The ego therefore is the product of the mind.
It is nothing more than a thick layer of thoughts that become even thicker overtime the more you identify with them, and believe each of them to be the absolute truth.
Once the ego is born, you become worried about things “you” own. Watch what happens if you take away the favorite toy of a two year old. Or, if your boss fires you. The ego doesn‘t like to lose possessions, or feels easily threatened when situations arise that attack or criticize you in some form.
The ego then evolves the older we get and gets stronger. Typically it receives a big growth spurt when we are teenagers.
The ego’s output is our personality: Activities or experiences we enjoy, people we like or don’t like, or behaviour or traits that we demonstrate.
Emotions are also produced in our mind based on thoughts. Those thoughts then are processed by the brain and typically produce corresponding sensations in your body. These bodily sensations are then the emotions, that will be again felt by the mind. For example, if you think about a negative or scary thought, the brain will broadcast this thought to the body, which will make your heart beat faster, your chest gets tight, and you feel typical stress symptoms. Because you feel these emotions, the negative thoughts are reinforced, and a downward cycle has started.
But it all started in the mind with one negative thought.
Consciousness is the quiet observer, who we really are. It is what is experiencing everything.
For example, if you feel angry or sad. Or if you close your eyes and feel into your body. You cannot see your body, but you feel there is one.
A simple exercise to try: Close your eyes and determine whether you still have hands. But you are not allowed to move or use touch. Just concentrate on your hands to feel whether they are still there. What do you feel?
As you become more self conscious and self aware, you can observe your inner body and even your mind. You can “watch” thoughts and realize their random appearance and short life span. They dissolve as quickly as they appeared if you don’t get attached to them and fuel them with your attention.
The topic of whether consciousness is produced by the mind or is independent of the mind is heavily debated. Basically if there is no brain or you are dead, will consciousness still remain? There is no conclusive evidence either way. For the purpose of this article this remains a philosophical question, and we do not need to solve or prove it here.
To bring this all together:
Humans have a brain (hardware) with memory and processing power, connected to lots of sensory input from your body.
The brain runs a complex operating system and software, called the “mind”, which generates thoughts, allows us to solve problems, visualize or perform actions with our body.
The software generates as output the “ego”, a story of who we believe we are, with special traits of behaviour, our personality.
Consciousness is who we really are, the silent observer of all our experiences.
If consciousness is fully identified with your ego, we also say we are in a “sleeping” or unconscious state.
Consciousness itself is formless and not an object. Therefore you cannot directly grow it by training, as it is limitless in form and space. Instead it expands and scales upon learning restraint, acknowledging fewer and fewer thoughts.
That means you can indirectly expand your level of consciousness (LOC) by training your mind.
Think about your thoughts as dark clouds that float around, and consciousness is the light behind it. However, if there are too many clouds, the light of consciousness cannot come through. As you are training your mind, the clouds gradually move on and disappear, or just float by temporarily, allowing consciousness to shine through more and more.
Are you familiar with the “voice in your head” that is talking to you all the time? With that I mean the chattering of the mind with countless thoughts, that can be a source of stress.
The ultimate goal is that there are no more thoughts (clouds), your ego dissolves, and there is (finally) silence.
This state of high consciousness with silence and no cluttering thoughts is also called the non-duality state, where you live in unity and feel connected with everyone. Thoughts can still be there if you need them to solve a problem, but you have full control over your mind.
Important considerations for your personal growth:
To optimize your brain performance, start making smart choices on your nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Similar to working out in a gym, there are nowadays many brain game apps that you can use to train your brain “muscle”. If you use them regularly, the effects can be immense. You are never to old to grow new brain cells!
However, your focus should be to train your mind. The key for this is are simple mindfulness exercises and meditation. If done regularly, these show great results already after a short time.
Remember the mind is constantly producing thoughts. In an untrained state you easily got entangled in these thoughts, identify with them, and thus they can become a source of major pain and suffering. However, a properly trained mind can be a powerful and useful tool for getting things done.
Unfortunately, too many people focus only on training their brain, or acquiring knowledge and skills (content). Be aware that this is not the same as training your mind. Only mindfulness and meditation, which come in a variety of techniques and flavors, are methods to train your mind.
Understanding the differences between your brain, the mind, and consciousness can incubate and accelerate your transformation and personal growth.
This article here will hopefully motivate you to consider putting more emphasis on training your mind, instead of getting lost or frustrated in other (lower priority) personal growth topics.
To sum up:
First, train your mind to increase your level of consciousness.
Then watch your personal growth areas evolve beyond limit!