We literally have two brains: The Conscious and The Subconscious.
The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is located in the brain’s topmost layers. It includes the neocortex and the lobes. More specifically, it is located at the top and sides of our brain. Some neuroscientists refer to it as the upper brain. I like to to call it the new brain because it represents the most recent addition to our brain.
Our new brain has only been around for about 300,000 years. It is responsible for the following functions:
- Voluntary thought
The new brain can overpower automatic routines – habits. It can mute our emotions and sudden impulses. It is where willpower resides. Our ability to focus for short periods of time is fueled by willpower. Willpower is a very limited resource – you have between two – three hours of willpower reserve. When your willpower reserve becomes depleted, you are unable to make good decisions or focus.
Our new brain cannot multitask. It can only perform one function at a time. When we “multitask” we are actually switching from one group of neurons to another. This switching wears out the brain and makes you feel tired.
The Subconscious Mind
The subconscious mind is located in the limbic system and the brain stem. Some refer to it as the lower brain. I like to call it the old brain because it’s been with us for millions of years.
Our old brain has massive computing power. It operates constantly, solving complex problems offline (without conscious effort, without using any willpower). The subconscious is responsible for the following functions:
- Controls all organs, blood flow and our immune system.
- Triggers all habits
- Where intuition, insight and creativity comes from
- The site of all of our emotions
The old brain is much faster and more efficient than the new brain. It has the capacity to multitask. It gives us the ability to make quick decisions, without any need to think.
While our new brain is at rest, our old brain is hard at work helping us: solve problems, reveal opportunities, comprehend the incomprehensible, solidify memory and nudge us into doing things or to stop doing things.
When you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is because your old brain identified a problem that was invisible to your new brain. Intuition is the old brain’s way of communicating knowledge it has, that the new brain doesn’t.
Some of the scientists who study the brain (neuroscientists, behavioral psychologists, etc.) believe the vagus nerve or spindle neurons that connect the prefrontal cortex (new brain) to the insula (old brain) may be the communication superhighway that links the conscious (new brain) to the subconscious (old brain). The subconscious brain uses this superhighway to communicate intuition, gut feelings and insight (aha moments) to the conscious brain.