Mark Manson, bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a… and the forthcoming Everything is…: A Book About Hope (hello compliance filters, I see you), explains consciousness in a really useful way that we can apply to help clients and ourselves.
Imagine consciousness as a car with our two brains inside. Two brains? Yes. We all have a “thinking” brain that is smart, logical, and rational, and a “feeling” brain that is passionate, and often not so smart, logical, or rational. We like to think of our thinking brain as being in charge, driving around all purposefully, with our feeling brain in the passenger seat, shouting and pointing out the window, occasionally needing to be told to simmer down.
The problem is, psychologists have found that it’s our feeling brain driving the car while our thinking brain sits back observing, drawing a map of everywhere we’ve been. The map is, by design, thinking brain’s way of making the feeling brain’s behavior look more logical. In real time it can be all over the place, but on paper, there’s a well-defined path.
When clients get distracted, upset, excited, happy, sad – when they react to some external event, we have to recognize that it’s their feeling brain driving the car of consciousness. If they come to us in a panic, it’s because their thinking brain drew a map of their emotional state and now they’re coming to us to ask “WHY?!”
It’s a mistake to only address the thinking brain in these conversations. Remember, feeling brain is actually in charge. If we want to make an appeal or have any hope of answering “why” in a way that actually gets heard, we’ll need their feeling brain to see something positive to be distracted by first. It could be the excitement around a brilliant long-term opportunity that’s arisen after a market decline, the sense of duty to family after a loved one is lost, or literally any other emotion, but feeling is where it has to start.
The feeling doesn’t always have to be positive either, but it should be productive in however it establishes our connection. An appeal to thinking brain alone is a roll of the dice. An appeal to getting feeling brain’s attention creates an enticing pathway. Sometimes a little empathy is all it takes (“it seems like this really has you upset”), and other times it’s an equally shocking perspective shift (“am I upset? No, this excites me”). The point is that we set the stage to redraw a map with our thinking brains, together.
I haven’t read Manson’s new book yet, but he has a real gift for communication – especially on these topics. For a book preview and a deeper dive into this metaphor, check out his interview on Jordan Harbinger’s podcast (ep. 198 Mark Manson – Channeling Hope, Choosing Problems, and Changing Values).