It seems that the mind never stops thinking. Dr. Deepak Chopra wrote that we think upwards of 50 thousand thoughts per day, and 90 % of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday. Yet, what passes for thinking in our minds isn't really thinking at all. We spend most of our time replaying memories. We think we are making conscious decisions, but Science shows us that we are not.

Dr. Benjamin Libet, at the University of San Francisco, over the past 35 years has done experiments with thinking and consciousness. Libet's experiments demonstrated that it takes our conscious minds half a second to process information and make a decision to act.
Our unconscious mind decides much quicker. In other words, we make a decision unconsciously to do or say something before we make the conscious decision. Think about playing tennis. If it took you half a second to consciously process every stroke you would not be quick enough to return your opponent's serve. Skilled players who have practiced play unconsciously. While they may decide their game strategy consciously, or the next serve, when they are in the heat of the game, it is their unconscious mind that takes over. Well-established neuro networks in the brain "remember" how to respond to each play. Consciously you may decide to hit the ball into the back-court, but unconsciously, your body is already poised to make that stroke before it becomes a conscious decision. The things we learn are stored as neuro networks, or connections in our brains. When we meet a situation that appears to be like a certain memory, those neurons fire automatically and we move into action.

We learn to hit a tennis ball through repetition. Similarly, we learn our reactions to situations through repetition, too. Our childhood experiences with family, friends, strangers, culture, and traumatic events are wired into our brains. Our emotional reactions (urges) toward various people and situations are programmed through practice. Libet and others theorize that we cannot control our urges. Urges are decided by our prior programming. The urge to yell, or to clam up, or to say something sarcastic, is beyond our control. However, we do have the power, the free will, to veto an urge. That is, we may feel the urge to yell at someone, but decide to stifle it. We cannot control the urge, but we can control the behavior if we are aware of it.

When I was younger I was adept at making sarcastic remarks to people. It was automatic. I had well-established neuro networks for sarcasm in my brain. (I grew up in a neighborhood where being quick with sarcastic humor was highly valued.) When opportunities arose to offer sarcastic humor, I did it without thinking. After several instances over the years of receiving feedback, mainly that I was hurting people's feelings, I created the intention to cease. It began with vetoing the remarks in my brain. I could not control the urge to be sarcastic, but I could control my behavior--and I did, successfully.

After numerous instances of ignoring my sarcastic tendencies, and honoring my intention to treat people well, I stopped having the urge. In other words, my neuro pathways for sarcasm receded and the connections became weak. My connections for speaking respectfully to people strengthened. Over time I eventually controlled the urge to be sarcastic and then eliminated it completely. I controlled the urge by feeling it, and then shifting my thoughts to something more positive and respectful to say.

Each of us approaches life based on what we have learned. We recognize a stimuli, and we respond based on our memory of similar events--unless we are consciously monitoring our thoughts and urges. We learn to blame. We learn to be offended. We learn to say unkind things to others and then justify it. We learn to criticize certain people. Rarely are we focused on what is actually happening right now. We are relying on unconscious memories that tell us what is happening and what to say and do. We act on our urges and believe that we are consciously deciding what to do.

For example, if you have a tendency to be angry at people who you think are greedy and selfish, your reaction will be automatic. You may veto saying words, but your body language and tone of voice will express your judgment--unless you are aware, and unless you have made an intention to stop judging. There is a story written in your brain's neuro networks about selfish, greedy people. When someone behaves in ways that you perceive as selfish or greedy, your story kicks in and you react. You will think conscious thoughts like: "There he goes again. I can't believe how selfish he is. I don't think I can be around this person." However, your body is ahead of your thoughts. It is reacting, tensing, based on your unconscious judgments. before you have a complete thought about the situation. You think this is a real response to a real situation. You think you are thinking, but you are not. You are on automatic. You are tapping into recurrent memories of other events or other people and applying them to this event.

If you are really thinking, you veto the recurrent memory. You become aware of the emotional reaction in your body. You step back and ask: 'What is really happening here?" If you know you have this tendency to get irritated you create the intention to be conscious, to really listen to what the other person is saying---to hear and understand his needs. If you clearly see that he is indeed, only considering himself, you make him aware of how his words and actions may affect others. You help him to see that he is creating an image of selfishness which may not play well with his coworkers or his employees. You do this with the intention to help him.

As you develop your awareness of your unconscious tendencies that are constantly determining your behaviors, you will come to realize that there is little difference between you and the the "selfish" guy. He behaves unconsciously toward others in ways that are hurtful to others. You behave unconsciously toward him in ways that are hurtful to him. Most of what we are doing to each other is unconscious. We react based on recurrent memories and we interpret the reactions of others based on recurrent memories. These patterns continue until we decide to interrupt them and create a new response.

Based on this understanding, there are three things you can do to become more effective as a leader. First, become keenly aware of how others affect you and of how you affect others. This means you have to take it off automatic most of the time and become conscious of your reactions to people and situations--including your body language, voice tone, facial expressions, and your attitude. At first, your emotional reactions, especially if they are the result of deeply embedded memories, will seem overwhelming. You may promise yourself that you will change, and yet go unconscious in the heat of conflict--only to "wake up" later and ask: "Why did I act that way? I didn't want to." With intention and persistence, you will get better. You have practiced your negative reactions for years. It will take some time to perfect your new responses. The trick is to stay conscious. If you feel stuck, call upon your Higher Mind, or Spirit, to guide your thinking. It is difficult to correct the thoughts of the ego with more thoughts from the ego. You need a higher level of thought. You can train yourself to recognize urges, and then shift the emotion to something more positive or effective. With practice, your desire and ability to shift becomes automatic.

Second, you want to surround yourself with other people who are aware, who pay attention to how they affect others. Place people in responsible positions only if they demonstrate awareness and the intention to increase awareness. This means that you don't promote blamers and complainers, but you put people who take responsibility and who are compassionate in key positions.

Third, you may already be surrounded by many people in your organization who are not aware. You have to teach them. Teach them by example. Teach them through incessant repetition of the purpose and values you want them to live. Your efforts must be constant, because their recurrent memories that cause them to blame, complain, or be non-responsive are incessant. The unconscious voice in their heads never lets up. They are not in conscious control of their reactions and behaviors. They do what they do because they feel compelled to do it. You have to rearrange their neuro networks with constant repetition, with constant feedback, and with great amounts of positive reinforcement for things done well. Expectations must be very clear.

Help people to see the connection between their behavior, their performance, and their work to the purpose and goals of the organization. Without that connection, most people are not focused on helping the organization succeed. Think of all of the businesses you have visited where employees do not know that it is their job to serve customers. They must be taught, patiently. The results of this kind of effort are rewarding. Think of a place where you always receive great customer service. There is a reason. People have been given very clear messages about how to treat customers. Their positive responses to each other and to customers are automatic.

Make the decision today to think. Refuse to allow old patterns to take over your mind. Step back from your typical reactions and determine what is really happening. Listen, and respond with wisdom and firmness. Be clear about your mission, values, and goals, and live them. Teach others how to behave by your behavior. Teach them the right attitude by cleaning up your attitude. You are a leader and a light. You illuminate the pathways of others by your example, by your clear and compassionate feedback, and by your presence.

Author's Bio: 

William Frank Diedrich is a speaker, executive coach, and the author of three books about personal, professional, and spiritual growth:
Beyond Blaming: Unleashing Power and Passion in People and Organizations
The Road Home: The Journey Beyond The Spiritual Quick Fix, and
30 Days to Prosperity: A Workbook for Well-Being.
Purchase Bill's books at