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Stream of Consciousness

The conscious mind

The purpose of the conscious mind is to provide a representation of the immediate 'map' of reality that a person has access to, and it does this by running an internal commentary on the events that the person is experiencing at any point in time. 


This is the part of the mind that is used for reading and processing words - as you are reading this now you are:

  • reading the words

  • saying the words in your mind

  • deriving some meaning from the words

  • mapping how the meaning relates to you


The conscious mind is linear, sequential, logical and likes labels in an attempt to make some sense of everything it experiences. For a leader, this supports rational logical processing and decision making. However, the human conscious mind can only process a limited amount of information at any given time (typically 7 plus or minus 2 pieces of information) which means that it is very limited and can often restrict opportunities that are never brought into consciousness.

The unconscious mind

The purpose of the unconscious mind is to process every other piece of information that a person experiences at any given point in time.

  • regulating the body function (e.g. breathing, heart beating, blinking, fighting infection)

  • processing sensory experiences (e.g. hot, cold, pain, light, etc.)

  • processing and storing past experiences and learning

  • matching the current situation to past experiences


The unconscious mind is easily stimulated and learns quickly but is also habitual. It expresses itself through chemical reactions in the central nervous system that manifest in the body's physiology, such as tension in a muscle, light-headedness or blurred vision. To be able to make sense of this, the conscious mind labels these physiological sensations as emotions, which is why people often talk about feeling vulnerable, experiencing anxiety or being nervous.

The unconscious mind has an enormous potential for learning but needs to be stimulated to do so. The most effective leaders understand and recognise the power of their unconscious mind and actively (consciously) create opportunities and communicate with it to create change.


Stream of Consciousness

Stream of Consciousness is a technique that taps into the power of the unconscious mind and is often referred to as being in flow. It is basically opening a bridge between the conscious and unconscious minds to allow learning from past experiences, and sensory information from the current experience, to become part of the information that feeds into a leader's consciousness.


The technique can be used in 2 very different ways, depending on what the leader is trying to achieve. 

(1) Stream of consciousness - free writing

The free writing approach is useful when a leader is under stress, when a lot of change is happening or when their thoughts are confused. It helps them to become aware of their self-talk by getting it out of their head and allows them to step back and assess how they are thinking. The technique works equally well using pen and paper or typing in to electronic documents.

  • Ask the leader to take a deep breath, relax and simply start writing (or typing) whatever comes in to their head. It doesn't matter what they write as long as they keep going.

  • Prompt them to keep writing - do not allow them to stop - if they struggle then suggest they write "I cannot think of anything to write" until they get some inspiration.

  • Ask them to write everything that comes into their head - as quickly as they can.

  • Remind them it doesn't have to make sense and they may be surprised by some of things they write but keep going recording every single thought that comes.

  • Continue for around 10 minutes then ask them to get up and move (go for a 5 minute walk) to break their state.

  • Ask the leader to go back and read what they have written - tell them not to judge or analyse what they have been writing but to notice any themes or patterns that may emerge.

  • Finally, suggest they destroy (or delete) what has been written. This is important because it convinces them that no-one else will read what has been written and gives them permission to write honestly and openly next time.


The free writing method works best when it is done regularly for a few weeks, especially if it is built as a routine around the same day and time. For leaders, it is an excellent technique to clear the mind and develop self-awareness around their inner dialogue and possibly self-sabotage.

(2) Stream of consciousness - problem solving and decision making

Another way to use the technique is to ask the leader to visualise a whiteboard (conscious mind) that can only hold a limited amount of information and to also imagine a dedicated team of helpers working inside their head (unconscious mind). 


By asking a clear question, or giving a precise instruction, the leader can direct their internal team to actively find relevant information from their unconscious mind and bring it onto their whiteboard for attention. To do this successfully takes practice so it is best to introduce this approach in one of the following ways.

Problem solving:

  • Suggest the leader keeps a notepad by the side of the bed.

  • At night, they should write down a problem to be solved and ask their unconscious mind to work on finding a solution while they sleep.

  • They should write down the first thoughts that come in the morning.

  • Remind them to say thank you to their unconscious - this is important!

  • Tell them then write down anything else that pops into their head over the next 60-90 minutes around the problem or issue that was being considered.

Decision making:

  • Ask the leader to  frame a clear question around the decision they are trying to make (preferably a closed question with a YES/NO answer).

  • Tell them to write the question down and set a specific day/time when they need the answer, then sit quietly for a couple of minutes and mentally ask their unconscious to find the correct answer by that deadline.

  • They should store the paper somewhere and let the issue go - this is important otherwise their conscious mind will conflict with their unconscious processing.

  • At the specified day/time, the leader should retrieve their paper and write down the first thoughts that come into their head.

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