Principles of the Conscious Mind by Van K. Tharp

van tharp bkA note to readers: While Dr. Tharp’s content is timeless, this article is from our newsletter archive and may contain outdated information, missing links or images.

Through my workshops, courses, and programs, traders learn that whatever you have in life right now is exactly what you want. It might not be what you think you want, but it is what you want. If what you have doesn’t correspond with your conscious goals, it is because you have a lot of conflict and sabotage programmed into your unconscious mind. I have devoted a good deal of my work to self-sabotage and how to overcome it.

The Conscious Mind

I define the conscious mind to be everything you are aware of and the unconscious mind to be everything else. However, this definition can be expanded by comparing the qualities of awareness with the qualities of those parts of your mind of which you are unaware. For example, your conscious mind has four primary qualities that are useful to explore.

FIRST: It has a limited capacity for processing information.

: It is the seat of your intellectual capacities. It is responsible for such skills as planning, logical reasoning, higher order thinking, etc.

THIRD: It provides you with your sense of self. That is, your conscious mind helps you distinguish what is you and what is not you.

FOURTH: Lastly, your conscious mind tends to focus on those things that you do poorly. More on Limited Capacity:

Here’s a little more on the conscious mind’s quality of limited capacity:

You might think of your conscious mind as that part of you which is constantly thinking and chattering in your head. You think diverse thoughts such as what you are going to have for dinner; how you should have gotten out of that last trade much earlier; why your spouse left the house without saying anything to you last night; one of your upper molars is starting to bother you; and you need to lose weight. Bits and pieces of different thoughts such as these, plus thousands more, are constantly going through your head.

As you observe all of this, notice that you only have one thought at a time. Why? Because your conscious mind has a limited capacity for processing information. Psychologists estimate that its capacity is seven chunks of information, plus or minus two. For example, if I were to ask you to repeat a long list of numbers, you probably could recall about seven of them.

Interestingly enough, because of the way we evolved, your capacity for processing information under stress is even less. For example, imagine primitive man fleeing from a predator. One of our primary advantages in the evolutionary scheme of things is our large brain. It allows us to be creative, to plan, to develop tools, etc. Normally our brains get a large percentage of the blood supply flowing from the heart in order to sustain these functions. But under stress, that blood is redirected toward the major muscles, such as the legs and the back, and away from the brain so you can run faster or you have more strength to fight. At the same time, conscious processing capacity is reduced dramatically. In a typical stressful but non-life threatening situation, you just keep doing what you are already doing only with a lot more energy. This automatic response to stress is not particularly effective for traders. Thus, one of the secrets of trading success is to use more unconscious processing capacity.


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