The function of consciousness is to represent information about what is happening outside and inside the organism in such a way that it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body. In this sense, it functions as a clearinghouse for sensations, perceptions, feelings, and ideas, establishing priorities among all the diverse information. Without consciousness, we would still “know” what is going on, but we would have to react to it in a reflexive, instinctive way. With consciousness, we can deliberately weigh what the senses tell us, and respond accordingly. (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
To have mastery over consciousness essentially means to have mastery over the self. If your body was a car then the consciousness would be the driver. Without control over consciousness it would result in the driver being lost, going in a random direction, distracted by detours and rest areas, leading you towards some unknown and perhaps even a dangerous path.
The reason for this is that your consciousness allows you to “Daydream and make-up lies,” and this can lead to anxiety and passivity. You may come up with different scenarios why some activity may lead to disappointment and failure so it’s best not to act. Or maybe even find excuses for those disappointments and failures which divert ownership, causing you to not grow from your actions.
However, the opposite is true as well. It’s our consciousness that allows us to “Write beautiful poems and scientific theories”. With control over our consciousness, we can steer ourselves towards where we wish to go. The same obstacles that can hinder progress can be viewed as possible opportunities for self-growth if we can change our consciousness, change our thought process, change our mindset. Then, failures and disappointments don’t seem permanent and neither do we associate fear with them.
To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect that shortcuts will do the trick.
One way of influencing consciousness is through attention. Because consciousness is essentially a focusing tool, meaning that whatever information we are consciously attending to is the information we will respond and react to. Then, one thing we can do is to focus our attention on the right information. But we can only attend to those desires we have intention towards.
We may call intentions the force that keeps information in consciousness ordered. Intentions arise in consciousness whenever a person is aware of desiring something or wanting to accomplish something. Intentions are also bits of information, shaped either by biological needs or by internalized social goals.
So, in order to act in the right manner, we have to attend to the proper goals with the right intention. If your goal is to lose weight but you find yourself desiring food, then we can focus our attention towards that goal of losing weight and being healthy which can supersede the desire for immediate gratification. Or our intention can guide us towards picking a healthy option rather than fast food. This way we can train our consciousness to pick the right goal.
However, there is a limiting factor associated with our consciousness.
Unfortunately, the nervous system has definite limits on how much information it can process at any given time. There are just so many “events” that can appear in consciousness and be recognized and handled appropriately before they begin to crowd each other out.
Then, a step towards directing our consciousness is to understand its limited storage capacity so, we have to be selective in the information we allow into our consciousness. A common mistake that is made by people is paralysis through analysis. Where we overthink and gather too much information which leads to inactivity because we don’t know what to do. Again, if the goal was to lose weight but you spend weeks looking up all the different types of diets and exercise programs, you may find yourself overwhelmed, your consciousness will be filled with so many different paths that it’ll not know which one to pick.
Again, the importance of attention is shown in our ability to control our consciousness.
It is attention that selects the relevant bits of information from the potential millions of bits available. It takes attention to retrieve the appropriate references from memory, to evaluate the event, and then to choose the right thing to do.
If you don’t hone your attention then your consciousness skips around, you become easily distracted and taken off from the path you want to be on. Meaning, that either it takes longer for you to achieve your goals or you fail at them completely.
Attention is then improved by first, getting our priorities and intentions in order so we know what to focus on. Secondly, to only allow specific information in our consciousness which will help improve our quality of life so that you can quickly attend to that information when needed.
In this way, we essentially create ourselves by how we invest our energy, on what we focus our consciousness on. So by taking our consciousness under control, we get control over one of the most important tools in improving our lives.
Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Youtube: Learned Living
Poem: The Old Rebel
Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker
Short Story: The Bus