Desire, said my client, was the magnet that draws him to his destiny. This was part of a coaching conversation. As a Business Performance Coach for CEOs, I spend a lot of time helping them to overcome their self-limiting behaviours and achieve a level of complex thinking to keep pace with the ever growing complexity of the business environment. This usually led to a lot of reflection on their part and sometimes some jousting that was needed to get them to reframe perspectives and see the world through a different lens.

My response was in the form of a few questions. Is it a conscious or an unconscious desire that drives you to do the things you do? The way you show up as a person? The way you see the world? The way you make choices, make decisions. This usually opens up a whole new discussion including the capacity of the conscious mind to process bits of information (7 every second) as opposed to 11 million by the unconscious mind (Rasmus Hougaard–One Second Ahead).

When we refer to the mind, only 20% represents the conscious mind while 80% actually comprises the unconscious. Busy executives are not only unaware of this fact but also that a great deal of their actions were at odds with their intentions. They mean to do one thing but end up doing something else. Michael Lewis in his latest book The Undoing Project refers to the concept of behavioural economics and the errors of judgment that are a function of salient experiences (narratives) of the past rather than the outcome of rational, logical thinking.

We regularly encounter two kinds of experiences—those that are completely new and those that are familiar. The rational conscious mind that is slow and deliberate excels in the new situations because it is logical and analytical. But once the situation is thought through, and fully digested, it gets moved into a database that stores all these experiences and assimilates it into beliefs and values embedded in the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind, according to Shankar Vedantam, author of The Hidden Brain, is the master of heuristics, the mental short cuts we use to carry out the chores of daily life. This hidden brain is designed to be fast, to make quick approximations and instant adjustments.

Based on a lifetime of rules that the unconscious mind has been recording, it leaps to conclusions and makes decisions on behalf of the conscious mind. This explains why voters in the US said the politically right thing consciously, but unconsciously voted for Trump. It also explains the Brexit vote which was strongly influenced by a set of beliefs that had been created in the unconscious mind based on the experiences recorded over many years. Much of our lives actually take place outside the boundaries of our own awareness.

My clients sometimes tell me “what was I thinking?" “Why did I do this when I clearly knew that it was not in my best interest?" Why did I lose my temper and lash out in the presence of my boss? Or even “why did I keep quiet when I had the answer to the problem?" The unconscious mind not only makes us do things we do not want to but also excels at repeating the same errors over and over in our lives. We do not have an awareness of what is going on in our unconscious mind because it is usually not accessible through introspection. Cognitive behaviour therapy however can help us become mindful of unconscious thought patterns that drive behaviour patterns.

I use Hypnotherapy with my clients to help them resolve issues that are embedded deep in their unconscious mind. Quite simply, Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic process that gets applied after putting a client into a trance. In a trance, we dissociate or disconnect the conscious mind and interact with the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is fully aware of what is going on but will not interfere with the process of communication with the unconscious mind. In this relaxed state, it is possible to embed suggestions in the unconscious mind through metaphors and bring about awareness of the hidden biases and challenges that drive behaviour. Anxiety disorders, anger management, mastering fear, lack of people skills, poor time management etc., are the typical challenges faced by senior leaders who are caught in the web of ever increasing complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity in business. At the conscious level, they know exactly how their self-limiting behaviours are derailing their competencies but in-spite of their best conscious efforts they are not able to change. 

Mindfulness is a stabilization process which combined with Hypnotherapy can deliver long term sustainable changes in behaviour that results in the desired business outcomes. Quite often there are childhood traumas and unresolved emotional experiences that are repressed, but the motor is still running and is the cause of accompanied anxiety and stress induced behaviours that impact business decisions. Anxiety is the most important and least understood private emotion in public life. It takes a very heavy toll on corporate executives and the focus of Hypnotherapy is not to find out why a person behaves the way he/she does but rather what keeps them stuck and how they can move forward.

Pratap Nambiar is a clinical hypnotherapist and the founder of Thought Perfect Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based firm that delivers business performance coaching to CEOs.