The Subconscious Mind: Insights from Viktor Frankl

subconscious mind

Viktor Frankl’s short book, Man’s Search for Meaning, has been described as ‘among the most influential works of psychiatric literature since Freud.’ He begins with an account of his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps and then develops the insights from these experiences into a remarkable synthesis.

The book has been the inspiration for many other works, including Stephen Covey’s famous ‘Seven Habits.’ Frankl’s work has a great deal to say about many aspects of life. His insights on the role of the subconscious are particularly interesting.

“We know a case in which a violinist always tried to play as consciously as possible. From putting his violin in place on his shoulder to the most trifling technical detail, he wanted to do everything consciously, to perform in full self-reflection. This led to a complete artistic breakdown…. Treatment had to give back to the patient his trust in the unconscious, by having him realize how much more musical his unconscious was than his conscious.”

Know who is in control

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

First, we must realize that we are in the driving seat. This is what law of Attraction is all about – we must create consciously. Unlike Pavlov’s dogs or other animals who respond only by instinct, we humans have the power of choice. The Austrian psychiatrist and survivor of the holocaust Viktor Frankl wrote that between stimulus and response there is a gap, and inside that gap lies all of our experience. When we realize that this gap exists and that we can use it, we have tremendous power.

Most people have given that power away. They go straight from stimulus to response without a thought, reacting in the old, habitual way over and over again. It amazes me that people go through life running the same script for year after year, decade after decade, never seeming to realize that they have a choice. But this is the reality – you have free will, you are responsible for how you react, and you have the power to change ‘I must’ into ‘I choose.’ This is Law of Attraction.

It all starts in the mind

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The most important area in which we operate our freedom is our own mind. We are free to control our thoughts and change our own perception of things. This is a revelation to many people, who believe that thoughts happen to them. In reality, you generate your own thoughts all day long and you can be the master of them. Changing our beliefs is not instantaneous, but our beliefs do change throughout our lives and we can be active in controlling this process.

The way we act, of course, depends on what we believe. It makes sense that changing what we believe will alter the way we behave. Rich people tend naturally to think about money and abundance and so they tend to attract more money by naturally acting in accordance with their beliefs. Poor people often tend to think about lack, and so they attract this experience.

The inside-out

We create our own reality in two ways. One is our self-talk. We talk to ourselves all day long. You can often catch the moment shortly after you wake up when the script kicks in – for a short while after you wake up, your mind is blank; you-re not thinking anything in particular. But suddenly you will remember what happened to you yesterday or last week (good or bad) and your internal talk will begin. If you-re not very conscious about it, this script will just run in the background all day and you will react to situations in your usual conditioned manner. But if you can become aware that this is happening, you can start to replace to old script with a self-talk based on conscious choice.

The other is our visualization. We see ourselves in certain scenarios in our mind’s eye. Again, if you are conscious, you can replace the ‘default’ visualizations (of being a victim, being poor etc.) with new ones about abundance, happiness, confidence and control. Start visualizing what you want to achieve, how you want to feel and what sort of person you want to be.

The subconscious ensures that our images are translated into reality. A change in our mind will work its way out. Our subconscious mind ‘believes’ what it is told by the thinking, self-talking, visualizing mind and does not recognize any difference between a real experience and an imaginary one. So we need to be careful what we think about and talk to ourselves about, and what we see in our mind’s eye. These words and images will be turned into reality as sure as day follows night. In the end, we see the world as we are.

The role of action

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

When you do what you love, the whole world comes alive. It starts dancing to your tune – it becomes your puppet. When you are doing the thing you love, you will naturally draw the right people and resources towards yourself to ensure that you accomplish your goals.

Taking action is important – without it you will probably never achieve anything. But the action must be easy, effortless even. And action can only be effortless when you are ‘in the flow’ of the universal stream. To do a job you hate is to swim against the tide; to get up every day and go to a job you feel no enthusiasm for is a waste of life.

The way we are now is a result of our past thoughts, our self-talk and visualizations. But every moment is a new beginning. Our future depends on what we are thinking about right now. So to create the life we desire, we should dwell on thoughts about the things we love and trust the universe to take care of it.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

19 thoughts on “The Subconscious Mind: Insights from Viktor Frankl”

  1. Wonderful post. Taking action is something we shouldn’t be thinking about all the time, we should just do. Take action, do it now, change your life.

    I loved this sentence: ‘But if you can become aware that this is happening, you can start to replace to old script with a self-talk based on conscious choice.’
    Start replacing your bad thoughts for good thoughts, start the change!


  2. This is a wonderful post. The statement about how the rich think versus how the poor thinks remind me of this book called The Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. I definitely agree with this in that everything we have stems from our subconscious mind. If we have a desire to be successful, we must start acting, living and breathing as if we’re successful. A person can’t continue to think like they have been and expect their lives to change dramatically. It all starts in our mind. Thanks.

  3. Great post Mark. What Viktor Frankl went through shows us that we can be put under a harsh situation outside our body, but we can still direct what we want to feel and be with our response to the situation. The gift of being able to let our mind think of whatever it wants is the most powerful gift a man can have.

  4. Hi Mark, I love Man’s Search for Meaning.

    I have a difficulty with what you say.

    Frankl talks about trusting the sub-conscious and the difficulty the violinist had doing everything consciously but then you say we are in the driver’s seat – and advocate behaving consciously.

    This may not be a contradiction. You may see these things as being compatible, but you don’t say how.

    It seems to me that the subconscious is stuff that is out of awareness – such as habits. This was the violinists problem as I understand it. Not being aware that habits can be the foundation of awareness. These are developed consciously at first and then become ‘unconscious’ (out of awareness).

    I very much agree that what we think about and do is very important.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out, Evan, and for giving me the opportunity to address what may, indeed, appear to be a contradiction.

      I think we tend to be quite unconscious most of the time, and this can be a good and necessary thing (as in the case of the violinist, or when we are driving or performing some other well rehearsed activity). The problem comes when we unconsciously repeat self-defeating scripts to ourselves, reacting to situations according to negative subconscious beliefs. It is these beliefs we need to become conscious about so that we can re-script our habitual thought patterns.

      A friend of mine who is an excellent driver took an ‘advanced driving course’ in the UK, and the first requirement was to become conscious of everything he was doing in the driving seat. He was then able to ‘unlearn’ his old habituated driving patterns and move on to the next level. He said that this was a most uncomfortable and challenging experience, but in the end it made him a much better driver. In fact, his driving is remarkable – effortlessly skilful in the most challenging of conditions.

      So the way you have suggested to reconcile the apparent contradiction seems quite right.

      Very best wishes,

  5. Dear Mark,

    With reference to your line – “The subconscious ensures that our images are translated into reality.”, I would like to ask you that what should a individual do when it comes to eradicate some one from his mind. I want to delete my ex-lover image from my mind. Does the sub-conscious mind would come into the picture.


  6. Hi Mark.

    That is true about that period of time after we wake up. There is that very short period where we are not thinking about X or Y, and are somewhat blank, and then suddenly X and Y kick in. We then have the choice to let X and Y run our show, or we can set them as side processes to work on, while we run the show with full control.

    As long as we hold onto that control, there isn’t much than can damage our momentum.

  7. Well, this is a very interesting and true point. We are often unaware of things that are our biggest strengths. As a socially anxious person who works on changing his thoughts a lot, the one thing that I noticed is that the more my thoughts are changed, eventually they become automatic reactions from my subconscious. I’ve worked and worked on dropping the anxiety-inducing thoughts, and while I’m not perfect, I can see how my thinking has changed.

    I naturally react with confidence in situations that used to terrify me. Very interesting post; I would like to see a very in-depth guide at changing your mindset (techniques/methods etc…).

  8. Great post! I like placing behaviors into the context of “mind vs brain.” What the brain wants (shortcuts, instant gratification, pleasure, avoiding pain) is often self-defeating. It takes mindful attention (the mind, self-awareness) to begin taking the short, consistent, and deliberate steps to changing bad habits and forming good habits. The conscious (mind) can eventually create the unconscious activity (habit).

    “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”~ Henry David Thoreau

  9. Does Viktor Frankl’s short book, Man’s Search for Meaning, exist as a free downloadable audiobook (not .pdf) anywhere?

    Despite being past the traditional? 50-year copyright distance, all its fans seem to be unwitting sales reps for ‘Rapidshare’ or some such subscription site. Someone must have come across it – I’ve seen it in part (.rar) on ‘4Shared’.

    Thanks much.

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