The Three Parts of the Mind
Understanding the three parts of the mind is critical. Our brain tries to use all three parts of our mind, and when one is ignored – usually the conative part – our brain works inefficiently. Thus the lack of energy, feeling unfocused or that something is taking way longer than it should. All of those feelings are clues that you are ignoring how your mind wants to take instinctive action. We are probably more familiar with two parts of the mind – the Cognitive and the Affective part, but let’s make sure we are all equally familiar with all three parts of the mind.
The first part of the mind to review is the Cognitive part. This is represented by your thoughts, intelligence, learned behaviors, knowledge, recall, skills. This is the part of the mind that is built up when you go to school or teach yourself something new. The cognitive part of your mind is really your mind’s filing cabinets keeping facts and learned behaviors and skills all together. You tap into these when you are performing familiar tasks that require you to recall ‘how’ to do things. The cognitive part of your mind is associated with IQ tests, college degrees, certifications and the like.
The next part of the mind is the Affective part. This is represented by your feelings, emotions, personality, preferences, desires, attitudes, and beliefs. This part of your mind is more subjective and may change – as your life changes. As a child you may feel one way, and as an adult you may feel a different way. This part of our mind might not feel like it is even in your mind, but rather in your heart – the organ that is most associated with feelings for some reason. If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC, Strengths Finder or other similar tools, this is the part of the mind that they are measuring – your preferences. That’s why if you retake those tools at different parts of your life you may get different answers.
Now let’s talk about the third part of the mind – the one you may know the least about. That’s the Conative part of your mind. This is where your drive to take instinctive action resides. When you are trying to solve a problem, this part of your mind springs into action – or at least it tries to. In our society we have been taught to solve problems according to a process or a philosophy. That may work for some, but it doesn’t work for everyone. You may have natural abilities that you ignore or discount because your approach hasn’t been appreciated in the past. But left to your own devices and given the freedom to be yourself, you may find that those natural abilities or patterns of doing things are quite effective.
Of course, none of my solutions worked because the speaker was bad, but looking back at what I did, I could see myself in action. I had the freedom to be myself and instinctively started problem solving – the way I problem solve best.
One of the ways I instinctively take action is to just try solutions. This happened recently and even though I know a lot about this part of the mind, I didn’t realize I was doing it until afterwards. I was showing a movie to a small group of people and the main speaker kept vibrating. I took in the situation – the external speakers vibrated and distorted the words – and then sprang into action. Without even thinking I tried the volume controls on the speakers and the projector, then I changed the table they were seated on, then I held up the speaker in the air to see if it alleviated the issue. Of course, none of my solutions worked because the speaker was bad, but looking back at what I did, I could see myself in action. I had the freedom to be myself and instinctively started problem solving – the way I problem solve best. And it took about three minutes from start to finish. My partner in this endeavor had a completely different way of instinctively taking action which was very methodical and process oriented. We arrived at the same conclusion – just in really different ways.
But more often than not, you do not have the freedom to be yourself. Your boss tells you the process to use. You are told how much data to gather, what to do with the data , how to test your hypotheses and eventually take action. At home, your spouse wants you to use their way of solving problems – even if it drives you mad.
Unlearning Your Learned Habits
Taking the first steps to incorporate instinctive action into your problem solving can take some unlearning, but is certainly doable. Beginning to recognize how you take instinctive action is the first step.
When I first became an executive coach, I created a process that really worked for me – and for my clients. I did a Narrative 360 and used the data to help the individual understand more about themselves, and to create their coaching action plan. I thought that was the way everyone coached. And then I started talking to other colleagues who used completely different approaches. Some used a freer approach where they just jumped in and started coaching based on what was happening in the moment, without any background on the person other than what they gleaned in conversation. Others used a tried and true coaching process with specific steps and activities at prescribed times. I see both as being potentially effective and getting good results, but they weren’t my approach.
When I took the Kolbe A Index, I found that the way I start to instinctively solve problems is to gather data. And with equal energy, take action. Now my coaching approach made perfect sense for me – because it works for me – it works for my clients as well. But some more than others – because we all have different ways of taking instinctive action. All my coaching clients take the Kolbe A Index and if their way of instinctively taking action is different than mine, I adjust how I use the data I gather. But I still gather the data, because I need it to be the best coach I can be.
So those are the three parts of the mind – the Cognitive, Affective and Conative parts. All three are critical for your success. If you are ignoring one – or more – your energy, productivity and efficiency are likely to be compromised.
One thing that is a killer of instinctive action is delaying that action to ‘think about it’. I’ll talk about that next. Stay tuned!
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