Thoughtful mind person at ocean – Raymond Revaldi Unsplash

How to better harness the four layers of your mind

In Coaching, Counselling and Personal Development, Mind and Movement by Mark CarterLeave a Comment

The layers of our mind are the functioning cogs that allow us to take in information, consider options, make our choices and ultimately communicate or deal with all aspects of our external world.

The mind, your mind, may be a wonderful servant yet terrible master; so the ability to consciously control and steer your mind is a skill worthy of cultivating. As Elizabeth Gilbert said in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: “Learn how to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes!”

So in order to do that, let’s break down the mind into four levels and functions. Given that part of the challenge with selecting your own thinking – a little in keeping with the fashion analogy – is not being drawn to feel as if you have to fit in with current trending fashions; to confidently select and keep refining a wardrobe that is authentic and a better fit for you.

1) Preference – How you function

In the current times we sometimes get drawn to thinking we need to act out the same way as others. Yet to do so may go against the grain of how we prefer to comfortably operate. Personality profiling assessments such as ‘DiSC’ or The Enneagram system can help here. Imagine the preference in how you like to function is a little like an ideal operating system on a computer.

For example, bigger picture versus detail, more open discussions versus work it out alone. There are simple, freely accessible tools, in my own academy and online generally, to help get clearer with this. So embrace your natural function, strengths and gifts. Better manage those Achilles heels or blind spots! And, despite what people claim on their social media, nobody is great at everything.

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2) Motivation – Finding your why

How we function doesn’t explain the why! Motivation can be broken into biological, external and internal:

  • Biological: if you’re hungry you’ll eat
  • External: salaries, commissions or even bribes for the kids to behave
  • Internal: the spark that sets the soul on fire

Each of these has merit. Maybe ensure any external motivation aligns to your internal fire. There are many descriptions to your drive. Essentially they may be categorised into simpler themes from works like that of Eduard Spranger:

  • Knowledge and learning
  • Return on time, money and resources
  • Aesthetic and experience
  • Social and community
  • Individual and political
  • Traditional and system of living

What’s more, internal motivation may change in priority over periods of time or stages of life. Therefore, remember to check in periodically with your truest why.

3) Intelligences – Your ability to do

Some of the smartest people on the planet are simultaneously some of the most awkward. Some of the brightest people on the planet may also be excessively selfish and focused only on themselves. The layer of intelligences includes our IQ, skills and competencies, in addition to our EQ: emotional intelligence.

Incorporating a path or program of lifelong learning is how we improve our ability to do anything: better communication, smoother functioning, or mastering new skills. Essential skills or characteristics that stand you in good stead, like adaptability, trustworthiness or empathy, are muscles strengthened through continual personal development and training at the intelligence level.

4) E.E  – Everything else!

Human beings are meaning making machines! We anchor definition to all life experiences, starting in childhood. Often they become a part of our default modus operandi! The environments we’re raised in, our fears, doubts, or limiting beliefs all exist here.

In this regard we are much like onions: multi layers that may yield tears when peeled back! Or even like icebergs given how much capacity for the smoother functioning of the mind is intrinsically tied to this deeper level.

This is another reason to keep working on ourselves. The definitions or default habits of behaviour, which perhaps served us once, even as far back as childhood, may no longer be viable or improve the quality of current lives.

In my mind – Dodji Djibom Unsplash


As James Allen wisely suggested (a little like Elizabeth Gilbert over a century before) in his classic 1903 book ‘As A Man Thinketh’ (republished as a more gender neutral ‘As A Person Thinketh’ in recent years):

Keep your hand firmly on the helm of thought. In the bark of your soul reclines the commanding master.

That serene master and commander, with a dedicated focus on development, is one and the same: the real, best version of you.

About the author

Mark Carter

Mark Carter is an international keynote speaker, trainer and coach. He has over 20 years’ experience as a global learning and development professional. His TEDxCasey talk, ‘Paws and Effect: how teddy bears increase value perception', was the movie trailer for his latest book, 'Add Value'.

Lead image: Raymond Revaldi, Unsplash. Body image: Dodji Djibom, Unsplash.

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