The dual-track mind: How the conscious and unconsious mind work together

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Kevin Mangelschots

Ever wondered why we know some things subconsciously, or can tell what’s happening, even when we aren’t consciously following what’s going on? It’s because of the dual track mind.

This means that our conscious and unconscious mind work together to paint a clear and whole picture of the world. This is what we call the two-track mind.

Let me explain why it’s absolutely vital for both psyches to work together in order to survive.

what does having a dual track mind mean?

Multiple possible questions being written on a wooden board.

The dual-track mind is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the two minds that operate at the same time inside our one brain. Namely, the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The former is deliberate, while the latter is intuitive thinking.

The conscious psyche takes in all the things we’re self-aware about, while the unconscious psyche absorbs what happens outside our awareness.

What is our conscious mind?

The conscious mind stands for everything we are aware of. Having knowledge of something allows us to respond to our environment with our full awareness.

Decisions made by the conscious mind are typically logical, and thought through to a great degree. That’s why making decisions with our conscious psyche usually have a lower error rate than making choices with our subconscious mind. This is due to the fact that the conclusions and thought processes occur consciously and over a longer period of time.

However, taking awareness too far can cause hyperawareness, which is not that good since hypervigilance has a lot of potential downsides as well.

The disadvantage is that a conscious decision occurs slower than an unconscious one due to having to process thoughts and emotions consciously. This means that our unconscious mind is better suited to circumstances where a quick decision must be made, such as a fight or flight situation.

Unconscious mind/subconscious mind meaning

Illustration of a brain.

The unconscious mind, also commonly called the subconscious mind, is the variety of mental activities in an individual that operate outside our awareness.

The unconscious mind has the advantage of making fast decisions based on intuition (our experiences), and the fact that it requires no awareness or conscious mental effort to do so.

However, because unaware choices are made so quickly and outside our sentience, they are more prone to mistakes such as remembering and retrieval errors. This makes the subconscious mind less suited for making important, potential life altering decisions that we need to think through carefully.

The two-track mind model: How does the dual-track mind work

Picture of an iceberg depicting how the conscious and unconscious mind work.

You’ve got just one brain. And in that one brain, there are two minds operating at the same time.

Yet, those two psyches don’t necessarily work independently. Because they are continuously feeding off, and giving information to each other.

However, this information exchanging process occurs subconsciously, which might give the perception that both minds work independently.

Yet, the two-track mind model involves utilizing both psyches.

The two track mind explained

Unconscious parallel processing is what allows us to perform our habits and routine actions without having to spend energy or any voluntary thoughts. Just think of habits such as dressing ourselves, brushing our teeth, and riding a bike.

This procedure is quicker, but less accurate at solving issues, since it’s more prone to make mistakes.

On the other hand, serial conscious processing demands us to focus on the task at hand, one job at a time. It allows us to learn new skills that require a large amount of concentration, such as learning how to drive a car, learning a new martial art, but also solving complex concerns.

This cognitive process is slower, but more accurate. Thus, it is advantageous for problem-solving behavior and making crucial choices that determine the rest of our existence. It also requires more energy than the unconscious mind, which is why we only have a limited amount of conscious choices we can make per day.

Why is the dual track mind important for survival?

Illustration of a person's brain neurons firing.

  • Our unconscious mind carries out habits and daily activities outside our mental awareness

    Unconsciously carrying out our daily tasks and habits frees up valuable energy for the more complex tasks that require a lot of energy, concentration, and thinking from our conscious mind.

    Can you imagine having to think about the small things like brushing your teeth, getting out of bed, what to eat for breakfast every day? Neither can I, and I’m willing to bet that we would get overwhelmed quickly due to sensory overload.

  • Our conscious mind only has a limited amount of energy for making good, well-thought-out decisions

    Our conscious mind only has a limited amount of good choices it can make per day because it requires so much energy to utilize properly.

    Knowing this, it’s not that hard to grasp why we need a well functioning unconscious mind.

    A well functioning unconscious psyche takes our conscious mind off the more mundane things in life. This frees up valuable and necessary energy for the conscious mind to make well-thought-out decisions.

  • Too many stimuli happening at the same time for the conscious mind to perceive and process all at once

     

    Illustration depicting the five senses that are, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

    In our lives, there are so many stimuli happening at the same time that we require our unconscious mind in order to help us perceive and understand all these various stimuli.

    Let’s use a person we are consciously perceiving and talking to on the street as an example.

    Even though we are only focusing consciously on that one person and what they’re saying, we still perceive info about our circumstances unconsciously. Think about data like knowing where we are, what time it is, what day it is, and what changes there might be happening in the environment. Whether there’s more or fewer people than usual, for instance.

    This large variety of inputs would be too much to be handled solely by our conscious brain. That’s why we need both minds to work appropriately at the same time.

  • The unconscious mind frees up resources for our limited amount of focused attention of the conscious mind

    Closely related to the previous point. Our unconscious mind perceiving and managing stimuli outside our conscious awareness means there are fewer inputs to perceive, concentrate on, and thus, process by our conscious mind.

    This allows us to direct our attention on just one, or at least fewer task(s) at hand. Whether it’s learning, talking to someone, or performing a work related task.

  • The conscious and unconscious mind exchange valuable information between each other

     

    Illustration about a brain exchanging information.

    We’ve established by now that both minds work together by constantly exchanging information between each other. The subconscious psyche and conscious brain are literally feeding each other information continuously.

    Intuition, for example, is unconscious decision-making based upon experience that we’ve gained in the past.

    However, intuition is largely the result of previous events that we perceived consciously. This information is then stored inside our memory as experience.

    Events we first comprehend and deal with consciously may become processed unconsciously at a later date.

Dual processing example

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

An example of dual processing in action is when we’re riding a car almost unconsciously because of our experience and training in the past, while still being capable of looking at the signs and pedestrians passing by consciously.

The unconscious mind allows us to handle our car automatically without thinking, while our conscious mind is constantly scanning for potential risks such as other drivers making dangerous maneuvers, and pedestrians crossing the street recklessly.

Dual track mind synonym

The dual track mind is also commonly called:

  • Two-track mind
  • Dual track process
  • Dual track process
  • Dual process theory
  • Parallel process

While the wording might be slightly different, the meaning remains exactly the same.

Conclusion

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

Both minds have their own personal perks and liabilities. The conscious mind and the subconscious psyche both work together to ensure our survival.

But that doesn’t mean that one is more or less important than the other. The dual track mind is necessary to exchange essential information to one another.

The conscious mind has a higher success rate due to making fewer errors because the conscious mind actively thinks through decisions cautiously by taking all data into consideration.

However, it is advantageous to take unconscious actions and habits under a temporary, conscious closer look in order to figure out what could potentially be improved to benefit our overall wellbeing, and to attain our goals.