Our hidden friend is something we all possess.  It gives fantastic results for almost no effort.  It largely determines our success and happiness – yet very few of us use our friend to anything remotely near its potential.

I speak of the mind, and in particular the most powerful and “80/20” part of it – our unconscious mind.

The unconscious is the seat of intuition and creativity.  Where else, for example, could surrealist art have come from?  Salvador Dalí would sit down, relax, and day-dream in order to conjure up the weird images he painted.  To recall them, he trained himself to hold a solid object in his hand, and relax his grip when he saw the images in his mind.  The object would crash to the floor, awake Dalí, and then he would paint what he had imagined.

Why the Unconscious is so *VERY* 80/20

The 80/20 principle, you will recall, says that a great majority (80 percent-plus) of results flow from a small minority (20 percent-or-fewer) of causes or effort.  The unconscious mind is just about the most extreme and supremely important example of the Principle, for three reasons.

First, the unconscious mind yields enormous results with no conscious effort.  It keeps us alive and healthy.  It supplies the emotions and memories which make us creative and allow us to transform the world.  What else does so much with so little effort?  And if we try to exert effort, we crowd out the unconscious – less is more, and more is less.

Second, if we access the unconscious astutely, as Dalí did, we can attain fantastic output and goals with just a little clever manipulation.

Third, how much and how well the unconscious mind is used follows a classic lopsided pattern, more like 99/1 or 99.9/0.1 than 80/20.  Fewer than one in a hundred people use their unconscious mind deliberately.  Yet this tiny fraction of people achieves the big results in life.

Three Cardinal Uses of the Unconscious

Creative Solutions

As Einstein famously said, “Creativity is more important than knowledge.”  If you want a creative solution to any issue, the unconscious can provide it.  Here, for example, are five ideal applications:

  • New Product Development
  • Breakthroughs in social theory and practice
  • Business theories, and how to gain competitive advantage
  • A great idea for a new start-up venture
  • How to use a personal career setback creatively, and leap ahead within a few years.


Attaining Personal Goals

People who write down their goals and review them frequently are much more likely to attain them.  I know this from personal experience.  I set one incredibly ambitious goal – guess what it was – at age nine, and I had attained it by the time I was thirty.  Thereafter I set an ambitious new goal about every five to ten years, and all of them have come to pass – except the most recent goal, to which I am moving without having attained it yet.  And I have attained the goals without too much effort – my life has been enriched rather than drained in the process.

But be careful what you wish for.  The one thing more frustrating than not reaching a deeply-desired goal is reaching it, and then finding it’s not nearly as great as you imagined.  That’s happened to me, and maybe that’s the way life works.  Equally, however, some goals turn out to be vastly more satisfying than one could have imagined.  So choose carefully.

It’s not enough to set the goal and write it down.  You have to really want it to happen.  And you have to imprint it on your unconscious mind – to start with, on a daily basis.


Peace of mind and serenity are near-universal wants.  We all want to recover the primitive dream of Eden, a life of harmony and joy where we can be ourselves and also part of nature.  The Romantic poet William Wordsworth said he felt integrated into the natural world – “I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature.”

There is a psychological theory that we are, or we become, what we think – which is one way of explaining how the goals we set, or the other way round, the fears we feel, get arranged by our unconscious mind, and change our very nature.  The work of Martin Seligman, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, lends some credence to the theory – see especially his bestseller, Learned Optimism.

So, if we are what we think, we should bring our noblest and most creative ideas to the surface of our conscious mind, and impress them on the depths of our unconscious.  This quest does not have to be in any way religious, but I think it has to have some moral quality – this may be the only way that peace and unity with the outside world can be attained.

“Be sure that you think on whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there be any praise, think about these things” – this is good advice for everyone, agnostics and atheists as well as people of faith, not because it is what we should do, but because it holds the key to peace within and between ourselves.

In other words, don’t watch the network news and don’t go on Twitter.  They are usually depressing and pessimistic experiences, and feed poison into our unconscious minds.  Like many poisons, they can also be addictive.

Coming Soon – A New Model of how to Tap the Unconscious

In my next post, I will present a three stage model, which is far simpler than usual.

Stage 1 is conscious thought – what do we want the unconscious to solve for us, or what do we want it to arrange for us?

Stage 2 is input to the unconscious – how do we communicate with it?

Stage 3 is output from the unconscious – how do we ensure we listen to the small, still voice of our hidden friend?

I will discuss this specifically with reference to tapping creative solutions and achieving the goals we ardently desire.

This post is partly based on “Your Hidden Friend”, a new chapter in the third edition of The 80/20 Principle, just published in the UK and outside North America.  The US edition will be published by Random House later this year.

Image credit – Pixabay

7 Responses to “YOUR HIDDEN FRIEND”

  1. Good point, I often leave something to work on unconscious and it resolves “magically”. The only problem, it doesn’t help to make you more success, only improves some things just about average of the distribution of the environment, that”s it. Everything else is just luck.

  2. Douglas Knupp says:

    Hi RObert,

    Thanks for your insights, always welcomed in my mental space.

    I have been thinking about the unconscious for quite some time, it definitely appears to be a open, adaptive system of processes. I am curious as to what you will come up with in this regard.

    Look forward to the next post, kind regards.

    • Douglas Knupp says:

      Sorry Richard, must have been the unconscious at work as I was contemplating writing a colleague named Robert in regard to a matter.

  3. Having learned to tap into my unconscious mind over the last couple of years, I agree mostly with what you say. It’s my source of creativity, ideas, inspiration and wisdom. I go there first (if I remember) before I do anything. What is also interesting is that once you practise this for a while, the nature of your goals changes – at least in my case. Indeed, some of my previous goals now seem irrelevant – they were a result of being only in the “conscious” mind. Goals that come from the unconscious mind are more altruistic, have more contribution… are, dare I say it, more loving and less needy. So maybe we need the unconscious mind to lead us to our goals, rather than using it to achieve goals the conscious mind has created?

  4. Thanks so much Richard. Awesome. As a Christian,former biological science researcher, and an aspiring entrepreneur, I find your post consistent with my beliefs. You are a genius in simplifying things!

    I can hardly wait for your next post…

  5. Carl Nelson says:

    An excellent post, Richard. Anyone can tell you to double down if things aren’t working. If eight hours isn’t enough, work nine, then ten, and so on. How many people have destroyed their lives and families following this horrible double down advice? Real genius is teaching people how to accomplish more with less physical effort and more mental effort. Thank you for your message. It’s been a huge help to me. I need to remind myself of it often because we’re bombarded on all sides by the double-down message in all forms of media.

  6. Is there a way of telling in advance which goals, when attained, will be “not nearly as great as you imagined” and which will be “vastly more satisfying that one could have imagined”?

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