The ‘Three Principles’ Understanding of How the Mind Works: An Overview
The Three Principles is an understanding of how the mind works, and thereby an understanding of how we experience life — moment by moment and day by day. This understanding of how the mind works describes three fundamental elements or ‘principles’ — thought, consciousness and mind — and how these principles combine to create our experience of life. When we understand how we generate our experience of life, we realise that we have the ability to reduce psychological distresses (e.g. stress, fear, compulsions, pressure, and discouragement) and uncover our inner well-being.
Connected to ideas in a number of eastern philosophies as well as aspects of western psychology, the Three Principles understanding was first laid down by Sydney Banks almost 40 years ago, but has since been described in many books and articles. The approach has been used extensively in life coaching, therapies and programmes to improve mental health, and as an initiative to improve psychological wellbeing in the education sector. When a Three Principles initiative is provided in schools, for instance a programme to support psychological wellbeing and resilience, it is best described as an educational initiative around how the mind works.
Description of the Three Principles (thought, consciousness, mind)
The principle of thought describes how we live in a thought-generated experience of the world and not, as it often seems, a direct experience of the outside world. In other words, it is not the unpleasant science teacher, an unwelcome exam, or images of how we should look that make us feel bad; rather, it is how we think about the teacher, the exam or the image that determines how we feel. By understanding that our thinking is responsible for how we feel, we can be liberated from the apparent power of the outside world, and from trying to change our external circumstances in order to feel better. We just need to recognize the fact of thought creating our experience, notice the nature and content of our thoughts, and then allow our thinking to pass.
Consciousness allows us to be aware of life. Consciousness enables us to be aware of our own thoughts, and is our ability to experience our feelings as real. It is the opening through which our thinking is experienced, and is also the mirror that allows us to notice what is happening. One commonly used metaphor is that consciousness is like the pupil of an eye, at times opening up to allow more light to shine in, and sometimes constricting and narrowing down. When our consciousness is wide open we can think clearly and perform at our best and, on other occasions, we cannot. Awareness of this fluctuation allows us to wait until our consciousness improves to get a fresh look at a situation and decide what to do.
The principle of mind does not refer to the brain, but is the intelligence behind all life — the notion that we are all deeply connected to something beyond our human understanding, a bigger force, something we cannot control and something responsible for all the magic and beauty in the world. Further, as human beings are inherently part of this something, this principle is also behind the incredible capabilities that reside within us all — the ability to love, nurture, empathize, connect with others, and indeed our own wellbeing. As no-body and no-thing can take our innate wellbeing away, grasping the concept of ‘mind’ gives us the trust and resilience that everything will be alright, no matter what happens.
Relevance to mental health, psychological wellbeing and resilience
We think our way through life. We see life through our thoughts as we go, and the quality of our thinking determines the quality of our lives. The Three Principles understanding sets people free from attachment to the contents of any particular thinking with the knowledge that thoughts naturally come and go. The understanding liberates people to see their state of mind — their felt response to perceived reality — as an indicator of the moment-to-moment quality of their thinking. A stressed or negative feeling state, or state of mind, produces a low mood and increasing tension, a feeling of insecurity or dis-ease (whereas a more positive feeling state does the opposite). A negative feeling warns us to allow our thinking to quieten down and, as that happens, our feelings change and our perceived reality changes.
When we get caught up in negative thinking or struggle to fight upsetting thinking, we can easily find ourselves lost or stuck in stress and distress. As people learn to trust their state of mind as a guide through life, they catch themselves earlier and earlier in the process of insecure and negative thinking (which otherwise can lead to chronic stress, anxiety or depression). As our minds quieten, we naturally regain our ability to address life circumstances and challenges from a wiser, more optimistic and hopeful perspective.
Around the world, school-based educational programmes are now being provided which are informed by the Three Principles understanding of how the mind works. These programmes are designed to support children’s psychological wellbeing and resilience — helping with current psychological challenges, while also acting preventatively to avoid mental health problems of the future. The programmes — which may not use exactly the same terms as described here, but are underpinned by this understanding of how the mind works — have received highly positive feedback from pupils, teachers and parents, and are being evaluated academically and operationally for impact. The UK based programme has also received an encouraging response from Ofsted.
The Five Clues / ‘Don’t Doubt the Rainbow’ series
The Three Principles understanding of how the mind works is introduced in The Five Clues, and is threaded through the whole four-book ‘Don’t Doubt the Rainbow’ series. In The Five Clues (Book 1 in the series), the protagonist — thirteen-year-old detective Edie Marble — first learns about the Three Principles through her mother’s books and through solving various clues. Then, through the remainder of the series, there is further learning via a psychological wellbeing programme taught at Edie’s school and through Edie’s crime-fighting exploits. Each book in the series has a different plot and a different adventure to test Edie (https://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/the-five-clues).
The intention is to create exciting adventure books, and to use these books as a vehicle to share the Three Principles understanding with children through fiction. The series is targeted at middle-grade children, age 11+. Children’s psychological wellbeing and resilience will be enhanced through the series, enabling them to better navigate life’s challenges — such as stress, exam pressure, bullying, anxiety, depression, phobias, addictive behaviours, social media and eating disorders.