Mind over Matter: The Subconscious CCIE

I recently passed my CCIE Routing and Switching on my 2nd attempt about a week ago, four months after my first attempt. In that four-month gap, I spent a lot of time on my mental, emotional, and spiritual growth that I feel strongly contributed to my success.

The two minds

You will find a lot of documents on the two different minds we possess and relevant studies about them, but to keep it simple, we have two different minds (“mind” being different than “brain”), the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is what you’re using right now to read this long stream of letters and spaces and store it into your mental buffers. The subconscious mind is the passive mind that actually makes sense out of this string of letters and spaces your conscious brain is gathering. There are a plethora of studies out there supporting this and I’m sure there are many arguing it as well, but speaking from my own personal experience, it seems to really hold true.

The power of positivity

I’ve been in the IT industry for years, and I can honestly say that I’m not the most positive person on the planet. When I started reading about the subconscious and “go to your happy place” articles, I immediately called <insert obscenity here> on it and dismissed it. It wasn’t until a family member recommended a book about three years ago, and something about it spoke to me. Putting all the “woo-woo” stuff aside, I managed to apply a lot of it practically, and it has changed my life ever since. My first attempt at the lab, I was like a scared toddler going to the doctor for the first time to get a shot. I had several other people testing with me, two or three of them testing for the third time. One of the first things that came out of one of the candidates mouth was “I’m here for the third time to slay the dragon. Nobody passes their first time, and I probably won’t get it this time.” While it’s true that statistically speaking very few pass the first time, who really wants to hear that right before your lab ? So I get into the lab and do my best and unfortunately due to my nerves and overall negative attitude, spend most of it in the bathroom and didn’t pass. Now I will fully admit that the bulk of my issues were attitude and nerve related, but I was also not nearly as competent on some key topics as I thought I was.

Four months later and the second time around, I’m far more positive and my fellow test candidates are also quite positive, despite many of them being first timers. I was still worried (after all, I am known as a worry wart) but I embraced it for what it is, and didn’t let it affect my attitude in passing. In fact, during the troubleshooting section, in the first hour and twenty minutes in, I only solved a single ticket. I then kept telling myself, “It’s all right, Nick. You can do this; it’s not over yet.” Then by nothing short of a miracle, in the last thirty minutes of the troubleshooting section, I solved and verified all but one of the remaining the tickets. I then continued on to the configuration section, kept my good cheer up through lunch and to the end of the lab. When I finished, I took some very good advice from a great book written by Vivek Tiwari and Dean Bahizad. I sat in the parking lot for about fifteen minutes and recollected how the lab experience went. I reasserted how confident I was in my solutions and that I had a very good chance of passing (note I didn’t arrogantly state I DID pass). I get back to my friend’s house and within about an hour or so, I get the heart-stopping email “Your CCIE Lab Score Report”. I nervously open the score report and look for the grade… and it was a PASS (after some fumbling through their ungodly archaic site from 1994).

What we can take away from this

So taking from the statements above, we know we have two different minds for two different purposes, the conscious (active) and the subconscious (passive). Knowing this (and even more important believing it) we can then use this to our advantage for our CCIE studies. We can consciously do things that are very positive in our lives, and in turn it influences the subconscious mind to put together strategies for achieving the goal.

Focus…no wait…don’t.

One trap I tend to still get myself into is that I consciously think about this whole process while I’m setting up my plans and goals, which in turn defeats the purpose. Yes, you need to focus on your goals, but for this process you simply need to create a plan of positive things to do, and do them. Do not worry if it is working or not: it is.

What I did

I happened to come across a very good PBS special by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Wayne Dyer. Dr. Dyer as well as many other self-help leaders are often met with criticism, but I became super interested in him when my studies of Taoism lead me to his translation of the Tao Te Ching. One thing in the PBS special really stuck out to me: the reciting of the “I am’s” before you fall asleep. I thought this was one of the lamest things I’ve ever heard, but I really had nothing to lose, so I tried it (again not really focusing or caring about the result). All I said was “I am a CCIE” over and over again, until I eventually fell asleep. Within the coming weeks, I can honestly say that for the most part, the intensity of my studies increased as well as my passion for labbing and learning the technologies. I had a very set schedule on when I studied, but I quickly loosened it up and took a more organic approach while maintaining the structure.

One of the silliest things I did was downloaded a picture of someone’s CCIE certificate and edit it with my name and a random CCIE # on it. I made sure the CCIE # was in the 37-38000’s as that would be the believable (very important), and pinned it in my wall. Every time I would glance up from my monitor, I would see that CCIE certificate with my name and CCIE #.

I also did one other very important thing that CCIE prep checklists frequently preach: “write down your weak areas”. I did this in my first attempt and looking back, I was so blinded by bias, it’s no wonder I failed so miserably. Kim, a very good friend of mine over at packet forwarding told me to go buy a 2 column steno notebook and on the left column write down all of the CCIE blueprint topics, and on the right give myself a grade from one to five. Anything that had a three or less, I needed to review until it became a four or a five. This part was far harder than I first realized. I looked at my previous CCIE score report and I did way worse on layer 2 and layer 3 stuff than I care to admit, and that stung. It was such an ego hit for me to write down things like “OSPF virtual links”, “spanning tree manipulations”, “BGP route reflectors” that I nearly started to cry. My brain and ego were screaming, “You moron! How have you come this far and NOT know this?!” Eventually, I came to my senses and realized that it did not matter; this was for the greater good and continued to make quite an exhaustive list.

Of course it wouldn’t be a “woo woo” type post if I didn’t mention that I also employed meditation, more so in the last stages of my studying for my lab. I would get a kitchen timer and set it for ten minutes or so prior to when I scheduled myself to study and then sat in my dark closet and meditated. I won’t go into details on meditation as I am far from qualified to speak on it, but it did help me with keeping things clearer.

A word of caution

While all of the above words have helped me immensely on my CCIE and in my life, it’s not a magical means to an end. You still need to put the months and years of work to achieve the CCIE and all of your other goals. I realize that it may sound like “woo-woo spiritual” garbage to a lot of folks, but all I can speak about is my own objective experience on the matter. Also I am far, FAR from an expert on this subject matter, so take it for what it’s worth.

Good luck!

I wish all of you the best in your quest to the CCIE and all of your other goals. Remember, that you cannot recognize success without failure, and you are never alone in your quest.


  1. says

    I agree with a lot of what you said. The distance between my failed attempt and my passing attempt for the lab was not a lot more studying. It was really re-evaluating my attitude and approach to the test. My knowledge wasn’t lacking when I failed, my attitude and strategy were.

  2. cclark says

    Checkout “Think & Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill. He talks about visualization, mind repetition, and writing down your goals. His research is the result of observing some of the most successful business leaders early in the 1900’s.

    • Nick A says

      I read this book at least twice in my day and keep it by my bedside .. it’s a very good book and I think brand new less than $8 USD. I’m also a big fan of some of Dale Carnegie’s books.

    • Shepherd Yerusalem says

      Fan of Napolean Hill?

      Google: “The Habit Of Going the Extra Mile”

      Read it, then read it again, it is what Jesus preached.

  3. says

    I was taught the same stuff while doing my course of Stanford Strategy Execution Program….Building the goals are very easy but executing them is one of challenging task….

    • Nick A says

      It varied during the course of my studies, but toward the last 6 months or so .. it was something like:

      Monday – Thursday – 1-3 hours of studying after work

      Friday – Off / Flex day .. in the event I got busy M-Th i used Friday as a study day
      Sat – Sun – 4-8 hours a day in the morning .. usually like 8/9 – 2ish .. give or take

  4. Karim Currey says

    Thank you for sharing this. I always love to read ways and techniques to defeat the subconscious mind. Those books you used are great. Thanks for sharing the experience and I see the schedule down below as well! (Please add the schedule into the blog post, if you can) It adds another jewel to the post.

  5. thema27 says

    Thanks for sharing…the funny thing is that use Dr Dyer’s “The Power of Intention” as my spiritual compass…

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