Answers to complex problems may appear when you least expect them, but there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that they come when needed.

The human brain is an extraordinary information processing system. It is brilliant at executing certain tasks, particularly physical task that can be codified, like playing an instrument or driving a car. However our brains have some surprisingly big limitations when it comes to certain types of mental tasks. Research shows that people who are distracted do better on a complex problem-solving task than people who put in conscious effort. This isn’t so surprising – the problem-solving resources of the non-conscious are millions if not billions of times larger than that of the conscious. What’s surprising is how fast this effect kicked in – one research group was distracted for only a few minutes for this effect to be activated. This wasn’t the ‘sleep on it’ effect, or about quieting the mind. It was something more accessible to all of us every day, in many small ways.

The challenge is that most ‘real world’ problems we face, especially at work, tend to be far more complex. These are ‘non linear’ problems, that have no pre-existing, logical or easy answer. No one seems to solve complex problems at will. The answers always suddenly arrive, either as you fall asleep, in the middle of the night, as you wake up, as you exercise, shower or drive. Or while doing something pleasant and repetitive, like knitting, gardening or cooking. New research into these ‘aha’ moments is telling us a lot about how to increase the likelihood of having these moments of brilliance. And while it seems unlikely we can ‘control’ when we have an insight, it’s now very clear that we can dramatically increase the likelihood that an insight emerges. 

Read more at Psychology Today here and here.

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