Imagine you’re digging a trench. To dig the trench the tool you select is a shovel. After digging for a while you get tired but you know you’ve got to keep digging so you try harder and harder but get less and less effective. What if you were able to put the shovel away, go and do something else and have a rest whilst a bobcat comes in and takes over your digging? Now the trench is being dug using all the resources available to you, not just the shovel. In my scenario, the trench you’re trying to dig represents a problem you’re trying to solve. The shovel is your conscious mind. The bobcat is your unconscious mind. Your unconscious mind does a lot of heavy lifting in the thinking process if you let it.
Our conscious is only a small fraction of the subconscious and the conscious mind only has a small fraction of the information that is available to the subconscious. So how do we tap into this wisdom so we’re using our whole brain to solve problems rather than relying on solely on our conscious mind? In this month’s newsletter, I’d like to share with you a simple hack for tapping into your whole brain. I’ve also put it in a model for those who like to see a visual. When you have a problem to solve and you’ve thought about it and thought about it and still haven’t found the answer, try distracting your mind by doing something totally different. When your conscious mind reaches its limit distracting yourself allows your unconscious mind to go to work. Scientists have found that this distraction doesn’t have to be for long. The research showed that people who took a short break from contemplating a complex problem, such as going for a quick walk or doing a puzzle or a Rubix cube, for example, were more successful at coming up with ideas and solutions than people who slept on it overnight. The least successful people were those who tried to use their conscious mind only by working harder and harder. Here’s my model to take you through the steps of this simple brain hack.
1. DEFINE – clearly define the problem or question you’re trying to solve
2. DELVE – explore it with your conscious mind
3. DURESS – once your conscious mind has had enough, stop. Don’t put your conscious mind under duress
4. DISTRACT – go and do something else, let your unconscious mind start to work
5. DISCOVER – your unconscious will be working to come up with solutions while you’re distracted
6. DISCLOSE – your whole brain will reveal the answer when it’s ready
So instead of forcing your conscious mind to keep working on problems and working longer and harder - take a break!
Neuroleadership expert David Rock says, “Have confidence that while your conscious mind is distracted, your subconscious will continue to work on solving your problems - it’s called Incubation - much of the problem-solving work is happening outside of your focused awareness. Let your conscious mind take a break from the problem and the subconscious will continue working on solving your problems and is also taking in new information (from the new task) that it can use to blend together with your problem Incubation stage”.
I find this knowledge really comforting and powerful because it takes the pressure off me that I have to know or have the answer right away. I trust that if I put the question to my mind and let it go, I know my mind is working on the problem in the background. I will often go for a quick walk during the day to help with clarity. I often ponder a question at night, write it down and then go to sleep trusting that the answer will come to me in time. I don’t force myself or push myself any more. I don’t sweat it. In fact, I know that behaviour is counterproductive.
So how could you distract your mind in order to be more effective and access the power of your whole brain in your thinking process? I’d invite you to give this technique a try – experiment with it this week. I’d love to know what happens – please send me an email to let me know how you go! Good luck.