Life is full of tough choices that can have a major impact on your future. If you’re sweating the big stuff, try a new approach. It turns out that it’s better to let our unconscious minds do more of the work.
Background on How Your Unconscious Works to Solve Dilemmas
1. Check out the research. David Creswell, a neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University, recently did a study on the power of the unconscious. In this study, people made better decisions about a complicated car purchase comparing 12 different features after they did a distracting task for a few minutes.
2. Understand the process. Our unconscious minds have vast resources. Brain scans show that we can still work on a question even when we take a break to put out the garbage or make a pot of coffee.
3. Take it easy. Pushing yourself too hard often backfires. When an issue is too much for your conscious mind, relax and let the answer come to you.
4. Schedule brief distractions. One of the most surprising things about this study was that breaks of a few minutes or less really work. Even if you don’t have time to sleep on it, you can still make headway by taking a short break.
Everyday Examples for Using Brief Distractions in Problem-Solving
1. Improve your job performance. Maybe you’re having trouble writing a conclusion for an important report. Go catch up on your filing and the ending may write itself.
2. Plan your vacation. Read the brochures about your destination choices and then wait for your strongest preferences to gel.
3. Reinvigorate your career search. It’s easy to get discouraged sending out one application after another. Pause for some fun, like watching a funny video or calling a friend. You’ll probably get more done.
4. Strengthen your relationships. Dropping old patterns that hold us back helps our relationships to grow. When it looks like an argument is starting, before you say something you’ll likely regret, remember a happy moment with your partner.
5. Sharpen your parenting skills. If your child’s room is still a mess, go have a cup of tea. It will give you time to come up with an alternative plan that may get you better results than another round of nagging.
6. Stick to your diet. Figure out why you stray from your diet even though you want to lose weight. The answer may come to you while you’re washing the dishes.
7. Evaluate major purchases. As the original study showed, a few minutes distraction could help you buy a better car. Take a walk around the block before you sign the contract.
8. Make wiser investments. Rational investment decisions are likely to enhance your net worth. If anxiety about choosing the right retirement vehicle is clouding your vision, play with your dog until you feel calmer.
9. Set goals. Brainstorm about positive goals in any aspect of your life. Then go about your morning routine as usual and see what priorities come to the surface.
10. Play games. While these techniques are beneficial for dealing with serious challenges, they are just as relevant for the lighter stuff. In fact, playing games like word puzzles or Sudoku may help you to practice listening to your unconscious so you’re better prepared for when you really need it.
Put your unconscious to work for you to make better choices and live a more meaningful life. Even brief distractions are an effective way to strengthen your decision making abilities.