I have often advocated for more “think time” – more reflective time — for business leaders. But sometimes we can think our way into stupidity.
Have you ever tried to remember a word or a name, only to have it come to you a few seconds after you stopped thinking about it?
Psychologists have discovered that the subconscious mind can sometimes solve problems more effectively than our conscious mind. Somehow the “operating system” solves the problem in the background only after we stop thinking about it directly. (Dreaming—the ultimate subconscious process—is widely considered a problem-solving activity using symbols and metaphors.)
Last Sunday, I faced a mountain of dirty dishes after a Christmas party Paula and I had hosted. A third of the way through, the garbage disposal decided to give up the ghost. (Damn the construction company for putting in a cheap, underpowered model.)
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Now my default approach to home repairs has long been to retreat into stupidity, in a process often accompanied by profanity that would make a sailor blush and collateral damage from flying wrenches.
But on Sunday, despite my rotten track record, I decided to replace the disposal myself and dove into the challenge. I was home alone, which fortunately meant the rest of humanity would be spared the embarrassing spectacle I was likely to make of myself.
Twice during the process, I ran into a brick wall and had no idea what to do next. In both cases, I walked away, distracting myself with a football game or some piano playing. Both times, my subconscious mind solved the problem that had seemed insurmountable when I was thinking about it just a few minutes before.
We now have a fully functioning, and more powerful , disposal, and I did it all by myself – without permanently damaging anything (including my reputation among friends and neighbors).
My garbage disposal experience reminded me once again that sometimes we need to walk away from our issues (personal or business) and give our minds the space to be creative. Working harder—or consciously working harder, anyway – isn’t always the answer. Sometimes the subconscious mind can do the heavy lifting in ways that our aggressive and demanding conscious mind cannot.
YOUR PATH FORWARD: Next time a problem seems intractable to you, go do something else – anything else – for a little while, and see if a new possibility comes to you.