problem solvingHave you noticed how you sometimes get stuck thinking about how to resolve a problem and no amount of thinking produces any result? Then you decide to leave the office and go for a walk in the park and suddenly you get this inspiration about a possible solution. Is this just a random coincidence or is there some explanation of why this happens?…

A number of classic studies have now revealed that this happens because of the power of the subconscious mind. One of these studies by a Stanford biologist called Bruce Lipton found that the conscious mind processes information at the rate of roughly 40 bits per second. The subconscious, though, can handle 20 million bits of information a second.

A second study at the University of Pennsylvania was conducted to authenticate the first study. It found that the first study’s figures were very conservative. It suggested the conscious mind could process information at 2000 bits per second but the subconscious mind could handle 400 billion bits of information.

What this really means is that the subconscious mind is 5000 to 2 million times faster than the conscious mind.

This is also why “leaving the problem” to go take a drive or a walk or a jog is an effective problem solving tool. When we take away the thinking part by engaging in a lightly stimulating activity, we give the subconscious mind an opportunity to take control of the information processing function.

The period that the subconscious mind is allowed to take over the information processing without conscious thinking is commonly referred to as the incubation period. 

Problem solving using this method can be broken down into 3 discrete steps:

1- Write down the problem

Research shows that writing down the problem is key for some reason. Why this is key is not certain however. Just talking about it or discussing it is not enough. Write down the problem in as specific and detailed a manner as possible.

2- Incubation

Leave the problem for an hour or several hours. Of course this depends on what the problem is and how urgent the resolution needs to be but in general, many personal or work related problems do not need instantaneous resolution. The incubation period requires a period of not thinking about the problem at all rather getting away from it by engaging in a stimulating but not very intense activity. Something like going for a trek or going for a swim or just lazing around is fine. Doing anything that requires mental work and thinking like playing chess or reading an article should be avoided.

3- Free Writing

After the incubation period, take a blank sheet of paper and start writing whatever comes to mind first as quickly as possible. In a short while, you will start getting many ideas related to how to resolve the problem you are facing.  Although this sounds too good to be true, this really works spectacularly well.

One problem that is incredibly well-suited to this three-step process is deciding what to write. You have a subject in mind but you just can’t get past the mental block. Follow this 3-step process i) write down the title of your planned writing  ii) incubate  iii) free write and almost always you will start to get tens of ideas on what to write.