David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.
“Think! Think harder. Come on! Think.” How often have you said that to yourself? If you just think harder and faster, you’ll figure it out.
Science is saying, “Wait a minute.” Literally, the message is, “Wait a minute.” Your most creative ideas do not come to you after you squint and make a thinking sound, “mmmmm.” Research is pointing to a better way to get the best answers: It’s through your unconscious mind.
Ap Dijkersterhuis and Loran Nordgren of the University of Amsterdam have found in their extensive research that people make better decisions if they involve unconscious thinking. In their research paper A Theory of Unconscious Thought they describe how “…unconscious thinkers made better decisions than conscious thinkers or immediate choosers.” Dijkersterhuis and Nordgren discovered that when people were given an opportunity to think about other things following the presentation of a problem to solve, they did better than participants who were asked to solve the problem immediately, or those who were asked to concentrate on the problem before they responded.
Think about it. When have some of the best and most important ideas come to you in your life? Where were you? What were you doing at the time?
Most of us report that our most creative ideas come to us when we’re exercising, reading a thought-provoking book, praying, meditating, doing laundry, playing with our children, sitting on a plane, driving a car, or when we wake up in the morning.
Isn’t it great when a big idea suddenly comes to you? But how is it possible? You weren’t even thinking about it; your focus was somewhere else. Your conscious thought didn’t produce it. It was your unconscious mind at work.
Our brain never sleeps; it’s always on. Our brain is considered the most powerful supercomputer on the planet; its memory and problem solving power are unequaled.
Dijkersterhuis and Nordgren describe the comparative power of the conscious and unconscious mind. “Depending on the context, consciousness can process between 10 and 60 bites per second. As an illustration, if you read you process about 45 bits per second, which corresponds to a fairly short sentence. The entire human system combined, however, was argued to be able to process about 11,200,000 bits.”
So how do you use that power every day? What do you plug into your own personal supercomputer every day? What do you give it to think about? What’s your positive ritual?
Here’s what I do each morning. Everyday after my “awe and gratitude” exercise (see my March column), I tell myself that I am a writer. And I get detailed. I describe everything I find gratifying about writing, and I visualize my plans. Why? I love writing and I want to do more of it. I feed my supercomputer with these thoughts every day. Every morning I have a positive ritual of focusing my thinking on what I enjoy doing the most.
Psychology researcher Jon Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis wrote, “And whenever one pursues a goal, a part of the mind automatically monitors progress, so that it can order corrections or know when success has been achieved.”
So start each day by thinking about what you love to do. Give your unconscious mind something to think about while you’re off consciously doing other things.
Enjoy your next “ah-hah” moment!
Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L. (2006). A theory of unconscious thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), 95-109.
Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M., Nordren, L., & van Baaren, R. (2006). On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect. Science, 311(5763), 1005-1007.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Concentration courtesy of Nancy Waldman