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Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

We’ve all been faced with challenges and difficult choices. It can be tempting to agonize over the best response or obsess over a solution, but even with your best effort, you may not be able decide what to do.

The more you think about your problem, the more difficult it becomes to get the answer. You may feel frustrated as your desire to resolve the issue grows. Impatience sets in, and your brain gets more stuck than ever.

Soon you’re tired, cranky, and mentally exhausted because your mind has been running in circles all day. But sometimes the solution is as simple as sleeping on the problem.

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Stop spinning your wheels and go to sleep

In periods of high stress, taking a rest may be the the furthest thing from your mind, but it might be the best thing for you. If you allow yourself to sleep on the issue, the answer will come to you.

A study in Memory and Cognition found that people perform problem-solving tasks more effectively after sleep.[1] The effectiveness of sleep in the problem solving equation may be related to a psychological concept called the “Incubation Effect.” The Incubation Effect, put forth by Graham Wallas in 1926, suggests that the brain is more effective at overcoming obstacles when it is given time to rest.[2]

If you have ever been unable to produce an answer to a question that you should know only have the answer pop into your head in the middle of the night, you have experienced the Incubation Effect firsthand.

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Psychologists aren’t sure if this happens because the brain is less distracted during sleep, or if the subconscious continues to work on the problem even when you aren’t consciously processing through it. Either way, science supports sleeping to solve complex problems.

Dreams will secretly inspire you

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries and artistic and literary masterpieces were inspired by dreams. For example, Otto Loewi discovered that nerve impulses were caused by chemicals during a series of dreams.[3]

When you sleep, your brain is able to process and consolidate the experiences you had when you were awake. Sleeping after you learn something new helps your brain encode the new information into your long-term memory.[4]

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Beyond just processing information, certain phases of the sleep cycle are essential for problem solving. REM sleep stimulates associative networks to unlock new potential connections and solutions that may have gone unnoticed during your waking hours.[5]

Focusing on a problem intently can keep you from solving it

Your brain operates in two distinct modes: focused and diffused mode. Focused mode is the state in which you are actively concentrating on stimuli.[6] When you’re intent on finding an answer, your mind stays in focused mode. This can cause you to get tunnel vision, and it can make it impossible to think outside the box.

The phenomenon known as the Einstellung Effect can also prevent you from finding novel solutions to complex problems.[7] The Einstellung Effect arises when the information that you already know blocks your creativity and impedes innovation. As you gain experience with a certain type of problem, your brain attempts to run on autopilot instead of critically analyzing the issue.

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When you get frustrated, it’s time to take a break

If you’re feeling stuck, it’s best to step back and take a break. Your frustration will only serve to block your ability to find a solution or make a decision. Allow yourself a solid night of sleep before you make your choice or attempt to solve your problem.

You’ll be amazed at how capable your brain is when you let it to work as it was meant to work. When you’ve hit a wall in your problem-solving process, stop thinking about it, and get some sleep.

It may be difficult to let the issue go, but you have everything you need within yourself already. You only need to give your mind the chance to work things out for you. Check out this article to fall asleep faster: 10 Simple Hacks To Fall Asleep In 30 Seconds, Backed By Science

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

Reference

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 16, 2019

6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

Have you ever thought of yourself as a problem solver? I’m guessing not. But in reality, we are constantly solving problems. And the better our problem solving skills are, the easier our lives are.

Problems arise in many shapes and forms. They can be mundane, everyday problems, or larger more complex problems:

What to have for dinner tonight?

Which route to take to work?

How to fix a project that’s running behind schedule?

How to change from an uninspiring job to a career you’re really passionate about?

Every day, you’ll be faced with at least one problem to solve. But it gets easier when you realize that problems are simply choices. There’s nothing ‘scary’ about them other than having to make a decision.

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No matter what job you’re in, where you live, who your partner is, how many friends you have, you will be judged on your ability to solve problems. Because problems equal hassles for everyone concerned. And people don’t like hassle. So the more problems you can solve, the less hassle all-round, the happier people are with you. Everyone wins.

Why Are Problem Solving Skills Important?

Problem is something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with. It can be a task, a situation, or even a person. Problem solving involves methods and skills to find the best solutions to problems.

Problem solving is important because we all have decisions to make, and questions to answer in our lives. Amazing people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., are all great problems solvers. Good parents, teachers, doctors and waiters all have to be good at solving different sort of problems as well.

Problem solving skills are for our everyday lives.

How to Enhance Problem Solving Skills

Most people believe that you have to be very intelligent in order to be a good problem solver, but that’s not true.

You don’t have to be super smart to be a problem solver, you just need practice.

When you understand the different steps to solve a problem, you’ll be able to come up with great solutions.

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1. Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem

Neuroscientists have proven that your brain cannot find solutions if you focus on the problem.[1] This is because when you focus on the problem, you’re effectively feeding ‘negativity,’ which in turn activates negative emotions in the brain. These emotions block potential solutions.

I’m not saying you should ‘ignore the problem,’ instead, try to remain calm. It helps to first, acknowledge the problem; and then, move your focus to a solution-oriented mindset where you keep fixed on what the ‘answer’ could be, rather than lingering on ‘what went wrong’ and ‘who’s fault it is’.

2. Adapt 5 Whys to Clearly Define the Problem

5 Whys is a problem solving framework to help you get to the root of a problem.

By repeatedly asking the question “why” on a problem, you can dig into the root cause of a problem, and that’s how you can find the best solution to tackle the root problem once and for all. And it can go deeper than just asking why for five times.

For example:

If the problem is “always late to work”…

  • Why am I late to work?
    I always click the snooze button and just want to go on sleeping.
  • Why do I want to go on sleeping?
    I feel so tired in the morning.
  • Why do I feel tired in the morning?
    I slept late the night before, that’s why.
  • Why did I sleep late?
    I wasn’t sleepy after drinking coffee, and I just kept scrolling my Facebook feed and somehow I couldn’t stop.
  • Why did I drink coffee?
    Because I was too sleepy at work in the afternoon, not having enough sleep the night before.

So there you see, if you didn’t try to dig out the root of the problem, you may just set a few more alarms and have it beep every five minutes in the morning. But in fact, the problem you need to solve is to quit Facebook surfing endlessly at night so you’ll feel more energetic in the day time, and you won’t even need coffee.

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3. Simplify Things

As human beings, we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be! Try simplifying your problem by generalizing it.

Remove all the details and go back to the basics. Try looking for a really easy, obvious solution – you might be surprised at the results! And we all know that it’s often the simple things that are the most productive.

4. List out as Many Solutions as Possible

Try to come up with ‘ALL POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS’ – even if they seem ridiculous at first. It’s important you keep an open mind to boost creative thinking, which can trigger potential solutions.

Coming from 10 years in the corporate advertising industry, it is drummed into you that ‘No idea is a bad idea’ and this aids creative thinking in brainstorms and other problem-solving techniques.

Whatever you do, do not ridicule yourself for coming up with ‘stupid solutions’ as it’s often the crazy ideas that trigger other more viable solutions.

5. Think Laterally

Change the ‘direction’ of your thoughts by thinking laterally. Pay attention to the saying,

‘You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging it deeper.”

Try to change your approach and look at things in a new way. You can try flipping your objective around and looking for a solution that is the polar opposite!

Even if it feels silly, a fresh and unique approach usually stimulates a fresh solution.

6. Use Language That Creates Possibility

Lead your thinking with phrases like ‘what if…’ and ‘imagine if…’ These terms open up our brains to think creatively and encourage solutions.

Avoid closed, negative language such as ‘I don’t think…’ or ‘But this is not right…’.

The Bottom Line

There’s nothing scary about a problem when you start to adapt my advice.

Try not to view problems as ‘scary’ things! If you think about what a problem really is, it’s really just feedback on your current situation.

Every problem is telling you that something is not currently working and that you need to find a new way around it.

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So try to approach problems neutrally – without any judgment. Practice focusing on defining a problem, keep calm and not to make things too complicated.

More About Problem Solving

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Planet of Success: Problem vs Solution Focused Thinking

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