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Published on October 6, 2017

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 September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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