Category Archives: Problem Solving

Turn the radio off (auditory overload)

Do you always have the radio on in the background?

From the moment I wake up in the morning until I get out of the car at the office, the radio spews its news out at me (I find news more stimulating than music).

That was true until recently, when my car radio stopped working. After a few quiet journeys with no radio blaring at me, I suddenly realized that solutions to a number of problems I had been mulling over had popped into my head while driving.

I can’t prove the science behind it, but I know intuitively that when the radio, TV or MP3 player is on, it continuously stimulates our sensory inputs with relatively useless information. This suppresses our own original and creative thoughts that would otherwise fill the void. (By constantly saturating our inputs with irrelevant chatter, could we be subconsciously “protecting” ourselves against having to deal with such things?)

So next time you have the urge to hose yourself down with a torrent of mind-numbing auditory input, try listening to your own mind for a while instead.


Idle minds solve problems

Cognitive psychologist Malia Mason, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, has published research that backs up my earlier post on how to solve problems using your subconscious mind. I know I’m right, but it’s comforting to know that the science backs it up. [Thank you Deus|Diabolus for bringing it to my attention.]

Using an MRI machine, Dr. Mason showed that when we engage in familiar activities that do not tax our minds, our minds go to work on problems we’ve accumulated but have not yet solved.

I’ve found that this type of subconscious “thinking,” which usually happens to me when I go for a run or a long drive, is far more creative than trying to force a solution using conscious thought.

How to solve problems: let your subconscious do the thinking

When I have an important (or tough) problem to solve, I often afford myself the luxury of shelving it for a few days, even if I think I can already see a solution. During this time, I don’t think about it and it does not weigh on my mind – I’m busy doing other things. Although I’m not consciously thinking about it, it percolates away in my subconscious, and a solution often announces itself when I least expect it. Continue reading