When you make a big decision, do you think it’s best to:
A) Make an immediate decision,
B) Take some time to think about the pros and cons and then decide, or
C): Consider the pros and cons, then forget about it and do something else, and later come back to make a decision?
It turns out that people are happiest with their decisions when they do C), that is, take some time, get distracted from thinking about the issue, and then make a decision based on reason and their intuition.
While the unconscious gets blamed for a lot of emotional upheaval, when decisions are complex, the unconscious is able to contribute vital information inaccessible to the conscious mind.
Conscious thought focuses well on straight-forward issues. Conscious decision-making processes, such as listing pros and cons and studying statistics, are best used when there are just a few concrete variables in the decision, like deciding what lawn mower to buy.
The unconscious, on the other hand, has a holistic ability to do parallel processing and access countless hidden clues about people and situations that the conscious mind does not access easily. It can pick up obscure patterns and connections, as well as hidden emotional and physical sensations.
The unconscious works best on a particular problem when the conscious, rational mind is not interfering with the unconscious because it is distracted by some other endeavor. “I better sleep on it,” is a wonderful way to allow the unconscious to uncover those key factors in deciding whether to buy a particular home, for example. Such factors might include the emotional impact on you, the feeling of the neighborhood, the subtle cues like smells and views, and perhaps clues of construction quality not picked up consciously.
In this age of rapid communication, people might make better decisions when they resist the temptation to make snap decisions or even to simply list the pros and cons. In addition to using objective reasoning, they might take a bike ride, sleep on it, watch a movie, or take a couple of weeks for big decisions and see what the unconscious has to contribute.
It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else. Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward. In the case of information loss and black holes, it was 29 years.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
Recommended: David Brooks “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.”