When it comes to creative problem solving, you need to be able to access all three brain states: Focus, Wander and Empty. Whether you are facing a technical problem or a personal issue, the following steps will help you come up with brilliant solutions with ease.
Brain Tip #1: Focus in on the problem.
Focusing helps you define the problem and differentiate the details from other issues you are dealing with. When you focus, ask yourself to define 1) who is involved, 2) what happened really that you know to be true, 3) where and when any important incidents and discussions took place, 4) what were the results and the impact of the incidents and discussions, and 5) how often this problem has occurred before. Uncover these facts before you speculate why the problem exists. Solutions might show up as you articulate the facts.
Note: men are better able than women to focus on one thing at a time based on our brain biology. Women are natural multi-taskers, which means fenales need to work harder to zoom in and compartmentalize their thinking.
Brain Tip #2: Wander to let your brain work.
Once you thoroughly define the problem, you want to use your wandering mind to help you discover the solutions that aren’t readily apparent. In the past, I have written brain tips about the power of shutting your cognitive brain down to give your middle brain a chance to process information. However new research has proven that although you want to rest your brain to keep it healthy, a wandering mind is a better state for solving complex problems. Kalina Christoff, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia summarized her research by saying, “When people mind-wander, very far from the brain becoming blank, it in fact becomes really active…an expansive number of regions become quite active when your mind is wandering.”
Christoff found that when people are distracted and begin thinking about other things than the problem at hand, their executive network is far more active than when focusing on one problem. Whether you are cooking, playing sports or planning your next vacation, you are allowing your brain to process the complex problem while your brain is in an active state.
In fact, surfing the net at work for pleasure actually increases our concentration levels and helps make a more productive workforce, according to a new University of Melbourne study. Dr Brent Coker, from the Department of Management and Marketing, says that workers who engage in ‘Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing’ (WILB) are more productive than those who don’t.
“People who surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,” he says.
Managers who complain about their employees watching YouTube videos or doing their personal email need to take heed. According to the study of 300 workers, 70% of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB. Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products and reading online news sites. Dr. Coker surmises that short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to relax and open up, leading to both higher concentration when people return their focus to a problem and increased productivity.
Note: The female brain tends to wander naturally. Since they make more connections in any given moment, it is wise for men to listen to all their ideas before discounting them as irrelevant. There can be seeds of brilliance in the off-base idea.
Brain Tip #3: Rest to refresh your overworked brain.
Finally, the human brain needs to take a rest to refresh when you are working hard. You need to give your decisions time to brew in your head. Lack of sleep will affect your judgment. Worrying and time pressures will hinder your ability to see options. It’s too bad most cultures don’t allow naps during the day. When I used to work in Taiwan, everyone was expected to lay their head on their desks after lunch for about fifteen minutes to rest and even to sleep if they could. This is a wonderful way to reboot your brain.
Note: The male brain goes into a “rest state” many times throughout the day whereas the female brain is hard to turn off. Women, learning how to shut down and be present to the moment will serve both the health of your brain and your body. Men, don’t make up what you miss when you zone out. Ask a woman to fill you in.