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5 Steps To Harness Your Brain’s Unconscious Decision-Making Powers

Source | FastCompany : By NEIL PAVITT

“Have you not noticed that, often, what was dark and perplexing to you the night before,” the inventor Alexander Graham Bell once asked, “is found to be perfectly solved the next morning?”

Probably, you have. If “sleeping on it” works, it’s partly because when you sleep, your prefrontal cortex—the center of what makes you, you—powers down. That means your personality, your decisions, your social controls go to sleep with you. The night is when your unconscious really does have free rein. It can do its work without interference. Here’s how that process works and what you can do to leverage it when you’ve got tough decisions waiting on you in the morning.


While our conscious mind rests, our unconscious is busy making sense of the day’s events and filing them away in long-term memory. And if there are any problems on your mind, your unconscious will work on those, too. And it’s true, as Graham Bell pointed out, that a problem can seem insurmountable when you go to bed, but then when you wake up, it doesn’t seem so daunting. Here’s the part of his quote that precedes the one above:

I am a believer in unconscious cerebration. The brain is working all the time, though we do not know it. At night, it follows up what we think in the daytime. When I have worked a long time on one thing, I make it a point to bring all the facts regarding it together before I retire; and I have often been surprised at the results.

If your unconscious is aware that your conscious mind has been working hard on a problem, come nighttime, it will put its full processing power behind it. But the outcome of that process depends on a couple of things: first, your conscious mind needs to have been working hard on the problem, and second, you need to passionately require an answer in order to get your unconscious to work on it. It’s like the classic children’s fairytale “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” where the penniless shoemaker lays out his last piece of cloth, and the elves come in the night and turn it into a beautiful pair of shoes.

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