A while ago – and again I have lost any links or references to it – I saw a documentary on how the subconscious can take over and solve tricky problems for you. I think it was a BBC Horizon episode but could be wrong.
It described how many great thinkers often had similar habits – like going for a walk at midday, after which the ideas would come. For many years this was attributed to perhaps the health benefits of such activities, the increase in endorphins perhaps vitalizing the brain. Perhaps that is a part of it.
Recent research has shown though that certain parts of the brain that are normally dormant start to become active under these sorts of circumstances. When someone has been struggling with a problem or a puzzle and then their thoughts are diverted onto something else – something simpler and less taxing on the mind.
Its seem that while your conscious brain is trying to solve a problem your subconscious can’t or won’t go near it. Leave the problem alone and it gets it grubby hands on it. And unhindered by all the distractions thrown at the conscious mind does a better job if it.
Anyway – it seems like something I kind of knew at some level but had never vocalised or thought about in concrete terms. After watching the program though I began to see it happening more and more – or maybe I am now biased to see that!
Today was a prime example. All last week I have been struggling with a problem at work – I won’t bore you with details, it involved a very very complex SQL query that worked fine in one situation but not in another – with no logical answer. I had tried all kinds of solutions and approaches all week with no success. To be fair to myself there was an awful lot else going on as well so I was not 100% focused on it. But if I had been I don’t think it would have made a difference. I was kind of blocked from the answer.
So this weekend I forgot all about it and spend some quality time with the wife and kids. It was Rachel’s birthday and since I have spent so much extra time at work lately I was determined not to do any this weekend.
I went to bed Sunday night – not with dread but knowing that my task for Monday was to hunker and down and crack this particular nut. I woke up Monday morning and the answer – which should have been obvious – in my head. It just popped in there.
I rushed to work eager to try it out, now dreading the possibility that it might not work. It did! That is a good start to the week!