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The Brain Lowdown on Creative Thinking and Good Decision Making

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Current research in brain science reveals a fascinating new awareness: we vastly overrate our conscious minds! Here’s what I mean: it turns out that only 4 percent of our brain is dedicated to conscious decision making. The other 96 percent is used to digest, mull, and/or distill information unconsciously. The best decisions a person can make is through these unconscious processes. The same is true for coming up with creative ideas.

We’ve all experienced this phenomenon—you leave the office and on the drive home, while thinking about “nothing,” the answer to the problem you’ve been working on pops into your head. Or you come up with a great new solution in the shower. Or on the golf course. Now we know that it’s precisely because you stopped thinking about it with the 4 percent of your mind that the 96 percent had a chance to work on it!

I first observed this decades ago when I was working with writers. They would get all excited about starting their book and then suddenly find themselves “having” to wash the kitchen floor or straighten their desk or rearrange their closet. Each and every one of them labeled this as procrastination. But, I wondered, why did every single one of them do the same thing? I began to give talks on the creative process and polled hundreds of writers. They all reported similar behavior. I began to encourage people to see this mindless activity as an essential part of the process of creativity. Now I know why!  

So what does this mean for you? Give yourself permission to mull over decisions, rather than forcing yourself to solve the problem or come up with a new idea.


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