How to solve complex problems? Shut up the Idiot

Forgive me. This is not an insult to others, but more about us, or perhaps more precisely our conscious mind. So, within that context I feel its OK to say quite frankly he’s an Idiot.

Don’t get me wrong, just because he’s an Idiot does not mean he’s not useful. Your conscious mind is good at some things like reasoning and logic. Its also responsible for voluntary movement like moving your arm or typing at a keyboard. So far so good.

He’s good at rudimental sequential tasks. However, in the same breath he is limited by only doing one thing at a time. You know that idea of multi-tasking. It’s been proven to be a total myth. Your conscious brain is physically incapable of multitasking. It’s beyond its job specification. Now you might be very good at getting your conscious mind to quickly switch from one task to another. But it cannot do two things at once, its just not the way it works.

Here is some other things it cannot do — deep level problem solving and creative thinking. So if not him, who, or what is doing that stuff?

Welcome to your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind is your genie in a bottle. It’s also very powerful, having many times the capacity and processing power of the conscious mind.

But even he has his limitations. He won’t help you ride a bike, he leaves that to the Idiot. But you know what, he might help you come up with an idea for a better one.

So far so good. Two parts of the brain with fairly clear and useful symbiotic responsibilities. Where’s the problem? Well, want to know what else the conscious mind is responsible for? It also happens to control your access to your subconscious mind. When you throw things in it, because of it own limited capacity, it has to decide what to do with it. Store it, give it to your subconscious to process on a deeper level or throw it away. Again thats quite useful. But where it really gets ideas above its station is in also controlling what comes out.

Give the conscious mind a problem, and he won’t come back with a very smart answer. And that answer will usually be drink more coffee, or just do the logical thing, or the obvious thing, or the thing it knows how to do. If you solely relied on it, you wouldn’t learn anything worth while, or make any leaps of progress.

Give the subconscious mind a problem, and you’ll be amazed with what it comes back with. It goes away, has its own little brain storm, gathers some inspiration, comes up with some new ideas, joins seemingly unrelated dots and creates a new story that helps you move forward. Creative people instinctively know this.

However, the subconscious mind doesn’t really like rules or such mundane things as deadlines. It’ll come back when its good and ready, and rarely performs on demand. Which is when its other problem occurs. When its done its work, its new found wisdom and insight often gets stuck there, because there is an Idiot in the way standing sentry stopping it getting out.

The Idiot is far too busy focussing on its next task to listen to its wiser brother. Or maybe it got sucked in to trying to solve the same problem with reasoning and logic. Logic and reasoning are exhausting bed fellows for anything above rudimentary tasks and thinking. There is too much data to make sense of and it leads to stress, confusion and mind melt to even try. You know that brainstorm you had that wasn’t productive? Blame the Idiot. He took over, trying to reason his way out of the problem.

However, there is light at the end of this proverbial mind tunnel. Every wondered why you have the best ideas in the shower? Well its partly because the idiot is still half asleep, but mainly because while you sleep your subconscious mind has been busy…

It’s no coincidence you create and live your dreams in your sleep. In sleep, the subconscious mind is refreshed, active and inspired. It’s had a few hours where it hasn’t had the Idiot feeding it banal tasks. It’s had some quality thinking time, chewing the cud, playing mind bongos, smoking the synaptic shit, and ta-dah!, whilst you distracted the idiot with the physical task of cleaning your bits in the shower, boom! there you go.. it slips out a great idea.

You may also notice this happens whilst you’re doing anything physical, especially exercise. Keep the idiot busy pumping cranks, shuffling feet, even shooting a few waste basket hoops, then often that problem you had been struggling with magically becomes easier to solve, and with much better quality of thinking than the Idiot was capable of. And the longer you keep it busy, the more open you leave the gates to receive its subconscious wisdom.

So, what to learn? Well if you want to solve anything beyond rudimentary problems. Here’s what you should do:

1. Clearly define the problem for the Idiot. Literally, or metaphorically write it/yourself a brief. The Idiot is more inclined to let it pass into the subconscious for processing if it knows it is a well defined problem, it can’t solve by itself.

2. Go back and make sure that is the problem. Get the logic/reasoning fella to ask some good questions. No matter how good your subconscious brain, garbage in still = garbage out.

3. Maybe have a little short brainstorm with some other people might help make the understanding of the problem clear, give it some pointers and frames of reference of where to start, or what dots it might like to consider joining.

4. When that brainstorm becomes remotely stuck, as it will, exhausted by its own logic, STOP! The Idiot has done it’s work. Post carefully into the subconscious mind, and walk away and do something else.

5. Ideally sleep on it. Failing that, go for a ride or a walk. Failing that, throw some darts.

6. Come back and check in on it. Little and often. Given its adventurous spirit, occasionally it goes off on a fairy tale tangent. Get the Idiot to apply some logic and reasoning testing and if necessary drag it back on track.

7. Nudge and nurture it with inspiration. Read stuff, collect stuff, talk to people with other outlooks and views, look at stuff, feed it some nutrients. Rich crops don’t come from barren lands. Then leave it alone. You need time to grow beautiful flowers.

8. Capture the outputs. Have a recording device to hand at all times — paper/pen, phones and so on. You never know when the subconscious will have done its work, and popped out the answer. And remember the conscious mind to which you have delivered that valuable idea has very little memory capacity as its too busy focussing on the next task, so capture is all important.

9. At every possible opportunity, cook, meditate, run, ride, make, play. Anything to try and keep the Idiot quiet or busy.

10. When the inspiration comes, give it back to the Idiot to do something practical with it: make a plan, make the thing, write the thing, tell others — its good at that stuff.

Even Idiots have their uses.