The situation whereby a solution to problem – especially one we’ve been thinking over for a while – comes to us when we’re giving it the least amount of thought, is probably pretty familiar. The challenge therefore is to place yourself in situations where you are not giving such problems direct thought:
You can’t directly control where your thoughts drift. If you’re controlling them, they’re not drifting. But you can control them indirectly, by controlling what situations you let yourself get into. That has been the lesson for me: be careful what you let become critical to you. Try to get yourself into situations where the most urgent problems are ones you want think about.
No matter how open, independent, or free, we regard our thinking and attitudes to be, our thought is more restricted, and open to suggestion, than we believe.
Studies have found that upon entering an office, people behave more competitively when they see a sharp leather briefcase on the desk, they talk more softly when there is a picture of a library on the wall, and they keep their desk tidier when there is a vague scent of cleaning agent in the air. But none of them are consciously aware of the influence of their environment.
Jonah Lehrer offers some interesting insights into the way we make decisions, and just how much of the process is influenced by emotions:
It turns out that we weren’t engineered to be rational or logical or even particularly deliberate. Instead, our mind holds a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved with the production of emotion. Whenever we make a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when we try to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence our judgment.
Unrelated, but the post also included this well-being/time management tip: “The secret to happiness is not wasting time on irrelevant decisions.”