Sleep on it (Exercise #7)

April 29, 2006

Our culture has become highly favorable to the conscious, deliberate, weighed decision as favorable to making “gut decisions” or decisions “on a feeling”, which are left more as anecdotal or possibly superstitious practices for quality decision making. However, we’re slowly finding scientific studies that validate and illuminate techniques for incorporating our subconscious into making decisions regarding complicated problems.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the magical number 7 plus or minus 2 that George A. Miller proposed in 1956 as the limit for the amount of information that we can hold in our short-term memory at a given time. I just read via wikipedia that this has been found to be slightly inaccurate. The real limit may actually be time-based: the amount of sound that we can store in our working memories. Rather than 7 chunks of data, the real limit may be about 2 seconds of sound. For example, the limit for people who speak faster (such as the Chinese) is closer to 9 plus or minus 2, and for the Welsh the number is closer to 6 plus or minus two.

In any case, most cognitive psychologists do believe that the short-term memory (or working memory) that we use to manipulate information with our consciousness differs structurally and functionally from long-term memory. To move information from working memory to long-term memory requires a physical change in the neurons of the brain to occur… something that can occur while awake, but is also strongly linked with the activities of the brain during sleep.

The implications of this are pretty interesting and can be practically applied to your own decision-making. Say that you’re trying to decide whether or not you should move to a new city. Recent studies show that decisions which have fewer than 10 factors or so are better made the old fashioned way: consciously and deliberately. However, for decisions which have more than 10 or so factors, people who “sleep on it” are more likely to make a better choice, and less likely to regret their choice, than people who don’t sleep on it, or even people who make their decision based on a long lists of pros and cons.

However, a key distinction here is that the problem must be introduced before you sleep. So, to try this out, simply review a difficult problem in your life for a few minutes before you go to sleep. Try to conjure up as many of the factors involved as you can, warming them up in a way. Then, fall asleep and when you wake up, check how does your gut feel about the decision?

To read more about the exact studies conducted in this area, check out these additional articles:

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One Response to “Sleep on it (Exercise #7)”


  1. Soving Problem With Subconscious

    So, if you need a solution to your problem, please impress your subconscious of what your problem is and tell it that you are looking for the best solution. Tell the subconscious also that you would let it to decide for you and that you would trust it …


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