“I will figure it out”
As far as entrepreneurial quotes go, this one is entirely unremarkable but utterly ubiquitous.
You figure stuff out – as we all do – because you’re an entrepreneur. That means you’re a problem solver. You brainstorm like you’re Thor.
When an ugly obstacle presents itself, you swing into superhero focus – you pull your notebook/smartphone/whiteboard close.
Turns out you’re doing it wrong. New neuroscience research reveals seriously counterintuitive truths about problem solving. This article gives you everything you need to put them into action, so you can solve problems better and bust through business challenges faster.
Proven: Your Problem-Solving neuroscience is broken
A study commissioned by the Vienna Medical School shows that mental impasse – what you know as feeling “stuck” – is correlated with a specific excess of gamma brainwave activity.
The gamma brain rhythm is enhanced by “focus”. Simply put, the study’s participants consistently demonstrated that thinking hard about one specific thing only increased the gamma wave stuck-ness.
Focus doesn’t work. It turns out that the “Eureka Moment” – a problem solving breakthrough – happens when the opposite occurs.
A University of Houston study had participants solve puzzles while recording brainwave activity. The participants who found the most elegant solutions experienced a sudden drop in gamma wave activity seconds before insight struck.
If you want to experience the moments of insight that rocket your business forward, you need to relax. When a sticky business problem can’t be solved with any of the “obvious” options, it’s this lateral out-of-nowhere insight that separates the amateur from the tycoon.
Neuroscientists have found that relaxation is essential to move front brain thinking – where we make obvious linear connections – to the back of the brain. It’s in this magical part of our cranium that the anterior superior temporal gyrus is activated. Think of this spot, right above your right ear, as the home of unique and lateral connection making abilities.
Alpha brainwaves are the key. They’re well documented to correlate with relaxing experiences and they’re basically the opposite of gamma rhythms. The fact that the research shows a boost in Alpha brainwaves five seconds before those eureka moments is the final nail in the coffin…
Focus does not work. Here’s what to do instead:
First, stop doing what you were doing.
It’s highly likely the stuck feeling you were getting while problem solving is preventing your mind from relaxing. Disconnecting and giving yourself permission not to brainstorm is essential as a first step – especially for entrepreneurs who can’t help but itch that problem!
Get outside, move or do whatever it takes to hit the mental reset. Then find insight on the other side of mental stillness. Like so…
This doesn’t have to be as scary as it might sound. There’s no need to climb a mountain and supplicate yourself at the feet of a Zen master. Ten minutes of eyes-shut wakefulness will produce alpha waves in total beginners. Check out www.calm.com to ease yourself into the practice.
2. Make music
A University of Norway study shows that musicians rapidly enter an alpha state when playing. Sherlock Holmes played violin for this very reason. The research also points to long term music practice leading to highly developed brains – brains that compare with top athletes and business achievers also tested for the study.
3. Listen to music
Not just any music. Baroque (specifically) is well documented to produce alpha brainwaves in listeners. Stick to slower Baroques from composers like Bach, Handel, Vivaldi or Corelli.
4. Make some art
For many of the same reasons as music, playing with a piece of clay or free sketching will yield many of the same results. Avoid being productive or pragmatic. Instead, find a kinesthetic medium in which your mind can freely wander. Tip for those who are taking my advice and playing with the inner child: Try free form legos!
5. Practice mastering a sport
Just like musicians, athletes under study exhibit alpha brainwaves when they access the “zone” and perform their genius. You can simulate the same thing by meditatively practicing the attentional, focal point of a sport. Shooting hoops, putting the green or juggling a soccer ball are good ones. Chess is the nerdy option, but it works wonders.
If nothing else, just quit trying so hard
Shifting your problem solving philosophy is important – even if you don’t practice any of these five methods yourself. By letting go of the obsessive focus on “figuring things out no matter what”, you free up your mind to make it’s own lateral – and vastly superior – connections.
The best part is what happens when you allow yourself to disengage completely. Putting your entrepreneurial intensity aside for a few moments fixes half the problem: You calm down. The anxiety the problem caused will disappear. Then, what you do next is an opportunity for inspiration.
There’s no research to back it up, but I believe that it’s after practicing stillness that we are truly open to be inspired – whether it’s by a great article, a novel, conversation, sunset or anything at all.
The best ideas aren’t within us, waiting to be extracted by brainstorm. They’re out there waiting to be discovered.