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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

A Simple Way to Solve Problems While You Sleep

man sleeping
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Solve dilemmas while you sleep.

Despite how dubious it sounds, it’s a tried-and-true method.

Josh Waitzkin, chess prodigy and author of The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, discusses his method of solution-finding in episode 210 of The Tim Ferriss Show. Waitzkin swears by the sleep-solving method he’s employed for more than 20 years in his personal and professional life.

A few hours before bed, think deeply about the question, concept, or problem you’re struggling with. Maybe you’re considering a new career path, mulling over a hostile conversation with a lazy co-worker, or thinking about quitting your job.

Whatever it is—large or small—spend a few minutes (or more if you can spare it) letting the issue flood your mind.

Then, move onto another task—working out, folding laundry, prepping dinner—and inadvertently let the dilemma sink to your subconscious. In other words, try to forget about it, or, as Waitzkin advises, “release it completely.” Granted, that’s easier said than done, but you’re trying to avoid actively thinking up solutions at this stage.

Next, before you hit the hay, grab a notebook and place it within arm’s reach of your bed. The moment you wake up you’ll want to start writing down whatever comes to mind—hopefully some insight to what you were fixated on the previous day.

Waitzkin calls this “pre-input brainstorming.” It’s where you let your mind, fresh from sleep, openly brainstorm before you flood it with impressions from your phone, the news, and everything else. With the lack of competing distractions, you can focus on new discoveries your brain generated while you were in la-la land.

While you might not find an easy, golden-ticket solution, you might discover a few creative thoughts that help shape your next steps. With paper, pen, sleep, and your thoughts as the only required materials, it’s a low-key experiment that just may yield meaningful results. And you never know: You could have a “Eureka!” moment of your own.