The Value of "Unthinking"


Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own thoughts too much. We can become overly reliant on our education, training and professional expertise that we restrict some of our full mental inspiration and creativity in tackling complex problems.

The paradox is that too much thinking can be bad for us. We go down the rabbit holes of our thoughts and lose our bearings.

Some psychologists, executive coaches and athletic coaches advocate for conscious "unthinking." 

Yale once did a study with rats in a T-shaped maze by placing food in a random sequence in such a way that the food was on the left 60% of the time and on the right 40% of the time. The rats quickly learned that the left had food more often, and went straight there ALL of the time, thus achieving a 60% success rate. When given the same test, young children did the same thing and got similar results.

Then Yale had undergraduates play the same game. They did worse than the rats and the children.

The undergrads were trying to calculate an underlying pattern or formula for predicting where the food would be, and that overthinking led them to underperform.

To make better decisions in this complex world, sometimes it's best to ignore some of the data and follow your gut.