It’s the key to unlocking your brain’s full potential.
Have you ever had a flash of inspiration in the shower? A moment of clarity for that problem that has been dogging you for days? If so, you’re not alone, and there’s a perfectly good explanation for it.
Our brain works in mysterious ways, but scientists are putting the pieces together to help us use the power of thinking to be more productive.
Focused thinking and diffused thinking are two different modes of thought that the human brain can operate in. They were popularized by Barbara Oakley in her best-selling book, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).
What is Focused Thinking?
Focused thinking is when the brain is concentrated on a specific task or concern and can filter out distractions and irrelevant information. It’s for times when you need to be laser-focused on the task at hand.
Focused thinking is essential for tasks that require concentration and attention to detail, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and completing complex projects.
It is often associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, which is said to be responsible for logical reasoning and analytical thinking.
What is Diffused Thinking?
Diffused thinking is when the brain is in a more relaxed state, allowing for the free flow of ideas and connections to be made between different pieces of information.
Diffused thinking is more open-ended. It is associated with the right hemisphere of the brain, which is typically linked with creativity and intuition.
This mode of thought is essential for brainstorming, generating new ideas, and making connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.
When faced with a difficult problem, it can be helpful to take a break and allow the brain to shift into a diffused thinking mode before returning to the problem with a fresh perspective.
Go for a walk, listen to some music, or make lunch. New insights will come naturally when you take some time to disconnect from the task at hand. Let your subconscious take over and process the issue in the background.
How to Use Focused and Diffused Thinking
Let’s recap. Focused thinking is essential for tasks that require concentration and attention to detail, while diffused thinking is essential for brainstorming, generating new ideas, and making connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.
When combined, they are a powerful force that can increase your productivity and creativity. Sometimes we switch between focused and diffused thinking without, well, thinking, but other times it can be helpful to be more deliberate about this.
While focused thinking is a more traditional approach to problem-solving, there is only so much time you can remain focused on a single task before your brain starts to give up. At that point, it’s time for a break.
Experiment with time blocking or the Pomodoro Technique to work for short sprints. Then, take that break. Let your mind wander so diffused thinking can take over. When you return to your focused state, you will be amazed at how much your brain will be better equipped to work on the tasks that need your attention.
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