Making a Difficult Decision? Maybe You Should Sleep on It


sleepWhen you were young, making a difficult decision could be daunting. “Sleep on it,” your mother advised. And it turns out she was right.

In a LinkedIn article, Ryan Holmes, CEO at HootSuite, writes: “There’s great merit to being a decisive leader and trusting your gut. … However, when it comes to making more complicated, high-impact decisions, it is crucial to take some time out – or to ‘sleep on it.'”

Referring to research by neuroscience professor Justin Davis, Holmes reports that our brains have two systems for decision making.

The first is useful for quick decisions and is often based on gut feelings. And while it works well for less important decisions, it can blind us to the facts or, worse yet, to our personal biases.

The second, says Holmes, is a “slower system – a ‘higher order’ network that allows us to objectively reason and make rational decisions.”

In New Scientist, Gaia Vince agrees: “Complex decisions are best left to your unconscious mind to work out … and over-thinking a problem could lead to expensive mistakes.”

Vince quotes Dutch social psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis: “At some point in our evolution, we started to make decisions consciously, and we’re not very good at it. We should learn to let our unconscious handle the complicated things.”

Suggests Holmes, “When you’re faced with an especially complicated or consequential decision at work, try not obsessing on it … instead, let it ‘spin’ in the back of your mind for a while.”

Big decision? Resist your gut reaction and take a breather. Why not sleep on it?