Listening to Your Brain

When was the last time you paused long enough to “listen to your brain think?” I’m not talking about the intentional processing that takes place when you are trying to address a specific challenge. I mean being quiet long enough for thoughts and ideas to bubble up on their own. Historically, I did this when I traveled by car, often for several hours at a time on my way to meetings. No music, no email or phone calls, just a quiet stretch where my subconscious had the time and space to reveal its wisdom.

When the pandemic prompted many of those meetings to become virtual, that processing time disappeared. Maybe some people can do deep thinking in the midst of a busy office setting, but I am not one of them. I may have gained efficiency by reducing travel time, but I also lost the built-in pause needed for the ideas that had been rolling around in my mind to come to the forefront . . . or for seemingly disconnected thoughts and ideas to emerge and blend together in a new and unique way.

I believe that kind of “simmered” thinking is part of the secret sauce of great leadership, and it doesn’t happen by accident. So how, in our ever-more over-scheduled leadership roles, can we intentionally foster the insight and wisdom that come from listening to your brain think?

1. Regularly pour in new ideas.

Articles, podcasts, books and other opportunities to learn about topics both within and outside your industry create a library of information to draw from when considering a particular challenge. Even reading fiction can provide context or insight that may transfer to a scenario with which you are faced.

2. Put your challenge on to simmer.

Obviously, this doesn’t work with a time sensitive matter, but whenever possible consider the issue before you and the seeming barriers to a successful solution, then specifically identify that you need to give it time to simmer, and move on. Spending additional time consciously thinking about it rarely brings a quicker solution. Put it in your mind to simmer and then let it go.

3. Get quiet.

How many times has a breakthrough ideas come to you first thing in the morning, or in the shower, before your brain has fully engaged with the day before you? For me, it may also happen when I am listening to the sounds of nature . . . or in the car listening to nothing at all. The tricky part is, you can’t force it. You have to have the patience to allow the ideas to bubble up on their own. It’s about listening, not telling.

The challenges before leaders today are tougher than ever before. But hey, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Maybe you should spend more time listening to your brain.

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