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Sleeping One’s Way to Sound Decisions

Early on in my career, I worked with a colleague whose penchant for postponing decisions was legendary. Tell him something urgent and he’s first reaction would often be, “Let me think about it.” Press him some more and he’d possibly say, “Arre Baba! What’s the hurry? Let me sleep over it and get back to you first thing tomorrow!”

This would often leave us youngsters frustrated and irritated. Why in the deuce does he need an overnight think to decide? Come to think of it, how in the deuce can he ponder over something in his sleep? All these questions would come think and fast into our hyperactive minds and we concluded that the man was simply ‘indecisive’. That, or he believed in the old theory that every decision dissatisfies someone!

I personally subscribed to the second theory as the man was a trade union leader and his sole aim was to appear politically correct in all of his dealings with different segments of the staff. He was equanimous in all his dealings and that made me believe, quite erroneously as I gather now, that the man preferred status quo ante over active decision making.

It was only much later in my innings as a manager that I realized the importance of listening a lot before arriving at a decision. Most times we get into decision-making mode without actually satisfying ourselves that all sides of the argument has been duly addressed by our mind. I recall another one of my bosses whose constant refrain was “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

More importantly, the mind only assimilates what the eyes perceive and the eyes only see what it wants to. I recall during my initiation into Coaching, I was taught the art of putting oneself in the other’s position to try and understand a perspective that would be diametrically opposite to one’s own beliefs. An instant decision often gets in the way of our ability to transpose ourselves.

This is possibly where the unconscious comes into play. A recent article published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) on The Unconscious Executive brings to fore empirical evidence that it is the unconscious mind that is capable of carefully considering all options before taking that crucial decision.

The article quotes research done by a team of scientists to suggest that unconscious thought supports the kind of mental organization needed for making complex decisions. In addition, unconscious thought might be more dependable than conscious thought when we are low on energy.

One more reason why we should get our eight hours of sleep!

The article concludes with the thought that since we sleep a quarter to a third of our lives, we have a very powerful tool in our hand that could help us better our decision-making process.

The article made me realize the power of sleeping over a decision. And, I fondly remember the man who first brought up this concept for me in my fledgling career… Of course, being a journalist, it took me nearly 30 years to figure this out!

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