Body - Mind - Heart - Spirit

When Faced with a Big Decision, Don't Think

When faced with a really big decision, some people make lists of pros and cons, while others talk it out with their best friend, but a new study suggests that listening to your unconscious mind may be a better way to arrive at a conclusion.

The research, performed at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, found that our conscious mind can only consider a small amount of information at one time, so when it is faced with a lot of data, it has to ignore a significant percentage, which can result in an unsatisfactory decision. Therefore, it appears our conscious mind should only be trusted with simple decisions, such as what to have for lunch.

In the study, scientist Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues tested 80 people both in the lab and at furniture and department stores. The participants were provided with information about a number of products and asked to make decisions about simple and complex purchases, such as which shampoo, furniture, or car to buy. In one test, half the test subjects were asked to think about the information they were provided and then choose which item to buy among similar products. The other half were shown the same information but were given a series of puzzles to perform, such as anagrams and arithmetic. When the puzzle session ended, the participants were asked to make snap decisions about which product to buy.

"We found that when the choice was for something simple, such as purchasing oven gloves or shampoo, people made better decisions - ones that they remained happy with - if they consciously deliberated over the information," says Dijksterhuis, "but once the decision was more complex such as for a house, too much thinking about it led people to make the wrong choice. Whereas, if their conscious mind was fully occupied on solving puzzles, their unconscious could freely consider all the information and they reached better decisions."

However, the unconscious mind does appear to need some guidance when making decisions. "It was only when people were told before the puzzles that they would need to reach a decision that they were able to come up with the right one," Dijksterhuis concluded. If the test subjects were told that the product information they had been shown before the puzzles was unimportant, they failed to make satisfactory choices.

"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."

So what exactly is the unconscious mind? It is the part of the mind that functions without our awareness. An iceberg is a commonly-used analogy when discussing the conscious and unconscious minds. The conscious mind can be thought of as the small percentage of the iceberg that is visible above the water, while the unconscious mind is the large mass that is lurking below the surface.

Your unconscious mind stores a memory of every experience you've ever had, is the source and warehouse for all your emotions, and some consider it a connection with Spirit and with each other. The conscious mind is associated with logical thinking, analysis, and judgment, but it can only hold seven (plus or minus two) bits of information at one time. Everything else we are doing, thinking, or feeling sinks into our unconsciousness until it is called upon by our conscious. Intuitive thought or feeling, often called a "gut-feeling" comes from the unconscious mind.

Eastern religions and philosophies place greater weight on the unconscious part of the mind than those in the West. However, allowing thoughts and emotions to meander can unlock greater truths and help make clearer and better decisions. In fact, one of the greatest minds of our time, Albert Einstein, was often found staring into space in his office while his more "industrious" colleagues were toiling busily at their desks.

The limited research that has been done on the unconscious mind has revealed it to be a powerful force in our lives, yet we are largely unaware of it. Scientists are baffled by it, artists crave its creative inspiration, and psychologists are just beginning to understand it. But one thing is certain, if you are trying to make a life-altering decision, your best bet may be to simply close your eyes and let your unconscious show you the way.


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Comment by Bijay Raut on October 10, 2007 at 9:17pm
Awesome article, Josephine!

I have always thought that the "unconscious" mind was the true source of wisdom and creativity. The unconscious mind is also our higher mind that is a lot more knowledgeable than our superficial conscious mind.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece.

Joy and peace,



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