The Secret Way to Improve Critical Thinking

Where do you do your best thinking?

I’ve always been curious about it so I started researching the topic. It looks like most people do their best thinking while in the shower, on the toilet, walking outside, just before bed, or doing the dishes.

My best thinking comes at 3:30am every night.


Have you ever tried to sit down and say, “I’m going to solve this problem!” Ready…. GO.

How does that work? I’ve tried it before and the instant I sit down to solve something my mind goes blank. It’s as if a wall goes up on my critical thinking.

I might be able to work out a few solutions if I can flush out the issue with a mindmap and brainstorming. But usually these aren’t my BEST ideas.

In all of the ideal situations, our bodies are doing something. Either preparing to go to sleep, or doing some physical activity we can do unconsciously.

Since we don’t have to worry about doing the activity we can turn our attention to our problems. Most of the time it comes naturally. We don’t have to think hard about the issue, we just let our mind wander around the issue.

The Secret Way

Last night at 3:30am I had two really great ideas. I made sure to write them down because once I go back to sleep I almost always forget them.

You might ask, “Why would you be up at 3:30am thinking? Do you have insomnia?”

No, but I do have one-year-old daughter, who wakes up at 3:30am like clockwork. I unconsciously walk to her room to feed her.

While I am feeding her my mind is half asleep half awake. I can’t go to sleep since I am physically doing something, but I don’t want to wake up since I plan on going right back to sleep.

Instead, my mind wanders.

The Steps to Improve Critical Thinking

I’ve been testing a few different scenarios to find out what situations work best. Here are my results:

Figure out one question you want to answer. Before going to bed I would narrow down what issue I wanted to brainstorm.

Do something physical. At 3:30m, if you don’t do something physically you will end up falling asleep. Try rolling a ball in your hands, or try sitting up cross-legged. Pick an activity where you can keep your eyes closed.

Keep pulling your mind back. You are half asleep, so your mind is going to wander to other things. Just gently pull it back to the issue.

No Pressure.?One of the reasons a situation like this works best is because there is no pressure. It’s 3:30am! How could you expect yourself to come up with a coherent solution to a problem?

Write everything down. Since at the beginning I never had paper next to my bed, I wouldn’t write anything down. A lot of really great solutions were forgotten. I have a great memory so I tried to remember it. I couldn’t. Even if an idea seems a bit crazy write it down anyway, when you’re awake you might be able to make better sense of it. It could be the catalyst to your million dollar idea.

This scenario is a lot like meditating. I find the only difference is the state of mind when you are starting. When I meditate it takes me awhile to clear my head of my thoughts. When you wake up at 3:30am you usually don’t have any thoughts to compete with. It’s not forced either, and your mind is in an amazing state where anything is possible.

Don’t take my word for it! I dare you to try it. If you do, let me know how it goes!

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Hi I’m Jaime. Each and every week I bring you the top business advice from the people who know best.

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6 responses

  • As I read I thought of all the places I tend to get my best ideas and they were listed at the top. I too am up sometimes in the middle of the night with the kids – I had never thought to pick something to solve if I’m up and try to think through it. Thanks for the idea – I’ll have to give it a try (although I’d rather the kids not wake up.)

    • I agree with you on rather not having the kids wake up! But at least it’s been a really good use of my time.

      Beforehand I used to listen to a podcast at 3:30am and then I realized I couldn’t get back to sleep since my mind was crazy with information. I stopped doing that after a few sleepless nights!

  • Where do I do my best thinking… hmm.. I’d say in front of my computer, with thievery corporation playing in the background, with nobody around to disturb me. This is where I blog, work on homework, read, etc.

    Honestly sometimes I think of awesome ideas at lunch at work too. I prefer to get away from everybody at lunch so I will often go to a restaurant solo and just ponder life, blogging, career, etc. That is some really good ME time that often ends up in blogging ideas!:)

    • This was caught in my spam filter- thanks.

      That’s a great idea too. I used to go to lunch solo a lot and had a great time planning and thinking. I should take it up again. Thank you!

  • I’ve heard of this technique before, but I always forget by the morning. I’m going to try this out, and try writing things down! I’ve also heard that this same method can be used to help induce lucid dreams.

  • Write it down or you will forget-yes yes yes. I am always pleased when I leave a problem only to have the solution come to me at a later time while engaged in another activity.

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