Why ‘Sleeping On It’ Doesn’t Solve A Problem


Some people need time to take a decision
They need to sleep on their decision, before making up their minds.

So why do some people act so quickly, whereas others ruminate, and munch over their thoughts?
And why is this munching so contrary to the normal working of our brains?

Let’s take an example: Let’s say I threw a rock at you.
What do you do? You take a decision. That’s what you do. You don’t have time to analyse the rock, the velocity etc. You simply get out of the way. Most of the decisions we take from moment to moment are instantaneous. We decide to walk faster or slower. Cross the road or stay on this side of the road. Instantly, we’re able to take these decisions. Why?

Because there’s enough information.
Not less.
Not more.

But we’ve been trained to sit down and analyse the worst ramifications.
We’re doing #$%$^# research. Of course, there are zillions of ways to slice and dice anything, so research, at the very core helps. But add to the research; layer after layer; and you get to a state of confusion.

So yes, you never have to sleep on anything.

Try it today.
Try a YES or NO option for any decision.
You’ll find it’s easy.

So what do top performers have that others don’t?
Top performers are able to take decisions based on Yes or No.
Because in every situation it’s impossible to tell the outcome.

Yes, impossible.

You can do all the planning in the world, and the outcome may turn out to be completely different.

e.g. You’re buying a house. You have a great job.
You can pay the mortgage. You do all your homework. You get the mortgage. You move into the house.

A week later you have a $200,000 mortgage. And the ability to pay it.

Then your boss comes up to you and tells you you’re going to be made redundant. (That’s my story when we moved to New Zealand).

So yes, I could sleep on it all I wanted.

I would either own the house. Or not.
I needed enough information, and then needed some action.

Training yourself to take YES/NO decisions is the first step.

Sleeping on it, doesn’t solve the problem
Sleeping on it, simply causes more confusion, in many a case.

If you want to take a quick decision get all the relevant facts together.
Choose the information that’s most relevant.
And then take a decision.

Because too much information clutters up your decision-making ability.
As a result you do NOTHING.

Which is a problem in itself.  🙁
Try this exercise: If you were a citizen of the US, who would you vote for? Obama or McCain? And how would more information help you decide?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


Can I make a suggestion? People aren’t drawn to negative articles or negative headlines which seem to be the focus of this blog.

A better headline / focus would be ‘What’s better than sleeping on it?’, say.

Hope this helps,


Andrew: If you look at the last nine articles on ‘Creativity’ alone, you’ll find that almost 90% of the articles have ‘positive’ headlines. 🙂

Also I’d have to disagree with your comments. It’s not so much negative as ‘problem’ based. If you look at your newspaper, magazines, and the evening news, you’ll find that all of them bring up problems. It’s the problems that get your attention in the first place.

Your brain is actually hard wired to recognise problems long before solutions. And in testing to an audience of over 100,000 subscribers, over a period of three years, we found that ‘problem’ based headlines have a far greater attraction factor than ‘solution’ based headlines.

I would encourage you to read this report at http://www.psychotactics.com/psychoheadlines.pdf and judge for yourself.

Steve Jackson

Hi Sean,

I agree with you on the problem side of things. When you have a ‘simple’ problem like “do I avoid a rock” we already have enough information (from a very early age) to know that avoiding the rock is a good idea.

I would suggest that fast decision making is something that you earn in a similar way to your previous posts about talent. It becomes easier to make fast decisions because the more experienced you are the more chance you have of having the relevant information together to know how to make a quick decision.

The problem comes when you don’t have enough information to make a quick decision. I know you well enough to know you would not advise making a quick “fire from the hip” kind of decision without having all of the relevant information together.

This is where I would argue that in many cases you do have to sleep on it. It goes back to the little book I keep referencing written in the 1950’s “A technique for producing ideas”.

The book suggests that new ideas to solve problems come from a process of;
1) General information gathering (a lifetime process of reading/learning/seeing).
2) Specific problem based information gathering (topic based).
3) Idea formulation based on information (working hard ont he problem).
4) Digestion – stimulate the brain but think about something else and sleep on it allowing the subconscious to work on the data your brain has.
5) Your idea arrives (seemingly from nowhere) but often needs polishing and adding to.

I have trained myself to follow this process effectively for complex problems and idea formulation and the 4th step is critical.

So yes I would agree when you have enough information then go for it but when you don’t and more complex issues exist is when you need to be more careful.


Ankesh Kothari

Thanks Sean.

Why do you take vacations? To get fresh perspective on things.

I think sleeping works the same way. It helps clarify our thoughts. Gives a different fresher perspective. Allows you to see the big picture.

If a rock is thrown at you, you need to make an “urgent” decision. But buying a house – thats making an “important” decision. I think sleeping can help in the important decisions of life.

Better safe than sorry.

And psychology research does show us that sleeping makes us better problem solvers. So it the decision is more complex than simple yes-or-no then sleeping helps in solving the issue and taking the decision too.

Sean D'Souza

Yes, you’re right. Problem-solving does occur while you’re asleep. In fact, when your brain doesn’t have all the crazy distractions, it’s able to process the information a whole lot better.

Decision-making has been shown to improve dramatically with less, rather than more information. And actual ‘sleep’ does improve the capacity to make a decision. In fact, you can improve decision-making instantly, by closing your eyes (even while you’re awake).

When you close your eyes, you shut out all the noise, and are able to see the solutions far clearer, and with greater precision. Thereafter, decision-making becomes almost instantaneous.

This ‘sleep’ factor we’re talking about is to clarify your brain’s processing and decision-making abilities with less—rather than more information.

And psychology research does show us that sleeping makes us better problem solvers. So it the decision is more complex than simple yes-or-no then sleeping helps in solving the issue and taking the decision too.


‘Sleeping on it’ however, can have completely different connotations. It’s less a factor of ‘making a decision,’ and more a matter of ‘putting off a decision.’

People who can’t take quick decisions, have one recurring problem. They add more information, instead of removing the irrelevant information.

And even when buying a house (and I’ve bought three and kept three), decision-making can be done with very little information.

1) You need to see the title. And important documents.
2) You need to somewhat like the house.
3) The house needs to be within your financial reach.

However, even these points are highly debatable. The first house I bought in New Zealand was $80,000 over our budget. That was $30,000 more than I was earning (pre-tax) per year. So would you buy a house that was $80,000 over your budget?

This calls for quick decision-making. And sleeping on it, doesn’t solve the problem. You quickly work out what you’ve got to do to earn those 80k buckeroos, and you buy the house.

There’s a difference between ‘sleeping on it’ (which means allowing your brain to process only what’s important–and can be done by simply closing your eyes). And between ‘sleeping on it’, because you want more information, and more, and more.

That kind of sleeping on it, is just procrastination. And more information only worsens the problem, not helps you solve it.


And just in case you think I’m a quick decision maker, here’s a story. When we first wanted to bring out the Brain Audit, we searched for ‘merchant accounts’ (this enables you to process your credit card online.’

We did our research.
We did our research.
We did our research.
We did our research.
We did our research.
We did our research.

And two months later, we still hadn’t done anything. Then an online marketer gave us one week to get our act together. He said that if we did it in one week, he would promote the BrainAudit to his list.

So in less than 24 hours, I got the merchant account. Here’s what’s interesting. I didn’t use any of the data I’d accumulated in the previous months. The online marketer gave us a name of a merchant account (Clickbank.com–that we no longer use). And that was it. All of that decision-making was hinged on:

1) How do we sign up with Clickbank?
2) How fast can we get back to the online marketer and get him to promote us?

That was it.
The long story is that that online marketer never did promote us, but it helped jump start our business. Which if it weren’t for him, we’d probably have still been researching. 🙂

Andrew F


Funny I just was looking at Richard Saul Wurman’s book Information Anxiety that highlights how we’re unable to get down to it (the facts) because of the enormous amounts of information we have available to us.

We may want to “sleep on it” … but that won’t help a bit if we want relief from the anxiety that we create for ourselves by gathering more and more information.


Yup, that’s exactly right.

I’ll be writing more about this ‘information filtering’ anyway in future posts.

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