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Trust Colin Powell – Problems Will Look Better in the Morning

By: Bill Yates



I was stuck.  The partially completed Sudoku puzzle was mocking me.  It was not to be solved, and my brain was fried.  So, I gave in and put the puzzle down for the night.  Head hits pillow.  Press the reset button.  Sure enough, the solution came easily the next day.  Everything looks better in the morning.

There are times in our busy days when we cannot find a clear answer.  The solutions to complex problems seem just out of reach. The half-baked email doesn’t sound right, but we cannot find the words. The spreadsheet is missing a key element that eludes us. Complex riddles without a clue.  Even when we shut out other concerns and truly focus, we cannot seem to solve the problem.

Why? All of us experience cognitive fatigue from time to time. During a typical day filled with hundreds of decisions large and small, our brains get tired. Our ability to think effectively and maintain focus deteriorates. Cognitive fatigue is just like physical fatigue, only it is our brains and not our muscles that need a rest.

What can you do about it? The best advice may be to walk away from it.  Tackle another, unrelated task; eat; exercise; do something different.  You may have to step away from the problem for the rest of the day.  Best advice: sleep on it.  It’s likely you’ll find an answer or better alternative after the sun has made its cycle.

But, don’t take my word for it.  Listen to Colin Powell:

It ain’t as bad as you think.  It will look better in the morning.”

This declaration is the first of Colin Powell’s famous Thirteen Rules.  Powell explains that this rule reflects an attitude and not a prediction.  “I have always tried to keep my confidence and optimism up, no matter how difficult the situation.”  Powell’s advice: leave the office with a positive attitude; go home; get a good night’s rest.  It will look better in the morning.

Science backs this up. Matthew Walker is a British author, scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is considered one of the leading experts on sleep. In his labs, Walker and his team of researchers tracked neural activity in the brain during REM and non-REM sleep. The displays of activity are epic – thousands and thousands of brain cells all fire at the same time, parsing the information received during the day, reflecting, organizing, and integrating that data.

In his book Why We Sleep, Walker describes the learning that takes place while we snooze. Our brains make associations and integrations of the information we’ve processed during the day, resulting in creative solutions when we wake. Isn’t that amazing?!

Follow the advice of Colin Powell and Matthew Walker – get some rest. An act as simple as a good night of sleep may be just what you and your team need to hatch a creative solution to a complex problem.  

Read all Thirteen Rules in Colin Powell’s excellent leadership book, It Worked For Me.

Idea for Next Blog: cannot wait until tomorrow? Don’t have time to sleep on it? Use the Pomodoro technique. Explain.

Published: January 5, 2024

Source: Velociteach

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Bill Yates

Bill Yates is the Executive Vice President of Velociteach, responsible for Live Training, Licensing, Operations, Mobile Learning, and Curriculum Development. Bill joined Velociteach in 2005 as an instructor and course developer and served as Director of Training for 8 years. He is one of the key architects of InSite, Velociteach’s revolutionary Mobile Learning system. Bill holds the Project Management Professional, Program Management Professional, and Agile Certified Practitioner credentials from the Project Management Institute. Learn more about The Project Management Professional (PMP)* Certification here and here. Online courses that feature Bill are also available: Project Stories: LakePoint and Project Stories: MRAP Vehicles.

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