Beautiful Models: Focused/Diffuse Thinking

To turn it on, learn to turn it off. (Josh Waitzkin)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is Focused/Diffuse Thinking?”

“Focused/Diffuse Thinking is a beautiful idea I know from Barbara Oakley’s wonderful book A Mind for Numbers about learning how to learn.   

Focused Thinking is a state of concentration, of deep focused attention.
Diffuse Thinking is a state of relaxation.

When people think of problem-solving, they usually tend to think only of the former. However, counterintuitively, the optimal approach requires both: thinking deeply about the problem, and letting it go. 

Focused/Diffuse Thinking is an oscillation between the two.

Taking distance from the problem leaves room for the subconscious mind to work on it in the background and make intuitive leaps.”

“So it’s a kind of priming.”


Not taking distance from the problem prevents the subconscious mind from doing its magic.

Moreover, Focused Thinking is energy intensive and cannot be sustained for long periods of time. Breaking away from the problem, conserves energy.

I’d go so far as to say the Focused/Diffuse oscillation is essential. In optimizing it you’re optimizing creative-efficiency and energy-efficiency at the same time.”


About Dani Trusca

Playfully seeking wisdom

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