Chpter 4: How the Mess-Around Method Works and Why


[This post is a follow-up of my previous post.  You should read that first before continuing.]

The Way You Think

Think about what was going on in your mind and how your were feeling while you were working on the matchstick puzzle.

●   You felt the solution coming on and knew it before it clicked into your conscious mind. “Getting it” included feeling it, and the solution came from somewhere other than your logical conscious mind.  The first step in taking control of your thinking processes is to realize this.

A friend solved the puzzle in less than minute. When I first tried it years ago, it took me lots longer – but I hadn’t spent so much time in bars.  I remember giving the puzzle to an audience of 250 and their coming at it in all sorts of ways.  Gradually, here and there all over the room I could hear bursts of, “Got it!” But even though their ways of going about it differed widely, they all used the same mechanism: Focusing in on the problem with their conscious minds, the way a beagle sniffs around and picks up the scent of a rabbit.  Once she focuses on the trail, her body takes over, and it’s curtains for the rabbit.

●   That’s what you did, too.  You glanced over the situation and the instructions.  That’s your first go at it– seeing what’s there and double checking what you’re asked to do. You browse around.

●   You begin to focus in on what you need to do.  That’s the next level of involvement.  You focus.  For reasons I’ll go into later, you may focus very quickly and see the solution immediately, or you may need to mess around some more, maybe lots more.

Over the years you collected and stored lots of tools in your conscious mind.  If you discuss with others how they went about solving the puzzle, you will see they have their own unique collections.   Some people are tactile and pick up the matchsticks  or slide them around.  Some will mentally hitch a ride on one and glide around.  You may have checked your kit to see if you have some tools that have served well in similar situations.  If you’ve done lots of puzzles like this, then, like my friend, you probably saw the solution right away.

Here’s the solution:










Crazy Logic

I should add that some students came up with solutions I never dreamed of, some of them quite ingenious, and seeing all those crazy ways of doing things allowed me to keep on adding tools to my own kit.   This is what I did come to realize:

Within the limits of biology and nature, we all have all the tools we need to fulfill our own lives, and no problem or situation that is truly our own is beyond our capacity to manage it.  This may seem like a crazy assertion, but try out your new flexibility and ask yourself, “From what point of view does that statement make sense?



It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the minute we emerge from the womb we set about educating ourselves (our selves). That’s what babies do.  It’s their job.  When you solved the matchstick puzzle you were continuing this process of educating yourself. And you know perfectly well how to do that.  Just as trees know how to grow themselves, people know how to grow themselves.  We are born that way.  “Messing around” is just another way of describing how we use the conscious mind to focus in on things we need to do.  “Intelligent play” might be another way to characterize what you’re doing.



The job of our logical conscious minds is to set up the problem, get our pencils sharpened, lay out the work, bring the task into focus.  This takes place in the left hemispheres of the brains of most people.  Getting things ready, setting things up – that’s the job of our conscious minds.  It is NOT their job to solve problems.  It never is.  That’s the job of our  non-conscious minds, and that work is centered in the amazingly powerful right hemisphere of the brains  of most people.  Solutions, insights, enlightenment, ALWAYS come from this hemisphere.

The less effortfully, the more playfully, you fiddle around with a situation, the more freely all the messy data will flow through your  corpus callosum into your right hemisphere.  Then you can go ride your bike, do some house work, go to bed.  Meanwhile your right hemisphere will  happily sort it all out and come up with an elegant solution.   Later on that solution will “come to you”, and you will say, “Aha!”   Then you can use your conscious mind to put what you already know into words or a painting or a computer app.   All the sweat, all the anguish, all the tears, all the anxiety, come from asking the conscious mind to do the work it is not designed to do.  Once you free it to do what it is good at, you won’t have to upset yourself anymore.  You can relax.


The conscious mind sets the stage.

The non-conscious mind resolves the issue, solves the problem, creates the insight.

The conscious mind puts what’s been discovered into a physical form.



Next Post

In my next post I’ll show you how to use this method to do a reading assignment elegantly and quickly.

13 thoughts on “Chpter 4: How the Mess-Around Method Works and Why

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