You know that whole concept of "washing your hands of" something? The old saying isn't about physically washing your hands, but rather, about choosing to not be involved in or connected to something anymore. It's like hitting reset—and as it turns out, washing your hands might actually help.
A recent study out of the University of Toronto shows that washing your hands can lead to more flexible thinking and can help people shift their priorities.
How so? Researchers conducted four experiments in which participants were primed to focus on a particular goal—like "make healthy choices," for example—and then asked to play word games or fill out short surveys. Some participants were asked to use a wipe to clean their hands after being given the goal, and those who did were less likely to think about said goal in the process. They were also less likely to make behavioral choices consistent with the goal, less likely to find it important, and their focus was more easily reoriented to another goal.
"For people who were primed with a health goal, for example, using the handwipe reduced their subsequent tendency to behave in a healthy manner — they were more likely to choose a chocolate bar over a granola bar," said Ping Dong, one of the PhD students who conducted the research.
So, what does that mean for you? Washing your hands can help you reframe the way you think, so if you're stuck on something that's blocking your focus, taking a minute to clean your hands might help.
According to the study release, previous research has also found that physical cleansing can reduce the impact of psychological experiences like guilt. "Wiping away dirt serves as a physical proxy for mentally separating ideas that linger from previous experience, hence preparing a 'clean slate' for focusing on new ones," the release explains.
You (probably... hopefully) already wash your hands every day, multiple times per day. You know the physical benefits—hand-washing helps prevent the spread of germs to keep you (and others around you) healthy. Even the Center for Disease Control says the whole process only needs to take about 20 seconds. Less than a minute at your sink and you'll be healthier and feel a much-needed little mental reset.
The next time you're having trouble coming up with a solution to a problem or a creative new idea because you're stuck on an old one, try washing your hands of it—literally.