So how did you spend the Memorial Day holiday? If you had the day off, did you do any job-related work? Did you think about it? Catch up on emails or other procrastinate-able tasks? (True confession: yes, yes and yes.) If so, you may not have done yourself any favors—at least as far as creative thinking is concerned. According to a study published in Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science, “creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander.” In other words, inspiration comes to you when you’re not consciously searching for it.
This seemingly counter-intuitive finding was made by a team of psychologists led by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who tested students’ comparative performance on demanding memory activities. Those who were given time to relax between tasks and allow their mind to wander performed better than those who were given no breaks at all.
“We’ve traditionally found that rapid-eye-movement sleep grants creative insight. That allowing the mind to wander does the same is absolutely fascinating. I think they are on to something really interesting here,” says Sara Mednick, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside.
What was I thinking yesterday? I should know better. I’ve had my biggest creative breakthroughs working out on the elliptical trainer. What about you? Where does your inspiration come from?