Our best ideas don’t come when we’re sitting in front of a computer straining to make a project come together. It’s when we get up for a break or take a walk around the block—precisely when our attention wanders away from the task at hand—that the missing piece pops into our heads. Insight almost always comes when an intensely focused mind wanders free, uninhibited by active thought.
Productivity expert Ray Williams says, “Researchers have found that resting minds are creative minds. Numerous studies have shown that people tend to develop more novel, inventive, and innovative ideas if they allow their minds to wander…. Some companies such as Google recognized this fact and provide professional growth courses such as ‘Search Inside Yourself’ and ‘Neural Self-Hacking’ and also mindfulness meditation where the goal is to recognize and accept inner thoughts and feelings rather than avoiding or repressing them.”
In The River of Consciousness, neurologist Oliver Sacks emphasizes the importance of mental incubation. “Creativity involves not only years of conscious preparation and training but unconscious preparation as well. This incubation period is essential to allow the subconscious assimilation and incorporation of one’s influences and sources, to reorganize and synthesize them into something of one’s own.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) is regarded as one of the greatest composers in history. He composed seventeen masses, over fifty symphonies, and twenty-four operas including The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and The Marriage of Figaro. In his short life, he composed well over 600 musical works.
In the “Rochlitz Letter,” the great composer described his creative process.
“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer; say traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come I know not, nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me, I retain in…memory and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it…. All this fires my soul.”
Develop the practice of “not thinking” by meditation and mindfulness. A wealth of evidence and research suggests that if you spend time in a meditative state, your brain will function more efficiently, and you’ll be less anxious, more creative, and healthier.
Work on a problem by “not working on it.” Define the problem, find out everything you can about it, learn and study, then let your brain rest so it can make the connections you need to receive powerful solutions.