You want one. You need one. You know that you do:
by David Burkus
In the ancient world, the Greeks believed that all great insights came from one of nine muses, divine sisters who brought inspiration to mere mortals. In the modern world, few people still believe in the muses, but we all still love to hear stories of sudden inspiration. Like Newton and the apple, or Archimedes and the bathtub (both another type of myth), we’re eager to hear and to share stories about flashes of insight.
But for those who have to be creative on demand, these stories don’t offer much practical advice on how to have a eureka moment of their own. Long walks or hot showers may be where we think out best ideas come from, but those are hardly available options in the middle of a crowded workday. While research hasn’t exactly validated the existence of divine muses, it has given us some insight into how eureka moments happen…and how to make them happen more often.
Eureka moments feel like flashes of insight because the often come out a period when the mind isn’t focused on the problem, what psychologists call a period of incubation. Incubation is the stage where people briefly step back from their work. Many of the most productive creative people intentionally set a project aside and take a physical break from their work believing that this incubation stage is where ideas begin to come together below the threshold of the conscious mind. Some people juggle various projects at the same time under the belief that while their conscious mind is focusing on one project, the others are incubating in their unconscious. The insights that come after incubation are what feel like we’re tapping into the same idea-generating force that powered Newton and Archimedes.