Creativity Happens When You Least Expect It

…Especially if you’re as impatient and demanding as we are!

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by Sian Beilock

It’s well known that there are circadian or daily rhythms in basic physiological functions like body temperature or digestion. Interestingly, these circadian rhythms extend to our psychological abilities too. Simply put, we tend to have more brainpower at our peak circadian arousal time, which leads to success on activities that require us to concentrate and mentally ‘buckle down.’

Morning types (i.e., people who are most alert in the morning) excel on a whole host of cognitive tasks when they complete these tasks early in the day. This is especially true for tasks that require working memory, like systematically reasoning through a problem or juggling numbers in your head. Working memory is our flexible mental scratch pad. It’s the brainpower that helps us keep what we want in mind and what we don’t want out. On the other hand, evening types, those who are most alert at night, tend to perform at their best on demanding cognitive tasks later in the day.

But not all tasks require working memory for success. In fact, sometimes people’s ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can actually be hampered when they wield too much brainpower. This means that what we think of as our optimal time of day, may not be optimal for everything.

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We aren’t sure why, but we get all goose-bumpy whenever we see the phrase “circadian rhythms.” It just, you know, turns us on.