I recently came across an old Wall Street Journal I had not thrown away. The headline said, “Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight,” and the sub headline reads, “Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain’s Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming.”
Here’s the question we each need to ask ourselves: Are we giving ourselves enough time to daydream?
One of my students wrote me recently that “getting a good idea is like catching a fly.” A good analogy. I’ve caught flies out of the air, and it requires both concentration AND the ability to relax and go with your intuition. Consider one of the examples in the article. Rene Descartes who, while lying in bed watching flies, realized that he could describe a fly’s position by coordinate geometry. The point is, getting a good idea requires putting the problem in front of you and then letting your mind wander.
The article says, “our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts…” One researcher suspects that, “the flypaper of an unfocused mind may trap new ideas and unexpected associations more effectively than methodical reasoning.”
Insight favors a prepared mind, which means that we still need to sit down and attempt to work out the solutions. But then, after we have looked at all the different options (writing them down helps tremendously) we should forget about the problem for a while and let our minds wander.
If we want our S.T.E.M. programs in our schools (or homes) to succeed, we need to encourage our students to approach problems insightfully – with discipline, but also the time to nurture the question, to let it swirl around in thought and to daydream about it a little. Then our students will catch lots of flies. (sorry, can’t let go of the fly analogy!)
Oh, one more thing, researchers have found that “People in a positive mood are more likely to experience an insight. How you are thinking beforehand is going to affect what you do with the problems you get.”