Cloud whisps

Wandering Aimlessly? (Image by turtlemom4bacon via Flickr)

I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of talented creative professionals (such as professors, artists, graphic designers, and writers), and we’ve discussed how our best ideas seem to materialize when we’re absentmindedly strolling in the park or taking a shower. In other words, we’ve noticed that we’ve often had these little flashes of insight when we’re not trying to think about anything in particular.

Jonah Lehrer’s recent article “The Importance of Mind-Wandering,” published in Wired Science Blog The Frontal Cortex, discusses this idea. First, note our natural mental tendency is to daydream; in fact, according to a recent psychological study cited in the article, our mind is wandering almost half of our waking hours! So, fellow learners, now that you know it’s not just you whose mind drifts, read on to put yourself in a position to reap from your wanderings, and to observe some general advice concerning daydreams, boredom, focus, and creativity.

1. Yes, you do need to focus at certain times. I don’t think this article or related studies are meant to convey that it’s always appropriate to “space.” You realize you should be fully attentive when you’re using knives in the kitchen, for instance, and during occasions such as classroom lectures or business meetings. If someone is imparting information you need to know, of course, common sense dictates that you need to focus then.

2. This could be tough, given what I understand of media addiction in young people: don’t feel the urge to fill your “empty” moments immediately with something like texting. It’s okay to be bored, and such boredom can actually lead to great insight and creativity . . .

3. . . . That is, if you become conscious of the insight. Lehrer notes “letting the mind drift off is the easy part,” but it’s important to reap the benefits of mind-wandering by being aware enough to recognize the insights you’ve had.

In fact, if you take a creative writing class, you’re likely to be encouraged to keep a small notebook for those random moments when inspiration strikes. A creative person is constantly attuned to the little things in everyday life that some may tend to overlook; but those who successfully receive a flash of inspiration and do something productive with it are those who are aware of, and able to capture, that inspiration.