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Writer's Block? Let Your Mind Wander

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Writer's Block? Let Your Mind Wander

It may be that breaking away from a difficult task to engage in a more mundane and undemanding one that allows our minds to wander may help spark that eureka moment.

If you have a difficult problem to solve or a critical essay to finish and your mind is drawing a blank, it might be a good time to go sort your sock drawer. It may be that doing an undemanding task that allows your mind to wander may create the perfect setting for your eureka moment.

Study looks for inspiration

A new study by psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, tested 145 undergraduate students to see which set of circumstances would best allow them to complete a challenging mental task.

Difficult tasks assigned

Each of the students was given two “unusual uses” tasks that gave them two minutes to list as many uses as possible for everyday objects such as toothpicks, clothes hangers, and bricks. When the two minutes were up, the students were divided into four groups.

12-minute break

Each student in three of the four groups was given a 12-minute break. The fourth group had no break. How the others spent their break could be in one of three different ways:

  • some rested
  • some undertook a demanding memory activity that required their full attention
  • some engaged in an “undemanding reaction-time activity known to elicit mind-wandering”

Eureka!

At the end of the break, each group performed the “unusual uses” tasks once again. The students who did the best were those who engaged in the undemanding activity. They performed an average of 41 percent better the second time they did the task compared to the students in the other three groups, who showed no improvement at all.

New problems

Interestingly, the group who performed better the second time around on the “unusual uses” tasks were less successful on a new set of tasks. Lead researcher Benjamin Baird said, “The implication is that mind-wandering was only helpful for problems that were already being mentally chewed on. It didn’t seem to lead to a general increase in creative problem-solving ability.”

If sorting socks doesn’t work

Other things you might consider if you’ve completely organized all your drawers and still haven’t bumped into that flash of inspiration include

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