The other day, I was feeling frustrated about a paper I was working on. We had gotten a revise and resubmit, and I was working through the reviewer comments. Some of them were tough to address, and I was feeling stuck. Eventually, I decided I needed a break, and shut down my computer for the day.
Middle of the Night
In the middle of the night, I woke up with an idea for how to respond to one of the tougher critiques. I keep a notepad by my bed, and I quickly wrote down the idea before going back to sleep. It was weird—it’s like I had a moment of intuition in the middle of my sleep.
Flash of Intuition
I can’t explain how this works, but this kind of thing has actually happened to me several times over the course of my life. I’m working on something, get stuck, and begin to get frustrated. It feels like I’m banging my head against the wall, and not making any progress. But then I put the work down for the day, and get a flash of intuition when I’m doing something completely unrelated—sleeping, going for a run, whatever.
Here’s what I think might be going on: When you are focused on a task, your conscious mind is hard at work. For the most part, this is a good thing. It’s how we solve problems and get things done. But sometimes, we get stuck. We’re thinking about the problem in a certain way, and we aren’t able to make progress toward a solution. Our conscious mind is blocked.
When this happens, we need to take a break and do something completely different. We need to give our unconscious mind some time to work. Sometimes our unconscious mind can come up with a solution to our problem that our conscious mind just couldn’t figure out. This is why we get a flash of intuition that seems to come out of nowhere.
Take Home Message
So, what’s the take home message? If you’re working on something and find yourself getting stuck, press the pause button and take a break. Do something completely different for a while, sleep on it, and give your unconscious mind a chance to go to work.