They say that one of the best ways to solve a problem—at least a creative one—is actually not to think abut it. After all, how many times have you been doing something like taking a shower or going for a long walk and you find yourself having one of those eureka moments where suddenly the solution to a problem you’ve been wrestling with forever seems so clear? It happens to me a lot and it’s one of the reasons that taking walks in the forest behind our house has become a daily ritual. Trying to be present in something other than active problem solving allows our brains to continue working in the background without us trying to consciously force a solution. The act of stepping away from a problem is called the “incubation period” and it’s been studied for decades. In his book The Art of Thought, Graham Wallas proposed that the creative process is made up of four stages: Preparation (the acquisition of knowledge to some task), Incubation (the background process that occurs when conscious attention is diverted away from the task), Illumination (the moment the creative idea flashes into sight or being), and Verification (when the creative idea is subjected to evaluation)." While there have been dozens of studies documenting and validating the importance and effectiveness of the incubation period, last week I experienced another example of it firsthand.
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