Monet set staring at his garden in Giverny, France. A neighbor asked him when he was going to start working. Monet said that he was already working.
Later, when Monet was painting, the neighbor passed by again and said, “Oh, you’ve started working.” To which Monet said, “No, now I’m resting.”
I don’t know if this story about Monet is true, but it suggests different points of view of how we break through to new ideas that allow us to be productive.
• Monet may have been actively analyzing what he was seeing. Perhaps he was planning the technique he would use once he began painting.
• Or perhaps he was letting go of the everyday concerns and minimizing distractions. He may have been initially unaware of the connections his mind was making as he sat there and gazed at the light playing on the flowers.
• But then a sudden insight could have allowed him to see the scene in a new way, allowing him to focus just on his sense of sight. His perception of the scene piqued his curiosity and he saw a puzzle that could be solved.
Accounts from several of my clients writing dissertations and books support the fascinating, new research that has written about in newspapers and books. This new research tells us that the unfocused mind generates striking, creative ideas and makes associations that will not come when, for example, my writing clients are at their most intent.
One client had been struggling for some time to get beyond merely describing her fieldwork. Her attempts to devise an original, theoretical framework had not been successful.
To relieve her stress, she had wisely added weekly volunteer work and exercise to her schedule, as well as continuing to work on her dissertation. She came to a coaching call with me one evening excited and optimistic: “The framework came to me as I drove home from my volunteer work today,” she said.
Making space in her day for something besides her dissertation and thus having time for her mind to be idle and to rest surely produced the insight. And it was a sudden insight.
My client’s upbeat mood as she left her volunteer work may also have helped produce the unexpected insight. Researchers say that a sudden insight is more likely if you are in a good mood.
Robert Lee Hotz writes in The Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2009) that Northwestern University researchers, using brain scanners and other sensors, have studied how a-ha moments take shape in our brains, even before we’re consciously aware of them.
Our brain is most active when we are the least aware of our thoughts. At those times, connections are made from different parts of our brain, creating new frameworks and new ways of thinking.
What might this research mean for you as a writer? How could this research help you as you’re writing your dissertation? I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. Can write a good email? In my first newsletter of the fall, I discuss writing email and how it and other kinds of writing could be of help to the academic writer. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, go to my website and take care of that. My website is at www.nancywhichard.com.
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach