Insights are fantastic, like a little surprise gift. They occur when you don’t expect them. They help you solve something. Often you feel a little buzz when you get one. They are notoriously difficult to orchestrate though. Planning to have one, or trying to turn them on doesn’t work!
Research by Mareike Wieth gives us a way of increasing our chances of receiving the allusive insight. She carried out an experiment that divided people up into ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ people. She gave them three analytic type problems and three insight-oriented problems. They were to try solving them at different times of day. For the analytic problems there didn’t seem to be a bias towards the best time of day. However, for the insight type problems people performed consistently better during what they considered their non-optimal time of day.
The ‘night’ people got more insights in the morning, and the ‘morning’ people’s insights were more plentiful in the evening. Wieth thinks this is because when we are most switched on our brain is strongly inhibiting information that we don’t consciously consider relevant. We say there is strong inhibitory attentional control. However, when you are going to have an insight the wandering mind is actually an asset.
Having additional thoughts meandering through your mind increases the likelihood of an insight, and this naturally happens when your brain isn’t filtering them all out.