As several recent studies highlight, the way most of us spend our mornings is exactly counter to the conditions that neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists tell us promote flexible, open-minded thinking. Take that hurried wake-up, for example. In a study published in the journal Thinking and Reasoning last year, researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks reported that imaginative insights are most likely to come to us when we’re groggy and unfocused. The mental processes that inhibit distracting or irrelevant thoughts are at their weakest in these moments, allowing unexpected and sometimes inspired connections to be made. Sleepy people’s “more diffuse attentional focus,” they write, leads them to “widen their search though their knowledge network. This widening leads to an increase in creative problem solving.” By not giving yourself time to tune into your meandering mind, you’re missing out on the surprising solutions it may offer. […]
And while we all should read up on what’s going on in the world, it may be better to put that news website or newspaper aside until after the day’s work is done. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that subjects who watched brief video clips that made them feel sad were less able to solve problems creatively than people who watched an upbeat video. […]
So what would our mornings look like if we re-engineered them in the interest of maximizing our creative problem-solving capacities? We’d set the alarm a few minutes early and lie awake in bed, following our thoughts where they lead (with a pen and paper nearby to jot down any evanescent inspirations.) We’d stand a little longer under the warm water of the shower, dismissing task-oriented thoughts (“What will I say at that 9 a.m. meeting?”) in favor of a few more minutes of mental dilation. We’d take some deep breaths during our commute, instead of succumbing to road rage. And once in the office — after we get that cup of coffee — we’d direct our computer browser not to the news of the day but to the funniest videos the web has to offer.