If you are one of those people like me who think for a living, then you’ve probably noticed just how much clearer your mind is after a break of some sort. Especially a break where you haven’t thought about work at all.

It turns out there is now some very good science that explains the value, importance and function of mental rest. In particular the research relates to our ability to have insights, the ‘aha’ moment when something that didn’t make sense suddenly changes. (There is also the idea of just giving overused circuits a rest, but I think the more interesting issue is around how we solve complex problems.)

The research points to the idea of valuing a fresh mind, as this is the time we are more likely to be able to solve tough problems. Instead of valuing times when our minds are quiet, we tend to automatically fill it up with emails or every day challenges that waste a precious commodity.

Research in the lab by Mark Beeman, one of the fathers of neuroscience research into insight, shows that we tend to solve about 60% of problems with the ‘aha’ phenomenon. No one has studied complex real world problems yet, but the figure is likely to be higher than 60% when there is no linear or obvious solution.

The insight phenomenon involves finding a sudden solution that you can’t really explain. It’s non-linear problem solving, and it’s the way we solve a lot of complex problems. There are several aspects to this research that are worth noting.

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