01 Feb Marc’s Blog: The Humble Notebook
‘Eureka! Eureka!’ (I found it! I found it!) Archimedes proclaimed these famous words as he lowered himself into a bathtub one day. Suddenly, the answer was all so clear – and in that defining moment, the ancient Greek scholar had finally solved the mathematical problem of displacement. This was a biggie, obviously, for in his eagerness to share the discovery he leapt out of the bathtub and was next seen running completely naked through the city streets of Syracuse, yelling and flapping with excitement. Big day.
From time to time we all experience those magic moments of realization or discovery, though possibly celebrate them with a little less exuberance.
These moments often happen when the brain is in a relaxed state, so great ideas may come to us in the shower, on a walk, or lying in bed at night.
But it’s at the stage between waking and sleeping where real creativity thrives. On the edge of sleep we’re in a state known as hypnagogia – the threshold of consciousness – and it’s here where the big questions may find the ultimate answers.
Did you ever wake up suddenly in the middle of the night thinking ‘Wow, that’s it! That’s the answer!’ You couldn’t possibly forget such a gem of an idea, so first thing in the morning you’ll put the master plan together and start changing the world.
We all know how this turns out. Morning comes, and you’re staring blankly at the ceiling thinking ‘what was that again?’ And the ceiling stares blankly back.
Benjamin Franklin was on to all this 300 years ago. He knew that heightened creativity and problem-solving occurred in that stage between sleeping and waking. But if he fell completely asleep, he would often forget the ideas that came to him. Know the feeling?
Benjamin’s solution was to take ‘naps’ in a chair. He would fill his hand with marbles and let his arm dangle over the side. Whenever he drifted off to sleep, his hand would slacken and the marbles would fall into a steel bucket below and jolt him awake. He would then promptly jot down all the ideas floating through his mind to ultimately create incredible inventions – and of course have a tremendous influence on American history.
Turns out that legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus had a dream that allowed him to correct and perfect his golf swing, and even Paul McCartney discovered the songs “Yesterday” and “Yellow Submarine” during a state of hypnagogia.
The common vehicle by which these superstars made history is simple – they would quickly scrawl their precious sleepy thoughts into the safety of a notebook.
Pocket notebooks were part of the arsenal of a long list of inventors and creatives from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Edison. Without doubt, the humble notebook changed the course of history as it readily captured the straggling wisp of even the vaguest idea before it might evaporate forever into the big blue void.
So, when we’re faced with the big questions, or tasked with the search for inspiration or impossible solutions, research confirms that the best plan is to simply ‘sleep on it.’
And keep a notebook handy – just in case.