The story goes that in 1726, the elder physicist Isaac Newton discovered insight into gravity after an Apple dropped from a tree and hit him on the head. In reality, he did a lot of thinking outside while staring at the surrounding apple trees, “occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood,” wrote his Newton’s friend and biographer William Stukeley.
We polish stories, embellish them, so they’re more memorable and therefore shareable. To quote librarian Keith Moore, the Newton story is “an 18th-century sound bite.”
But I would go one step further in saying that there’s no such thing as a Eureka moment. Rather, light-bulb moments arise because we’ve already spent a long time thinking about them.
It’s no surprise that they happen in dull moments when we’ve shut down, such as in the shower or when we’re doing the dishes. The right ‘creative’ brain is always in search of triggers to connect the external world to preexisting observations.
This is why planning unscheduled time is so vital to the work process. We have to get out of our own heads.
In short, Eureka moments are a myth; they merely occur when we’re thinking without thinking. A resting mind still hungers for stimulation because creativity is always awake.