These day’s our minds are always on - thinking about a project at work, studying for an exam, scrolling through social media. From morning to night we find ourselves focused on something.
This can be stifling, especially to our creativity.
I’ve consistently said that since I’ve entered the ‘adult’ world, my creative thinking has suffered. It turns out that there is good reason for this and merely setting aside time to be creative isn’t going to help.
When was the last time you had a truly exciting idea?
It physically feels like something has hit you: your heart beats faster, maybe your eyes widen and it becomes the only thought in your head.
I’d wager that this didn’t happen while you were trying to be creative. You didn’t set aside an hour for brainstorming and will it into existence.
No, it hits you when you least expect it.
Shower thoughts are a real thing.
Enter diffuse thinking
The state our minds enter when they are relaxed and less focused on a specific thing is called diffuse thinking mode.
Diffuse thinking is when your brain takes a step away from focused thinking - it sees the bigger picture and can make connections between a broader range of thought. Its importance in the creative process cannot be understated.
For myself, the bulk of my best ideas have occurred while laying in bed for a night’s sleep; typically 5 to 10 minutes in when my mind has let go of the clutter from my day and is relaxed for sleep.
Let's look at some ways to better utilize diffuse thinking and stop stifling your creative flow.
Write your creative problems out
If something has you stumped, write it down along with some questions or thoughts you have on the topic. Don’t spend too much time and skip the organization.
What this will do is push the thought into your subconscious and allow your mind to make all kinds of connections to it while you aren’t necessarily focusing.
Thomas Edison once said “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious”. So, if you can make a habit of this, say 5 to 10 minutes each night before bed, even better.
Leave work at the office
A lot of people take work home with them.
This can mean actual work like answering emails, writing up reports and meeting deadlines.
It can also mean allowing the emotional remnants of a long work day to follow you home.
Regardless, it's near impossible to open yourself up for creative thinking if your mind is constantly focused on work.
Similar to the point above, take 10 -15 minutes at the end of your day to write out any concerns before leaving - anything that needs to be accomplished or you wish to remind yourself of the following day.
I find this helps me get the thoughts out of my head and separate my office life from personal life.
Think before picking up your phone
Some of our best diffuse thought occurs directly after sleep when our mind has been wandering.
As soon as you reach for your phone to pull up an email, the news, or social media, you’ve pulled your brain out of diffuse thought and back into focus mode.
This will suppress any imaginative thoughts your mind has conceived during your time asleep.
Instead, take 10 to 15 minutes to reflect when you wake up and jot down anything you deem interesting.
Lower your expectations
With creativity, there is never a wrong answer. Not every idea that finds itself in our heads is a flawless spectacle of genius.
We have bad ideas all of the time.
Lower your expectations and allow yourself those terrible ideas. Even if it just means getting them out of your head to make room for better ones.
Write things down and don’t over analyze. You can come back later to dig deeper and mature them when focused thought is your goal.
Take a break
We live in a world full of tight deadlines and high expectations. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for creativity.
However, it’s important to take a break.
Whether you’re stuck solving a problem at work or writer’s block has you banging your head against your desk, step away from what you are doing.
It will give your brain a chance to relax and pull itself away from focused thought.
Go for a walk
For starters, getting away from your computer or desk is good for you. Exercise is proven to have positive benefits for cognition and memory.
Many authors - J.K. Rowling and Ernest Hemingway to name a couple - have claimed that walking is a reliable cure to writer's block and it makes sense.
This Stanford University study found walking to help boost creativity in 81% of participants.
Though the mechanisms behind it aren't completely understood, it's widely agreed that going for a walk is a fantastic way to declutter the mind and open it up for creative thinking.
This is similar to going for a walk.
Take a new route to work in the morning, take your laptop to a coffee shop, or go for a long drive someplace you've never been.
New scenery can help the brain create new connections.
Take a nap
Not only will you be relaxing your mind, you will also be entering sleep which, as stated above, is a great way to provoke diffuse thinking.
By the end, you'll feel better rested, your mood will be elevated and you'll be ready to get to work on any new ideas.
Daytime naps have also been shown to improve various other things including: motor skills, sex life, weight loss and memory.
Who doesn't love a good nap?
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This post was also published on Medium.