Creativity is increasingly becoming a top-tier asset in today’s economy. It helps us with everything from consistently generating viral content to being able to solve problems at work to having the next business idea that totally disrupts an entire industry, and everywhere in between. You can set yourself apart and make valuable contributions wherever you are by cultivating the ability to see things in new ways and tap into your creativity on the regular.
Want the edge you need to think creatively and productively?
Here are 4 tricks of the trade:
Sleep on it. The half-asleep and half-awake times are the Holy Grail of diffuse thinking and breakthrough ideas. It is a time when our focused thinking is on pause so our diffuse thinking can rule the roost. And that it does!
So to use this time effectively, pose a specific question or idea for your brain to noodle on while you are going to sleep each night. In doing this, you are deliberately guiding your brain to find associations and connections in the direction you want. When you wake up, spend the first 5 minutes journaling. Capture the first thoughts, ideas and insights that come to you.
Take a walk. Mason Curry, of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, studied the habits of nearly 200 of the world’s most prolific inventors and innovators over the ages and found that they all had one thing in common, they took walks. If you want to help activate your diffuse thinking/breakthrough idea mode start taking more walks.
Your walks don’t have to be a certain length of time but long enough for you to settle into a mind-wandering rhythm. Like the strategy above, before your walk deliberately invite your diffuse mind to work on a specific problem or outcome you’re working on. As you walk, take in the sights, smells and sounds you encounter. Pro tip: walking for diffuse thinking purposes works much better in environments that are less busy so your focused thinking brain doesn’t have to be engaged to help you navigate your surroundings.
Take a break. You can power your way through a lot of things, but creativity is not one of them. If you’re involved in a project that requires creative thinking or innovative problem solving, you’ll be better off if you just take a break and stop thinking about whatever you’re thinking about.
Totally counterintuitive, I know. But in light of what scientists have learned about how absolutely vital our diffuse thinking mode is, it totally makes sense. So after you’ve reached a point where you’re not making progress on whatever it is you are working on, take a break from it. Move on to something else, or better yet, set your timer for 10 minutes, lean back and let your mind daydream away!
Open Monitoring Meditation. In contrast to the more popular focused attention meditation (i.e. returning your attention to your breath), there is no object for you to focus on during your meditation. You start out by finding a comfortable position, relaxing your body and setting a timer for a short period of time. The aim here is to be aware of the thoughts or experiences that arise in your mind and to stay in a monitoring state of attention to them.
Without selecting, judging, or focusing on any specific thought, you allow yourself to be aware of things your mind is bouncing around on. You practice being an observer, not a director or controller, of your thoughts. The idea isn’t that you are going to stumble upon your breakthrough idea during this type of meditation but that you’ll strengthen your brain’s ability to allow the jumping around of ideas and create more associations.
Try one or all of these strategies and see for yourself! What are some things you do to build in diffuse thinking time?