Do you know which is the simplest but most overlooked method to unlock your creative thinking and generate a stream of ideas?
No, literally wait.
Stay still on the ground and wait for your brain to work, gather ideas, and collect the information it has acquired lately. Give it time to remember what you read last night and what you heard your friend saying on the same topic two weeks ago. Give it time to relate the two issues, find the differences, troubleshoot them, and find a solution. Now, this is an idea.
Let your brain work for 10 minutes more, and there you have it, another 10 ideas. Again, remain where you are — another 20.
Did you get it?
Let me explain it better.
How much Data do we Consume Daily?
In the modern era, there is so much information at our disposal. It seems like we know many things, but in reality, we know only a few. And not because we are unable to memorize and remember things, but because we lack time to do it.
In 2019, in a single day, we sent 500 million tweets and 294 billion emails. Facebook generated 4PB of data, the equivalent of a song played one trillion times (there are 12 zeros in a trillion!). Youtube uploaded 500 hours of video every minute. And a single person created 1.7MB of data per second.
We are exposed to such an impressive amount of data that Steve Jelley started talking about attention marketing — a business model based on gathering awareness.
So if it is true that we consume so much data daily, when do we use it? Do we take time to think about it, internalize it and memorize it?
In such a noisy environment, it is highly impossible. In fact, many times, we read articles and watch hours of video tutorials on the same topic in a never-ending cycle. We binge our brain with so much information that we forget what we already know, what is new, and if the data is relevant.
But this is a clear threat to our creativity.
Boredom is the Best Method to Unlock your Creative Thinking
When dealing with creativity, there’s one essential concept to acknowledge: new ideas take time.
Time is essential to create anything, either if you have it or you lack it. In fact, the best method to unlock creative thinking is to give your brain enough time that it gets boring. And then, if nothing happens, throw a deadline at it.
I call this strategy the Push & Pull method.
1 — Push Strategy
The push strategy is what gives your brain time to fall into a complete relaxation state. After a while, which may vary based on your stress, it will try to make the time pass faster by analyzing anything that comes to mind. This is the first symptom of boredom.
In two studies, researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman showed how boring activities can increase creative power. For the first one, 80 people took part in a tedious writing activity, followed by a creative task. For the second instead, 90 people participated in diverse boring activities, followed by different creative tasks.
Results suggested that monotonous activities increase creative power, and the type of activity has an influence too. In particular, the more passive the tedious activity, the more creative power generated. For example, reading led to a higher “daydreaming effect” on creativity than writing.
So bringing these results to the extreme and doing nothing should increase the creative power exponentially.
2 — Pull Strategy
The pull strategy gives your brain a deadline, which may be relevant to create a sense of urgency in your environment.
For many years, deadlines were an essential point of productivity, but they were seen as a creativity killer. Instead, in an episode of the Harvard Business School Podcast, professor Teresa Amabile explains how some structures can set up the conditions to control the creative process. In particular, a medium-low deadline can help it develop faster.
This suggests that after the push strategy, where the brain comes up with a couple of ideas, it is time to develop them fast before they phase out.
How to Push & Pull Correctly to Unlock Your Creative Thinking
If you want to give a try to the simplest but most overlooked method to unlock creative thinking, you can decide to implement the Push & Pull strategies as you wish. But based on my tests, they are influenced by two main variables.
1 — Stress
For a highly stressed situation, your brain will need a lot of push time before it can deplete the negative emotions and work with creativity.
When I feel tense, I start the push sessions with a 10–15 minutes mindfulness session, followed by at least half an hour of boring waiting. Also, I don’t want my brain to stress again in the pull session, so I usually set up generous deadlines even there, of at least 30 minutes.
2 — Purpose
If you want to generate many ideas in a short amount of time, you should use an iterative approach. This means alternating push and pull strategies for every new idea.
Each push session should last for 5–10 minutes, and as soon as you have an idea, you immediately follow up with a low pull session of 2–3 minutes where you note it.
In this case, it is necessary to deplete the idea entirely before entering another push session, or it will continue to distract your mind.
If you want to generate one good idea instead, you should use a classic approach. Here, the push time will be very long, over 30 minutes, and the pull time will be medium-long, so at least 1 hour, until you develop the idea entirely.
Here’s a graphical summary.
Unlock Your Creative Thinking
I have tested the push & pull method for many months now, and I have to say that boredom makes miracles sometimes.
When the entire environment around me fills with nothing, and I mean NOTHING, my brain tries to find an escape. But for this to happen, I need to shut down all my devices, put them out of reach, and force myself to remain in a place without external stimuli for at least 10 minutes.
What taught me to stay still, in the beginning, was meditation. And even if it is not necessary, it is not hard either.
You just have to wait, remember things, and think about what you learned in the past days. Magnetic memories will show up if there was something. And if there wasn’t, you will be astonished by the creative power of your brain.
This is the simplest but most overlooked method to unlock your creative thinking.
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Article first published on Curious.