We have all heard the advice “Think outside de the box! Be different…be original” as if we never thought of it. This advice is more paralyzing than anything when we don’t really know what we are talking about…So, what is that box?
The “box” is a way to encapsulate the “usual ways” of thinking, and “think outside the box” suggests you don’t follow that current. But it is also a metaphor that symbolizes our OWN limitations, beliefs, and habits.
I believe this definition is more useful for creativity as we often are mental prisoners of the circles we live (and grew) in: family, professional circle, friends.
And that is the heart of the problem; we often struggle with creative thinking because we unconsciously stay in our mental box. We “do it this way, because we have always done it that way”. And looking for a new solution to a problem or having original ideas requires thinking differently than we usually do. Which isn’t easy.
Habits are very strong, but there are ways to avoid always going through the same thought patterns and have original ideas instead of rushing on the obvious ones.
For example, there is an exercise called “meditation” (I don’t know if you ever heard of it?) that is all about focusing and noticing what goes through your mind, that can help you take a step back on your own thoughts and habits.
Here are two reasons why it is great for your creativity:
This is perfect to find new solutions and ideas as I usually explain when I talk about magical moments (those moments in the shower, while driving, or falling asleep when you have amazing ideas). Meditating is a conscious moment of clarity that you create for your brain to have a break and make sense of the data you gathered with your amazing curiosity. This is when connections happen, as you give yourself time to process.
There are many subtleties and fascinating details on neuronal activity and brain waves to give here, but I think it will better for you to read actual specialists on the subject like Sam Harris and Steven Kotler that made those complex subjects accessible to morons like me.
Meditation helps to go from being the “doer” to the “observer”. For a few minutes you “just” focus on something (usually the breath). And this is great training to dissociating yourself from your emotions and thoughts. You just notice them happening.
Sitting and focusing on the breath -or else, is super hard when your mind sends you images and unnecessary chatter (watch this video that explains in 3 minutes the heart of meditation!).
And that is precisely the point. The more you do it, the better you get at catching yourself getting unfocused, daydreaming, and wondering. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with daydreaming and wondering, it certainly helps creativity as well, but the more you master both dynamics (letting your mind wander and taking a step back to “see” your thought patterns), the more creative you will be.
In “Waking up”, Sam Harris shares a study showing that 5 minutes of meditation every day for 5 weeks changes the structure of your brain. The results are mind-blowing, and not only for creativity.
It will give you the power to see at given moments, with a step back, if you are going back into your usual ways or if you are challenging your thinking habits with different questions such as:
“Why am I always coming back to this solution?”, “Is there another way of doing this than the one I’m suggesting?”, “What is my angle here and what other angles can I find?”.
It isn’t a one shot, but an everyday habit to adopt. Just wake up 5 minutes earlier and put an alarm reminder before you go to work to meditate, and it might change your life!