These are six of the most effective techniques I’ve used to help myself and my clients find creative solutions to some of our most persistent challenges:
- Walking has been a part of my daily routine for a few years now. Although a brisk walk is good exercise, I use it primarily to clear my head after a long day of work, to spark new ideas, and to overcome a variety of personal and professional challenges. Physical forward motion like walking or running (or even driving) creates a corresponding mental forward motion. It compels proactive thinking. I find it almost impossible not to make progress on a problem when I go for a walk.
- Freewriting, also known as stream-of-consciousness writing, forces you to manifest your thoughts on paper, even the ones you may not be aware of. The next time you find yourself stuck in the mental mud, try writing for ten minutes without stopping. Write about the problem, or write around the problem, or just let yourself write anything, even if it is “I don’t know what to write” over and over again. Many times you will discover something unexpected, a new idea to try, or even a solution.
- Meditation is a quieting of the mind, a cessation of the internal monologue that typically fills our heads. Although the goal of meditation is not necessarily to solve problems, when the mind is quiet, new and creative ideas sometimes show up to fill the space. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. Conversely, when the mind is full, new ideas are often shut out. Like the Zen master said, you must first empty your cup.
- Use strategic questions to spark creative solutions. First, build positive presuppositions into the questions. Instead of asking yourself, “Why can’t I lose weight?” ask yourself, “How can I lose weight and have fun doing it?” Second, keep asking yourself the question until you get an answer. And even then, you might want to ask, “How else?” to see if there is a better solution. (You can combine this questioning technique with walking or other suggestions in this article.)
- Turn off your internal editor. Without judgment, create a list of every idea that comes to mind, no matter how unrealistic or silly it seems. Out-of-the-box thinking is only possible when you silence that internal critic. Here’s one of my favorite techniques: Try to come up with the worst solution. Do your best to create the most ineffective, inappropriate, and inefficient solution to your problem. Knocking down the boundaries in this way forces you to consider ideas that were previously off-limits, some of which may actually turn out to be quite good.
- Get out of your own head and into someone else’s. Without fail, the most creative moments I’ve ever experienced have been the result of collaborations. There is a magic to that mental pitching-and-catching. Collaboration can also be metaphorical. Pick someone you admire (living or dead, real or fictional), and ask yourself what they would do. Or just explain your problem to someone who will listen. That person, without saying a word, may help you find a solution just by being there to listen.
Don’t wait for creative solutions to spontaneously appear. Learn to jump start your creative mind by practicing any or all of these techniques on a regular basis.
©2005 Curtis G. Schmitt