Does your creative genius get suffocated by mundane to-do lists and the ruts of daily routines? Create a little space in your head and heart to allow your best and brightest ideas to shine.
Last Christmas, my Southern California native brother-in-law sat on my parents’ front porch (in Minnesota) in shorts and a t-shirt watching and listening to the fresh falling snow float from the sky. While the scene looked a little silly at first, I couldn’t agree with him more about the purpose of his actions. He said he loved the calm and quiet serenity of a light snowfall and fresh white snow cover.
I’m not a fan of snow in general, but I do love the sense of calm and quiet it brings to a place when it first arrives. The snow seems to replace everything with a blank canvas that’s fresh and clean and void of all the commotion normally occupying the space.
Make More Blank Space
Among our packed calendars and laundry lists of commitments, most of us don’t have enough blank space in our lives (which probably makes those peaceful moments amid winter snowfall all the more memorable and enjoyable).
Snow or no snow, creating blank space in our lives is so important to finding the best ideas and intentions in ourselves. We have to clear the clutter to make room for the contemplative and creative geniuses within us all.
A while back, I wrote a post about one great place to discover your own best ideas… the shower. You all know it’s true, right? Shower revelations are totally a “thing”.
Not long after I wrote that post, Dorie Clark, one of my favorite writers on leadership and professional development, validated my idea in an article of her own. (I first discovered Clark listening to this podcast of a presentation she gave to Microsoft some years ago, which I definitely recommend.)
She discussed in her article the importance of setting aside time to slow down our brains and let ideas percolate. The best and most innovative ideas rise to the top only when the sea calms enough for them to float to the surface. If our brains are crowded with the immediate here and now of our to-do lists, we’ll never “stumble” on our own next big idea.
In his book How We Learn: The Surprisingly Truth About Where, When and Why It Happens, Benedict Carey says that our brains work best to generate and connect new and novel ideas not when we force them to focus rigidly.
Instead, when we lightly focus our conscience mind elsewhere on more mundane tasks (like washing our hair in the shower), we allow our brain to work its magic in the background in a more natural manner.
In other words, when we’re stuck on a problem or searching for new ideas, we should take a walk or a shower, do the dishes or fold laundry, or get lost in a coloring book. Focusing on less mentally taxing tasks, our brains become unencumbered by overwork and strut their best stuff.
Revelatory ideas often come to light by connecting dots between existing ideas and schools of thought, not necessarily formulating epiphanies from scratch. Simply, we should offer our brains space to connect ideas already alive in our minds.
Innovative Ideas Need Mental and Emotional Space to Flourish
Great ideas need mental space to grow. They need the power of untapped neurons to power rumination, percolation and connection. Like that quiet and clean canvas of fresh fallen snow, great ideas need unencumbered space to incubate, free of pressure to perform and from which to emerge.
Innovative ideas also need emotional space (a safety net) that gives permission to push limits, test boundaries and accept the possibility of failure.
Adam Grant, in his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, discusses how some of history’s most original ideas came from people who had a back up plan and those raised or trained in an environment that allowed for failure. Without the freedom of failure as an acceptable outcome, some of the most ingenious ideas might never have been extolled or executed.
So where am I going with all of this?
Often, we’re so consumed by the daily tasks of ‘just staying afloat’ that we leave little time for “thinking big”. If we overbook our calendars and jam pack our to do lists, we’ll never allow our minds and hearts the time and space to explore our own creative geniuses.
We’ll never exploit the limits of our own creativity if we don’t give it space to thrive.
Having less, planning less, and demanding a little less of ourselves offers so many obvious benefits like reduced stress, more sleep, more robust bank accounts, and presumably more quality time and experience with our friends and families. But as the research from the writers above indicates, there’s reason to believe a little open space in our lives might also provide a great impetus for uncovering new ideas and imagining beyond the day-to-day.
I’m far from perfect, as I sit next to my always long to-do list. But what if we let most of that go? What if we took a note from Mother Nature and cleared the mental clutter leaving a fresh, clean canvas like the light and quiet snowfall?
What might that newfound space become available to harness or nourish? Who’s to say for sure, but it’s worth a shot at finding out, right?
Now it’s time to go erase a few items from my to-do list.