Stuck with a problem that you can’t figure out? Having trouble generating ideas?
One of the things that the mind is very good at is coming up with potential pitfalls. And all of us have found ourselves trapped with recurring negative thoughts that make it hard to do any creative thinking.
Sometimes changing the process or framework for thinking about the problem can help.
My son was stuck with a paper he needed to write, and I shared with him my favorite non-technical solution for brainstorming: post-its on a wall.
Using one post-it per thought, idea, or quote (his was a research paper) you generate a stack of post-its (or carry it around with you on a walk if you need to get into a new physical space to get out of a pattern of pessimistic thoughts). The key is to mentally “turn off” the internal critic. Mentally instruct yourself not to judge any idea as good or bad….
Later, find a large wall and start putting the post-its up on the wall in groups. You can name these groups by creating a post it with BOLD LETTERS.
The nice thing about the post-it strategy is that you can rearrange the ideas as often as you want.
As he discovered, once you have your ideas organized in some fashion on a wall, you begin to look at relationships between ideas, and you activate the spatial (right side) of the brain which seems more involved in creative thought.
A related idea seems to be helping someone else I am working with: an extremely talented woman who found her career in one of those dead ends that most of us face at some point (a product that we have devoted our career to is suddenly no longer relevant or we end up in an extremely narrow field and we anger or disappoint someone who has the capacity to end our career…).
She needed to “re-envision” professional success.
But every time she tried, negative thoughts about the past blocked her from getting into the creative state of mind that would lead to new solutions. She would get stuck in thoughts about her “failure.”
We worked on this using the traditional approaches of cognitive behavioral therapy – which focus on developing more realistic appraisals of a situation – directly engaging the obstructing thoughts and trying to modify them.
We spent weeks on it and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
Then, I suggested that she try mind mapping and I invited her to use MindMeister (my current online favorite application for mind mapping).
A few days later she wrote –
“I found the use of mind maps to be very helpful in getting past the mental block that I have (had?) with regard to any constructive thinking about my future.”
The neat thing about mind maps is that “playing” with the map is actually useful… so, if you have gotten started with a map and you find yourself stuck, you can fool around with fonts, backgrounds and images and the process of doing that kind of fiddling with the details can help get you back in a more playful and creative frame of mind.
The picture at right is someone else’s mind map for “productivity” – and it illustrates how the fooling around process can create a different perspective on a seemingly dry topic.
Try it out. Stuck with a problem or project? Get visual and see if doesn’t help you get out of the see of recurring thoughts, or the blank wall with no ideas….