Have you ever got stuck while trying to solve a problem, only to take a break from it and have the solution come to you effortlessly?
You probably have.
But how often?
In this post I’m going to teach you two methods for solving problems while resting or taking a break.
This is a skill that you can practice over time to become a more creative and inspired problem-solver–anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or can’t do it themself.
What do these men have in common?
It’s probably not what you think.
It is that they had strict routines for getting ideas and solving problems.
They all exercised a high degree of control over their subconscious mind–and took great care in practicing that skill. They all led lives that were conducive to becoming “inspired”.
David Ogilvy was one of the greatest admen to ever have lived, and one of the most creative people during the 20th century. Here are a few of his thoughts on exercising the subconscious mind:
I am almost incapable of logical thought, but I have developed techniques for keeping open the telephone line to my unconscious… I hear a great deal of music. I am on friendly terms with John Barleycorn. I take long hot baths. I garden. I go into retreat among the Amish. I watch birds. I go for long walks in the country. And I take frequent vacations, so that my brain can lie fallow—no golf, no cocktail parties, no tennis, no bridge, no concentration; only a bicycle.
While thus employed in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my unconscious, and these become the raw material for my advertisements. But more is required: hard work, an open mind, and ungovernable curiosity
— David Ogilvy —
Churchill would not only power nap, but he would also take a longer naps – usually around noon. He made a mental distinction by separating the day in half: Before and after noon:
You must sleep some time between lunch and dinner, and no half-way measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one-well, at least one and a half, I’m sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities.
— Winston Churchill —
Edison was the most extreme of these men when it came to power napping. He kept beds in all of his houses and workshops. I’ve read in many times (websites and blogs) that he used to nap at his work desk – but I don’t believe it.
Personally, I enjoy working about 18 hours a day. Besides the short catnaps I take each day, I average about four to five hours of sleep per night.
Edison was much too conscious of his environment to sleep at his work desk–which is why he kept beds in other rooms than the one he worked in.
The reason Edison did this was because he understood that the brain creates situation-specific mindsets and habits in different environments.
Note: You can successfully use the same strategy as Edison without having to buy multiple beds. You can divide your room/house/apartment in different sections
Keep each section apart to associate different moods and mental states for each section. If you, for example, conduct multiple activities in one room, it will take longer for you to change between the specific state conducive to each activity.
–One section for working.
–One section for reading and writing.
–One section for resting and meditating.
–One section for eating.
If you are starved on space, one way of solving this is by buying Chinese screens to create different sections.
Two Ways You Can Use to Solve Problems While You Rest
These two ways are power napping and prospective meditation.
When you use either one of these ways your results will improve if you state a specific intention before beginning.
Before you start resting you should give your mind a clear order of what you want it to do for you.
You must state your command either by thinking it, by writing it, or by saying it loud.
After you have done that you can use these two methods:
- Power Napping. Take a power nap and focus on the problem while expecting the answer to come. Keep the nap short, rest no longer than 30 minutes or you’re likely to get tired. You want to wake up feeling refreshed and inspired.
- Prospective Meditation. This is a meditation I have developed myself. I’ve practiced it for about a year. It really helps with brainstorming, creativity, and inspiration. You become an idea machine.
I have meditated consistently for close to three years now, and while I probably suffer from the curse of knowledge, I would guess that prospective meditation is more difficult to a novice than “normal” meditation is.
When I say normal meditation I mean quieting your thoughts while shifting your focus into the body and relaxing fully.
There’s three steps to the process of learning to do prospective meditation:
- You need to be able to do normal meditation and quickly shut off your thoughts while shifting your focus into the body, or in other words, to feel rather than to think.
- You then slowly start observing your internal dialogue without getting drawn into it or identifying with it. This is hard for a novice, which is why you might need to first practice your metacognition a lot. One aspect of having good metacognition is to be aware of your internal dialogue and the thoughts you’re having.
- You wait and observe your internal dialogue for interesting thoughts. You wait some more, until a good idea comes along. The process is analogous to prospecting for gold–you put a lot of things through a funnel and look for the good stuff. In this case your ideas represent the gold and the funnel represents your conscious mind..
The more you do it the easier it gets and the faster it goes.
But how do I know if it’s a good idea that comes along?
–You will feel it instantly. And if you can’t feel it, use your common sense. It’s impossible to mistake the feeling. You know, the feeling of having a great idea and just wanting to get it out of your head right away!
And that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
When you have come up with 1-4 ideas you must immediately write them down, and preferably execute them.
The reason it’s imperative you do this is because the short-term memory is much weaker than most people think it is. The short-term memory is limited to about 30 seconds. And the conscious mind cannot hold more than 5-9 items (ideas) at the same time.
Don’t overestimate your memory like most people do.
Don’t lose the smart ideas you have.
Now Start Practicing Your Subconscious Mind
It wasn’t until about 2-3 years ago that I understood that it’s possible to practice my creative process and find ways of improving inspiration, creativity, and problem-solving by practicing.
In this time I have experimented with various ways of practicing my subconscious mind.
I have now distilled all those things down to a few things–the most efficient ones. Like power napping and prospective meditation in combination with a clear command.
These things work very well.
I am much more creative and “inspired” than I were a few years ago, and it’s only getting better.
When you find successful ways of practicing these things, your ability to synthesize information improves. Meaning that you get better at combining ideas and coming up with new ideas. Meaning that you become more creative.
This is potent stuff. But don’t expect to see any major results from practicing it for a few days or a week.
This is a video of Lee David Zlatoff, the creator and writer of MacGyver. He speaks about his creative process and how he had to improve his creativity to write new episodes for MacGyver. This is interesting stuff, because you’re probably in a situation where you are forced to you to produce creative content as well.
He’s not the best speaker. But the content is good, and I can vouch for most of the things he’s saying. My method is very similar.
He starts speaking about the things specifically related to creativity and practicing your subconscious mind at 10 minutes.
The implications from the video are:
–Your subconscious mind is much faster at processing information than your conscious mind is.
–You subconscious mind should be used to solve problems. Your conscious mind should be used for delegating the problems.
–Write down your questions or to-do items.
–Take a rest.
Do you have any personal strategies for solving problems and becoming more creative?
Photo credit: agustinrafaelreyes