Lose Your Mind and Release Your Creativity

istock_looseyourmind“You do your best work when you don’t think too much.” I laughed when I read the words that James had typed to me. It was true.

“It’s funny,” he continued. “There’s ‘don’t think’ and ‘don’t care’. When a person doesn’t care, I see it right away. When a person doesn’t think, the results are usually spectacular.” Right again. I see many people trying to produce nothing short of miracles each time they work.

Unfortunately, that attitude of striving for perfection does work against you.

It’s not long before performance anxiety kicks in. You’ve set a bar of standards for yourself that you must reach. You start agonizing over every little detail, tossing page after page into the virtual trash can. You might even spend twice as long on the project than you normally would, because everything seems to suck hot, sweaty rugby socks.

I Give Up!

You know what happens then, don’t you? Eventually, you reach a point where you just give up. You sigh and say, “Screw it.” You stop thinking. You search for a distraction – anything to not think of the Job You Cannot Finish. You Twitter a while, surf the ‘net, check out Amazon books, chat with friends… You just don’t want to think any more.

Oddly enough, an amazing thing happens. When you come back to the project, you’re still not thinking – and then it seems to start to fall into place. It could be just the right sentence that suddenly unleashes a flood. Maybe you haven’t tried a certain font before and you realize it looks just right.

Sometimes by not paying attention, you hit on what works.

Play is the Father of Invention

In A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech writes, “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.”

Think about when your best ideas come to you. Is it when you’re actively seeking them out? Or feeling the pressure to perform? Or is it when you’re relaxed, not paying attention and just playing around?

There’s a good chance your best work happens when you’re relaxed enough that youv’e let go of self-expectations. Playing with ideas means that there are no expectations at all. No one’s going to tell you that you’ve done anything wrong, or that it’s ugly or that it’s poorly written, or that it won’t work. Of course not – you’re just playing. You’re experimenting. You’re just letting your mind wander.

Who knows where it might lead you?

Not Thinking and Not Caring

That doesn’t mean you don’t care about the work you’re doing. There’s a huge difference between not thinking and not caring. When you don’t care, you’re just slapping words into a sentence or throwing images up onto the page. Whatever works – you just don’t give a damn.

But when you’re not thinking, you’re allowing yourself to be open to new ideas. You’ve loosened your creativity and set it free to go where it will. You start to think in new directions and try new ways of doing things.

This freedom of creativity is one of the main reasons you’ll find so many people encouraging you to take breaks, go for a walk, play with the kids or have a nap. These common-sense ideas have a deeper goal:

They let your brain loose to play so that you can do your best work.

What do you think? Does your best work come when you force yourself to sit down and get busy, or do you find your most creative ideas come when you aren’t even looking for them?

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Harry,

    Great piece. Stepping away, not thinking things out too hard, does work like a charm for me, at least some of the time. I think it was already part of my nature, but Roger’s book has been a part of my life for so long it’s hard to remember what life was like without his ideas on rethinking and less thinking! Everyone should run and get that book.

    Sometimes, I distract myself too well when what I really need is quiet time and “you can go when your work is done.” But at those really stuck moments, when I’m not distracted but things still aren’t working right, it is SO true. Walk away. I like to do some really tough exercise so all my muscles have to concentrate, then my brain just has to wait in line. Taking a shower or reading something unrelated work too.

    Of course, I did all that on a problem Friday and I still got nothing out of it… but my abs are looking better. 🙂



    Kelly´s last blog post…MCE Round Table: Terrible Things We Do to Our Customers and Colleagues

  2. So true. My best inspiration comes when I’m not working. Walking, running, driving, something that keeps my brain half-focused and the creative side free to wander.

    Also, when I’m not thinking about what I write the words flow. Whole paragraphs come out with only minor corrections needed. And yes, this ‘flow’ tends to come more easily when I’ve been mentally switched off by doing something else until inspiration strikes. I’ve tried forcing it, and no go. Nothing happens.

    Well said Harry.

    Melinda´s last blog post…Monthly Book Giveaway – Becoming an Online Business Manager

  3. Cindy Bidar says:

    Writer nirvana: when the words flow and little thought is involved. It’s rare, but I keep hearing the rumor that if you practice enough this flow state can become commonplace. I’m still in the practicing phase, unfortunately.

    Cindy Bidar´s last blog post…Win a Copy of QuickBooks Pro 2009!

  4. I think a relaxed attitude is best. And taking a break can be a good idea. I’m reading a book that says it’s optimal that after you’ve put your flow of ideas onto paper, to take a break because your mind will actually still be working on the project while you’re away and when you get back to it, you will be that much better at completing it.

    Bamboo Forest – PunIntended´s last blog post…The Art of Practicing What You Preach When You’re a Blogger

  5. By best thinking rarely comes from sitting at the desk, the desk simply allows me the space to unspool everything that’s been wound up. My best thoughts come from real world conversation, most often with my wife.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…A bit easier on the eyes

  6. Some of my most popular posts were written at 2 am, in front of the TV, and about a topic I’d just recently extracted from my ass because I realized I needed a post for the next day. I can’t complain.

    Geek’s Dream Girl´s last blog post…Shameless Squee! GeeksDreamGirl.com Hits 100k Unique Visitors!

  7. I find a walk in the sun works best for me. If I have a hard project at work I often try to get a start on it just before lunch. So by the time I start feeling bogged down I can go for a half hour walk along the esplanade for a lunch break, rather than eat lunch at a desk or something.

    Like Kelly, I prefer to get my body involved. I have a gym across the road, just haven’t used it yet though. It’s also too easy to waste time on the internet in the guise of “having a break”. Making sure you do something at least semi-active means you can fit more of a break into the time you have to break.

  8. And to add to that… I read on Zen Habits that being in the sun makes your body realise it’s not time to sleep yet, so if you’re feeling a little tired as well it works that way too.

  9. I do my best work when I’ve started something, thought hard about it, then had a good night’s sleep and/or a shower. Doing some hard physical work in the garden works too. Then the creative ideas flow. Think first, then relax.

  10. Great read! It’s funny that when we think we aren’t really thinking.. and when we’re not thinking are minds are in the creative process. That’s why meditation is so powerful 🙂

    As of late, I have been experimenting with only writing when I’m inspired to write instead of forcing words and have been pleasantly surprised with the results.

    For example my latest article on why our education system is failing was entirely spontaneous. 🙂

  11. Harry,
    If you’ve ever seen a thoroughbred out in the grassy fields just frolicking , you’ve beauty at play.
    Disciplined, trained, and yet…when just set free…wow, look at those lines.

    I love this post…you nailed it. Play is about trust too. It’s kind of silly in a way to train and learn a discipline, then think somehow that we will forget it if we relax bit and don’t think, just do. And yet, it seems so hard for so many people to do. Eve the best of the best get caught up. I think it is that “expectations” thing. And expectations, well, there’s a self induced trap waiting to bite.

    I like owning the moment more. Prime yourself, and then let it come. See what you get on that day, at that time, from within yourself.

    Janice Cartier´s last blog post…Time

  12. I’ve learned to just do by making my doing a habit. If it’s not a habit then I care and think too much and the resulting pedestal-riding goal I create is too scary to do anything about and so I run away and find a dark cave to hide in from the wrath of this deity I’ve created. 😉

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog post…The Physical Toll of Perfectionism: Emma Newman Interview

  13. That’s so true! I experience “flow” states when I’m most relaxed. When I’m stressed, I can’t write, but after going for a jog or taking a nap, the “flow” state comes and I find myself writing and writing again.

    Charles – Big Idea Blogger´s last blog post…Communications is King

  14. What a profound post!

    I operate at my best when I have gone to sleep with the intention “to awaken having the perfect resource show up” (whatever that resource might be, including an idea, people or other resource).

    Inspired actions, as I call them, are much more powerful than trying to force myself to do something.

    Thanks for your eloquent post!


  15. @ Alex – Making habits works well. I figure, if I show up for the job, I’ve done my part. And so I do. Not my fault if Creativity doesn’t do his job that day 🙂

    @ Janice – “If you’ve ever seen a thoroughbred out in the grassy fields just frolicking , you’ve beauty at play. Disciplined, trained, and yet…when just set free…wow, look at those lines.”

    Having worked with thoroughbreds, may I just say that when I see one let loose to play in a field… I just get the hell out of the way 🙂

    @ Bud – I sat down yesterday and said, “Great! Time to write.” Blank page. Blank, blank, blank… “Oh, to hell with it.” Half an hour later, I had three ideas that I had to go write down!

    @ Jean – No one’s mind works well when it isn’t rested enough to play. Great advice. Rest first, play after.

    @ Writer – My best thoughts come from observation. I have to focus too much on verbal communication to stay focused to be any good with bright ideas 😉

    @ Patrick – I’m right with you on the sun. That’s total mind juice right there. Now. Someone please send me shining rays, hm?

    @ Geek’s Girl – Rants make for the best posts – what was your favorite?

    @ Cindy – Athletes refer to this as The Zone. I’ve experienced it a few times while riding, and it’s just freakin’ awesome. I think I’ve come close with writing, but it’s not the same when there’s no physical action involved. That’s just my take on it, though.

    @ Bamboo – Ah, gods, set the book down?? That’s it. I’ve forgotten everything. Bye bye!

    @ Melinda – My two best moments are when driving and taking a shower. I tend to get a ton of ideas when I’m not thinking and there’s white noise. Awesome stuff.

    @ Kelly – That book is on my list of great faves. Thank you for sending it to me 🙂 (I also have the cat barking one… not read, yet, but getting there!)

  16. @Kelly: It’s a fine line between playing and goofing off. There are plenty of times when the distractions work far too well. Opposites do seem to do the trick. If I’m writing, I need something visual playing in the background (I’m notorious for leaving the TV on just to listen), when I do graphics, it has to be music. Too much time at the comp means stepping away and going outside. Lately, the distraction of choice has been Anne Bishop. A quick ten minute break reading one of her books helps a lot and I come back to the job feeling refreshed.

    @Mel: Nope, forcing it never works. The more you push, the more you stick. Although there does come a time when you absolutely need to push. I’ve had some really good ideas when I’ve told myself enough is enough, now just do it already!

    @Bamboo: Brainstorming is a great way to loosen up. I remember reading some advice by Stephen King (or maybe it was a line from “Misery”) where he said something about just diving into the blank page and writing whatever came to mind. Many times it’s a matter of getting that first sentence out, and then the seal is broken and everything else falls into place.

    @GDG: I’m really trying to avoid the night-owl sessions. In college pulling an all nighter was fine, but now it works against me and it’s a really hard cycle to break. The cure believe it or not is an opposite – getting up early and making the most of the day.

    @Patrick: Lucky you with a gym across the road! The sun is great too, and I’m so glad there’s a window at my desk that lets the daylight in. This time of the year, though, lunchtimes walks are not an option here (who wants to take a break in a 100 degree oven?). Usually, hanging out on the back porch in the shade is good enough.

    @Writer Dad: Real world is always best and I think that’s what I miss about a traditional office environment. Being in the same room as other designers allowed us to constantly bounce ideas off of one another, or joke around with some friendly banter that kept the creativity going.

    @Jean: That’s another good point too. I read somewhere that to get unstuck, at least start the problem project. I’ve done that a lot of times too. I might start something the night before, sleep on it, and then come back and attack it the next day.

    @Bud: That’s real zen right there. The Japanese call it “mushin” – no mind.

    @Janice: Absolutely, get rid of the expectations. We’re only human and only gods create miracles every time. 😉

    @Alex: You may have a point there and I’ll have to think about that one.

    @Charles: It’s the opposites thing at work. Give one side of your brain a rest and let the other take over for a bit, you know?

  17. My best ideas come when I’m out walking or hiking. I live in a rural area near Mount Shasta in northern California, so there is plenty to lure me outdoors.

    I carry a digital voice recorder so I never lose an idea.

    John Soares´s last blog post…Top 100 Books for Freelance Writers — Including College Textbook Ancillary Writers

  18. @James- LOL yeah… the horse wins every time.

    @Harry- I do, I think expectations wreck havoc , and by expectations I mean silly ones like expecting me to putt like Tiger Woods, but I could hit the hole eventually if I really wanted to…maybe…with a big club…maybe side ways kick when you weren’t looking…and a caddy to tell me easy peasy…just line it up…

    not that I ‘ve had a golf club in my hands in a while.. other than putt putt…

    Janice Cartier´s last blog post…Time

  19. I get pummeled with ideas when I’m in the shower. Right when I’m thinking “Ah crap, I forgot to buy more shampoo”, a brainwave slams into me and I have to jump out and write it down before I forget. I could sit at the computer all day, staring at the screen, trying to come up with a brilliant idea and not get one single word out.

    Cassie – MamasOnTheWeb´s last blog post…Make Money By Giving Away Special Reports

  20. All that we consider good–creativity, compassion, passion, joy, intelligence–comes from the stillness that is prior to thinking.

    Kaushik´s last blog post…“Cease to Cherish Opinion” – 6th Awakening is Simple book excerpt

  21. I allways figured that lazyness is the fauther of invention. Play is more like that uncle or aunt that shocks all your other relatives with their strange habits and ideas.

  22. @John: Howdy neighbor! Well, sort of, we’re on the same coast. I don’t use a recorder, but I do find that saying an idea aloud makes me remember it later on.

    @Janice: Just watch out for those dancing gophers and greens keepers preoccupied with explosives 😉

    @Cassie: You know, I think I read somewhere there’s a pen and note board made specifically for people who get ideas in the shower. Can’t remember if it was a comment here or not.

    @Kaushik: Sounds like the calm before the storm 🙂

  23. For Cassie and Harry, I give you…. Aquanotes! [url]http://www.myaquanotes.com/AquaNotes/tabid/55/Default.aspx[/url] A friend sent me the link last weekend, because she knows how often I need them! LOL!

    Melinda´s last blog post…The Clean Shower Guide to Marketing

  24. @Mikel @Harry…you two cracked me up both of you

    …’I’m alright .. ..don’t you worry bout me…” loved Murray in that.

    Janice Cartier´s last blog post…Time

  25. For Cassie and Harry, they’re called Aquanotes http://www.myaquanotes.com/AquaNotes/tabid/55/Default.aspx A friend sent me the link just last weekend because she knows how often I need them!

    Melinda´s last blog post…The Clean Shower Guide to Marketing

  26. @Melinda – That’s awesome, thanks! I can see my water bill skyrocketing now because I’ll be spending all day in the shower coming up with brilliant ideas.

    Cassie – MamasOnTheWeb´s last blog post…Creative Ideas for a New Blog Header

  27. I get my inspiration in the shower or in bed. I ordered the AquaNotes that Melinda talked about. They are just what I needed to write down my ideas and daily to-do lists when I’m taking a shower. I saw a video showing someone writing underwater on the paper. They do work that well. http://www.myaquanotes.com

  28. Great site – My 1st visit. No Twitter. I’m a techno-moron. Gave up on the WordPress setup attempt – though WP looks like it would be beneficial & better for promo & links.

    Your post makes lots of sense – I agree completely. Since I live in a pretty cool area – I get lots of ideas & inspiration just walking the beach, staring at the harbor or hanging out in the old town. I rarely stress about the writing &, whenever I have, the writing has generally sucked (it comes across as forced – humor, tension, etc is lost ) & the work just gets scrapped.

    I gotta lotta catchin’ up to do on reading your previous posts. A+ Y’all

    Dave´s last blog post…Memorial Day 2009

  29. Postcard Mailing says:

    Excellent and inspiring post! I definitely agree with your points. It’s when I’m relaxed, not pressured or stressed that I came up with some of my best works. When I feel like I’m too stressed out, I really have to stop for a moment and just unwind and get my bearings. After that when I feel better I usually am more productive.

  30. Backing away for a bit and changing my focus works pretty well for me. I trip to the shore watching the ocean for a while always relaxes me and gets me back in shape. And if that doesn’t work, I open up my old DOS version of DOOM and blow away some aliens.



    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…June is children’s writing month!

  31. I go away and goof in Twitter – having fun with friends, and inflicting people with my tweets. When I can’t stand it anymore, I go back and write again. Still stumped? I go out again. This time in the real world. To walk in search of food. Sometimes, I never even reach my destination. An urgent idea makes me return immediately. A muse, an idea, you don’t keep them waiting, don’t you? Must be a gracious host.

  32. @ Tumblemoose you still have Doom? For real? I LOVED that game! How cool!

    Melinda´s last blog post…Monthly Book Giveaway – Becoming an Online Business Manager

  33. My best ideas come when I’m relaxed and let things flow organically. When I force things whether its writing or anything else in life it’s a struggle and it leads to frustration and angst.

  34. @Melinda, @Cal and @Cassie: Now they have to make AquaNotebooks! Hmmm…*considers moving office into the shower…* Ok, just had a flashback of Kramer from Seinfeld when he decided to live in the shower.

    @Dave: Welcome to MwP! Sounds like you live in a cool place alright. Nothing like having the ocean and a beach right on your doorstep to provide a boost to inspiration.

    @Postcard: Thanks! I’m glad you found some inspiration in the post. Keep on chillin’ and let the work flow!

    @Tumblemoose: You know, your ID always gives me a chuckle. How’d you come up with that name? Is there a story behind it?

    DOOM rocks. I’m not big on video games but I remember my roomie playing it. Wasn’t that the uber creepy one that had the voices whispering in the background? Or was that the new version?

    @Jan: You’re so right about not keeping the ideas waiting. Even if it strikes right before I go to sleep, no matter how strongly the Siren of the Comfy Bed is calling, the Muse’s call is stronger.

    @Omar: I hear ya on that. It’s like shouting at a seed to sprout.

  35. Hey Harry,

    I was talking with a friend in Nebraska and she was talking about dodging all of the tumbleweeds on the highway. Well, living in Alaska and being of quick wit, I fired back something about dodging the tumblemoose up here and it just kinda stuck!

    Ahh, the DOOM is the very old version – I think the first one to come out – all the rage back in, er, 1993… Criminy I’m so old…



    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…4 traits of successful children’s book writers

    • @Tumblemoose: Great story there, thanks for sharing. If you ever want a tumbling moose logo drawn, let me know, that’s a great visual!

  36. Awesome, Harry.

    Couldja email me prices or whatnot? Let’s chat!




    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…4 traits of successful children’s book writers

  37. Usually, ideas come in the most unusual places and the most unexpected moments, and not at all when we are trying to come up with one. Usually, I have to get away from what I am working in order to come up with new ideas. Ideas come all the time when I am not thinking at all about that. The way our brain works is very interesting.

  38. Robert, they vary. It’s up for the authors. Many of the letters coming up are handwritten, or hand-notated, it’s about half and half. Though most on the first letters were typed. The fourth letter was a comic.


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