We live our lives with continuous stimulation – on-demand access to movies, articles, social media, friends, TikTok, books, games and music. With all possible, all the time, how can we hear ourselves think long enough for new and creative ideas to emerge?
I don’t know about you, but my mental commotion from a week of stress causes interminable noise coming from where my ideas should be. And given I’m a thinker, writer and inventor, hearing myself think is fundamental.
I’ve tried freeing up an hour or two during a week to sit quietly in hopes of hearing my creative voice, but that wasn’t sufficient. I needed a broader time span free of the stimulations involved with daily living. And given my schedule, the only time I had available was weekends.
My solution: weekends of boredom. Let me explain.
I now spend at least two weekends a month alone and off-line – off-line, as in no phone, no (on-line) social activity, no computers, and no email. Hence, weekends of boredom. A friend said “I would be bored out of my mind!” Precisely.
Do I like being bored? Not particularly. It’s not necessarily fun: sometimes I’m jumping out of my skin and must force myself to not call a friend. But if I can wait it out, I’m on my way to something unimaginable.
HOW I CREATE BOREDOM AND LISTEN TO MYSELF
Here’s my Idea Generating Action Plan for a weekend: during the week before my empty weekend, I stimulate my mind with gobs of fresh ideas (reading voraciously, listening to interviews of interesting people and interesting programs on NPR, watching documentaries). Early on Saturday and Sunday mornings I walk 3 miles to stimulate my physical side; to recruit my spiritual, juicy, non-intellectual side, I listen to classical music and meditate.
This all sets the stage for my process: Saturdays I go through hell. My brain is jumping all around, remembering things I haven’t finished, people I’m annoyed with. My brain is clamoring for me to get to the computer and fix everything that shows up. But I can’t! It’s vital that I feel all my frustrations in order to let them go. Otherwise, there’s nowhere for new thinking to emerge. If it gets really bad I either listen to more music or go for another walk.
By Sunday morning I hear silence and am ready to do nothing. To sit quietly and be bored. I sit. And sit. And then, on Sunday afternoon, just before I am ready to exterminate myself, the magic happens. The ideas begin to flow.
New ideas. Surprising ideas. Interesting ideas. Stupid ideas. I don’t judge. I just write them all down. This past weekend I began sketching out an Advanced Coaching program (based on my new book What?) to offer meta tools so coaches and leaders could hear clients without bias, assumptions, or triggers, and then know how to make the best interventions. First thing Monday I connected with two coaching schools who may have interest in collaborating. I’m not always this successful. But sometimes I am. That’s the thing: unless they appear, I got nothin’. So I don’t judge.
SPACES FOR IDEAS TO EMERGE
Boredom as a route to creativity is not for everyone. But I think many of us need something extreme to have the space to listen to ourselves, to have a block of time to clear our brain and silence our Internal Dialogue to enable our unique ideas to emerge. Some folks do this by going for a long run, or swim a mile or two. New ideas do emerge for me at the gym, but the inspirational ones – the hidden ones – come only after space and silence appear.
How do you listen to yourself? What are you listening for when you listen? Do you allow the time and space for an opening that enables emerging ideas? Ask yourself these questions, then ask the big one: What would you need to consider to be willing to take the time to hear yourself without barriers and literally brainstorm with yourself?
I now have many volumes of Idea Binders. Only about 20% of those ideas made it to completion although I do seek ways for each of them to develop. But if I hadn’t come up with them all, I would not have invented Buying Facilitation®, or invented a new form of question, or coded how we can hear each other without misinterpretation, or written 9 books or 1300 articles, or started up companies.
Try it. At least once – at least when an important meeting is coming up and you want to shine. Spend a weekend alone somewhere in the countryside, with no texting, no email, no telephone, no TV, no people. Nothin’. Then allow yourself to go a bit crazy. The silence of the first day might be a relief. By day two, when you’re jumping out of your skin, you might end up hearing a very creative voice inside. Maybe not. Maybe you will have wasted a weekend and will email me to tell me I’m nuts. But just maybe, you’ll hear yourself come up with the new, new thing. If you do, you can give me an attribution.