Space –
A Simple Way to Boost Creativity

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When I first planted a garden, I made a rookie mistake. I spent hundreds of dollars on organic compost and soil, and I bought the highest quality plants I could find. But then I planted each squash, cucumber, and tomato plant right along side the other.

My plants looked like organic skyscrapers crammed against each other, searching for enough sun to survive.

My rookie mistake?  I didn’t give them space.  Without the space to grow, my plants either died or under-produced.  I ended up with shriveled eggplants, dried up tomatoes, and squash that never grew beyond the size of a golf ball.

I have found that the same principle holds for the creative process.  Most of us habitually avoid space.  We jam our calendars full of events.  Even when we’re relaxing, we watch TV while simultaneously surfing the Internet or talking on the phone.

The pressures of the modern world combine with the endless stimulation of our digital tools to ensure that each moment is filled.  The moments of our day become like my plants: so scrunched together that they cannot grow and create.

Some of the latest discoveries in neuroscience confirm the creative potential of open space – of unplanned and uninterrupted time.  When we give ourselves space from constant stimulation and activity, the brain shifts to a “default state.”  In this state, our perception changes.   Time slows down, we daydream more, and, most important, we open ourselves to new and more creative ways of thinking.

So for this week’s experiment, let’s explore clearing space in the day for moments of creative expression to emerge.

This doesn’t mean that you should sit on your couch all day.  But you can use the following practice to give yourself space for creative ideas to emerge:

Step 1Set An Intention – Before you open yourself to the spaciousness of unstructured time, set an intention. It might be a question: “What wants to happen through me today?”  Or it might be a request: “I want to come up with a better way of thinking about X.”  This intention will help channel the creative power of the space toward a particular idea, question, or theme.

Step 2Make Space – You might set aside an hour, a half hour, or 15-minutes.   You might walk, lie down in the grass, or meditate.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  What matters is that you give yourself a space from the constant activity and stimulation of everyday life. 

Step 3Allow Creative Inspiration to Move – The goal is to stay open within the spaciousness – to let go of all that you think you know and open to deeper answers and unexpected insights to emerge.  Use this time to go beneath habitual patterns in your thinking.  Wait until you feel an opening in your thinking emerge.  It might come in the form of a new song, idea, insight, or a solution to a problem you’ve never been able to solve.  Once it hits, go all out.  Allow yourself to get lost in the creative act of expression.

I wrote most of my latest book, Life Beyond Logic, using this practice. On some days, I would spend hours lying on the floor in silence or with music.  I would simply wait for inspiration to hit.  On some days, almost nothing came through.  I just sat there waiting.  On others, I felt a flood of new ideas flow through me.

What do you think?  Is space the prerequisite to the flow of creative inspiration?

 

Responses

  1. Royale says:

    Absolutely! We need space for new ideas to flow. If we can’t sit still for two minutes to hear ourselves think…we can never hear what we have to say:)

  2. Mark says:

    We def need time/space to be still… to allow, to distill our thoughts down.. to listen deeper, below the chattering surface of the mind. How can we hear those pearls of wisdom?

  3. Ronnie says:

    Love the concept of stillness as a gateway to setting intentions. Spaciousness is a beautiful state of being to aspire to each day. Well mentored Nate!

  4. Kristin says:

    Hi Nate,

    I love your explanation, lucidity and simplicity to solve the complex problems of modern life! Getting the moments and the space is a real problem. We always think let our default mode network (DMN) be active, but undercurrent is so strong we rarely get time to take rest on the shore. Stillness is the gateway to creativity.

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. Nathan says:

    I have received hunches that would come to me in the middle of the night as I sleep. And, when I awake in the morning I would follow the hunch, and sure enough that soft still voice that came as a whisper was the answer to my problem. We can use stillness as a way to solving problems that appear to be difficult while we are awake.

    • Nate says:

      Nathan! Right on. I love this idea. I sometimes ask a question just before I go to sleep. As you say, the space of sleep can and often does bring about an answer.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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