Saving Your Ear!

How Creative Excursions and “Not-Thinking” Can Lead to Eureka Moments!
Gregg Fraley © 2008

You don’t have to be an artist to want to cut your ear off when you’ve hit the wall trying to solve a problem.  When nothing is coming to you and you’re creatively blocked, it’s frustrating.  Here is a tool for helping you through tough mental times, it’s called a Creative Excursion.

Creative Excursions (Crecursion? Creventure?) are much like what the name sounds like, it’s a bit of a venture into the unknown, a non-focused exploration.  The dictionary definition for excursion is instructive: it’s a “deviation” from the direct course, a pleasure trip — it’s a bit of an “out and back.”   For our purposes, it’s about giving your mind a chance to incubate, while at the same time unconsciously gathering solution seeds from the stimulus of your surroundings. You take time off, as much as you can get away with, even an hour can be helpful, three even better.  Plan to do nothing except explore and make observations about what you find intriguing.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Make sure you have enough time.  If you are pressured to get back somewhere or if you rush it you really won’t give your mind the break it needs.
  2. Do it alone. A creative excursion is a time when you need to be alone in order to achieve a sense of balance, a sense of peace, and a sense of personal playfulness.
  3. Do something essentially reflective.  A slow walk through a museum, a park or garden you’ve never been to, a group of shops, or a different part of town, you get the picture, something different to experience. Get to a place where you can enjoy being with yourself, and, a place that has some stimulus that is not your usual thing.
  4. Be comfortable.  Wear shoes you can walk in, clothes you feel good in.  Bring those little things you need to take care of yourself.
  5. Do something at least a bit physical.  Walking, easy-going biking, or not-too-strenuous hiking could all be part of a creative excursion.  Physical activity is all by itself a great way to refresh the mind.
  6. Put the challenge that you are blocked on into the back of your mind.  This is the time to Not Think about it.  Say to yourself, “I know this is a challenge for me, and I intend to solve it, but for now I’m going to give my mind a rest. I believe when I come back I’ll be refreshed and will be able to do more creative thinking.  Until then, I relax, and start noticing what’s around me.” You open the doors to your mind and allow it to respond to external suggestions.
  7. Bring a small notebook and pen to write down observations. Open your head to any thought and write down thoughts and observations as they occur.  These are things that are not related to your challenge. For instance you might walk into a record store and hear and old Motown song and it takes you back to some fun time you had.  Write that down… “Stevie Wonder’s song My Cheri Amour reminds me of …”  Or you notice a brilliantly done display at a department store and you might note, “simple designs are often the most effective.”  It doesn’t have to be profound, it’s just things as they occur to you.   It can even be as simple as one word, such as seeing a sweater with a great color and writing down “scarlet.”

When you return from your creative excursion you switch back to thinking about your challenge.  Taking your notebook in hand, use each phrase or observation as stimulus in a personal brainstorming session.  This is called Forced Association and it is often a way to trigger breakthrough ideas.  Review each item and ask yourself, what does this phrase/observation/thought have me thinking about my challenge?  What does it suggest in the way of a solution? It is often magical how something totally unrelated can give you the big idea you are looking for.  When Archimedes shouted Eureka!  and figured out how to measure an object’s density, what was he doing?  Day dreaming in a bath tub!  Take a hint, relax, take an excursion, and make some magic work for yourself.