The Big Idea
We need to get rid of the stale ideas, to make room for what’s new.
Questions I Answer
- How can I be more productive and creative?
- What can I do to get past creative blocks?
- Why is boredom a good thing?
- What steps can I take to boost my creativity?
Actions to Take
- Listen to Episode 016: How to Make Better Decisions: Sunk Cost Bias to learn about sunk cost bias and see if you’re spending time on things that no longer serve you and move you forward.
- Listen to Episode 043: Analysis Paralysis: Stop Overthinking Your Goals to find out if you have analysis paralysis, which keeps you from taking actionable steps toward a goal, and instead keeps you in the research phase.
Key Topics in the Show
Examples of how you may be living in idea debt, causing you to stand still instead of move forward.
Actionable tips on ways you can increase and foster your creativity right now.
What to do with your stale ideas so you allow yourself to work effectively towards what really matters most.
Three ideas for how you can get past roadblocks and allow yourself to think freely and creatively.
Why boredom is actually a good thing, and how to start embracing your whitespace.
Resources and Links
- 3 Ways to Get Past Creative Blocks
- Give Yourself limitations – when we have an overabundance of resources or time, we’re unsure how to move forward and where to focus.
- Don’t simply think of the end-goal
- Embrace the whitespace – let your brain have room and space so that you’re more likely to come up with creative and new ideas.
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding true fulfillment and happiness through the power of productivity. To get your free checklist, 5 Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply signup at inkwellpress.com/ podcast. And now here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press and this is episode 49. Today’s episode is brought to you by inkWELL Press, a company focused on creating the highest quality and most effective productivity tools you can find, so you can start living your beautiful, successful life today. Check out the complete line of productivity and planning products at inkwellpress.com.
I want to start by talking about creativity. When you hear about creativity, you might think immediately of things like painting or writing or crafting or one of the thousands of art forms out there, but creativity is more than just art. It’s an important part of just getting everyday stuff done. Even if you’re a little more left brained, you need creativity no matter what industry you’re in. It helps us think outside the box when it comes to problems and solutions, and it allows us to take our ideas to greater heights and push the boundaries of what we currently know.
I think that Albert Einstein is a great example of who we think of as being completely left brained. I mean he was a physicist and a mathematician. You might not immediately lump him into the category of creatives, but he was. His ideas on physics completely changed the thinking in science. It turned it on its head. He came up with theories that fought against what was considered really basic scientific knowledge of the time and he actively sought out ways to think differently. And that is the basis for creative thought.
Henry Ford is another creative thinker. He revolutionized the way that factories work. Yes, he was focused on operations and getting things to move seamlessly through the process, but that took a different approach from what everyone else was doing at the time. Really, anyone that comes to mind when you think of revolutionary thinkers is a creative. They don’t follow the status quo. They challenge and push the ideals of convention, of society, and, well, really of themselves. We all need a little creativity in our lives and we’ll talk about how to push ourselves creatively in just a minute.
But first I want to talk about the other end of the spectrum. When you have so many ideas you feel like, well, you’re almost drowning in them. Last week we talked about narrowing in on ideas, but what about when we have this bank of ideas and it’s really holding us back? So many ideas that it’s keeping us from moving forward. What do we do when ideas go stale? And this is the thing, ideas do go stale. They become old and tired and we have to move on from them. Idea debt is spending too much time imaging what your project, or your future, is going to look like and then spending little, to no time, actually making that happen. Actually doing the work on the project or moving you towards your goals.
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How do you know if you have idea debt? Well, here’s a couple examples. If you tell a bunch of people about your idea and then spend no time on it. If you have a drawer full of half-finished, or not even started, stories and novels and articles. Or if you’ve read a hundred online guides to blogging, but you’ve never actually started your blog. All of those are examples of living in some serious idea debt. When you grow this mountain of idea debt where you have these piles and piles of ideas that you revisit over and over again, but you don’t finish and you maybe don’t even remember why you even started them, that can really start to cause a problem.
Now, a little well managed idea debt is absolutely healthy. As Earnest Hemingway says, “It’s good to leave a little bit of water in the well.” It’s great to think about ideas over time and allow them to marinate, or to save them for later when you aren’t feeling inspired. But when you carry around idea debt for so long that your idea begins to way heavily on you and you can’t move on to new, exciting, more mature work because you told yourself you’d do this other idea first, that’s when it really causes a problem. And this is really, at its heart, sunk cost bias.
And we talked about this sunk cost bias way back in episode 16 and this is when you feel needlessly committed, almost like you have to work on something whether you want to or not because, well, you already said that you were going to. Those unfinished ideas pull at you and because they’re ideas not in motion, we tend to over-romanticize them. They feel much more exciting than anything that you’re really currently working on in your real life. Do you feel sometimes like you’re making progress just by amassing a ton of information about an idea without actually acting on it? That’s idea debt too. It’s more like analysis paralysis, but, again, at its heart that’s part of this debt.
Now, we discussed analysis paralysis earlier this season back in episode 43, and analysis paralysis is that just over analyzing. Spending all of your time researching, gathering information, without actually moving yourself forward. And what happens is that when we don’t work through an idea, there’s a part of our brain that’s still devoted to processing it, which makes it impossible to fully devote our time and energy to our current new ideas. We tend to put our big ideas on a beautiful silver platter, on a high, high pedestal, even if they don’t truly deserve to live there.
What do you do with this idea debt? I hear from a lot of people that they have all of these ideas and they just can’t move on from them. Well, we need to figure out what to do with those old ideas that are feeling a little bit stale. So here’s a few ideas.
You can use your old ideas as a springboard for your new ideas or you could even use them in your current project. Kurt Vonnegut, the author, did an amazing job of this. He used up spare plot ideas that he had by giving to them to his recurring character, fictional novelist Kilgore Trout. So Vonnegut said through Trout, “I suppose I’ve now summarized close to 50 novels that I will never have to write and spared people from reading.” So he’s taken these old ideas and he’s incorporated them into his new work.
You can give your ideas away to others. Sometimes the idea can seem so good, so worthy, that you just want to see it happen even if you aren’t the one who’s going to do them. Give your ideas to a good home. You can share some of your ideas through social media, or with friends. See if it really hits with one of them and it may
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spur them on to something new themselves. The key here, though, is that you really give it away and you’re no longer involved in any way, shape, or form.
And then of course, there’s always the idea of just letting it go. Write down all your ideas on a sheet of paper and then go through them and I mean go through them. Don’t just write them down and go, “Well, I don’t know, maybe this is still good.” I want you to go through them with a fresh perspective and I want you to ask yourself, do you really want to work on that idea? You have to be a little bit brutal. Some ideas are totally worth holding on to, even if you can’t work on them right now. But once you’ve stripped away everything else, this is when you can really get started. We have to weed through the clutter and the noise to really begin to see where we want to go.
Isaac Asimov produced so many novels, letters, essays, and other scribblings on ideas in his lifetime, that if he were to really flush them out he would’ve had to write a full length novel every two weeks for 25 years. What would’ve happened if he’d chose to hold on to all of those? Would he ever have gotten any of his books really published? There’s a quote that I shared earlier in this season back in, I think, episode 42 that was from the movie Woodlawn, that really resonated with me. “Sometimes before you can have new dreams in this life, the old ones have to be taken from you.”
That holds true not just of our dreams, but also our ideas. We have to really allow the space for the new ideas. So we have to get rid of the old, stale ideas sometimes before we can really begin to see where it is we want to go. So how do foster our creativity? I’ve got five ways to increase and foster your creativity that I’ll share with you in just in a minute. But first, I want to give a quick word from our sponsor.
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Okay, I want to share with you the different ways that we can foster creativity. Many people think that creativity just means daydreaming. Sitting around and dreaming of ideas. And yes, daydreaming is a good place to start. Multiple studies show, and confirm, that daydreaming and napping actually help with the creative process. But the less work you’ve actually done on the problem, the less daydreaming’s really going to help you. So get some work done first and then start daydreaming about the continuation, not the other way around.
Okay, I have a couple ideas of how you can really begin to grow and foster your creativity. So you can start by adding to your knowledge by experiencing new things. For example, reading more and trying to read on a wide range of subjects. So not just the same mystery novels over and over again, or the same author. Really spread out your experiences with reading. Try reading, and even embracing,
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something absurd and surreal. Research actually shows that reading materials like this can help boost pattern recognition and creative thinking. This is because the mind goes into overdrive for a short period while it tries to make sense of what its reading.
In these studies their subjects were reading Kafka, but you could read stories like Alice in Wonderland. Exploring new opportunities and experiences, like reading new books or traveling or going to meetups, trying new hobbies, really helps cause a dramatic increase in brain activity. And an increase in brain activity usually leads to an increase in creativity.
Another idea is you can start keeping notes on your ideas and creative thoughts. Now that doesn’t mean scribbling them on the back of a receipt. I mean for you to start collecting them together. When you start to have these ideas and you keep them together in a notebook, or a journal, that can really make a difference because your ideas can create springboards on one another and you can begin to see the connections, and the pathways, that are beginning to form. And that helps guide you to where you want to go with the creative process. I think it’s so helpful to be able to see the breadcrumbs of where your creative thought has been in order to move you forward.
Now, if you’re the type of person who comes up with ideas in the shower, or in the car, there’s even special notepads for places like that. But what’s important is to review your notes often so you can make these connections we were just talking about. And you have to let go of that preconceived notion on how these ideas should be. Let them morph into something entirely different over time as these connections are made.
Another idea is to separate the creative process from the incubation process. For example, research and writing. Don’t try to research and write at the same time if you’re writing for an article or a blog post. Instead, gather your materials, do your research, and then write. You can consume more inspiration, take it all in, and then get into work mode. Research has found that having powerful moods really does help boost your creativity. It’s been thought for a long time that happiness is the ideal state to work in creatively and research now shows that creativity increases with both positive and negative emotions. So when they are high, you tend to be in the mood to create. You don’t have to force a negative mood to create, but maybe the next time you’re in one, try to focus that energy into something new.
So one of the things I hear from a lot of people is that they get these creative blocks and they don’t know how to move past them. So I want to really address those and I have three ideas for how you can get past these creative blocks. So the first thing is, it sounds counterintuitive, but add some constraints because constraints can really improve your creativity. Setting limitations can force yourself to think outside of that box about the resources you have available.
Famously, Dr. Seuss created Green Eggs and Hamm after being challenged by his editor to produce an entire book using only 50 different words. Look what he came up with. It’s amazing what constraints can do. In 2015, Ravi Mehta of the University of Illinois and Meng Zhu of John Hopkins University, examined how
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thinking about scarcity, or abundance, influences how creative people use their resources. This study had two groups. One had to write about growing up with scarce resources and the other wrote about growing up with abundant resource and then after that, both groups had to come with a plan for how to creatively use bubble wrap. The ideas were judged blindly.
Now, what’s interesting is the group that wrote about growing up with scarce resources came up with the most creative uses for bubble wrap. Researchers concluded that people with abundance really had no incentive for using what’s available to them in novel ways, but when facing scarcity people give themselves the freedom to use resources in less conventional ways because they have to. Adding in some sort of limitation can really hone your focus so you can really, deeply explore a creative thought. Constraints can direct us to make the best out of what we already have.
By examining how people design new products, cook meals, and even fix broken toys, researchers found that budget significantly increases how resourceful people were in these challenges, which ultimately led to better results. So if you’re feeling a little bit blocked creatively, give yourself some limitations.
The second way to get over your creative blocks is don’t get stuck on the end goal. Instead of thinking about what you want at the end, re-conceptualize the problem in a different way before starting to work. So for example, instead of thinking of the end goal I’m going to write blog articles that get a lot of pins on Pinterest, or get a lot of tweets, reframe it. Think of it as what post would really resonate with my readers and capture their interest? If you find yourself focusing on a generic problem that you want to solve, try to re-conceptualize it from a more specific, and more meaningful, angle. When you find that these creative juices are lacking, it’s time to shake things up a bit by trying something new.
Changing your prospective on your end goal really can make a huge difference in firing up your brain in new ways and it might make you view the world in a slightly different way. And that is a good thing because that’s really what helps us be as creative as possible.
And then the third thing you can do, which I think is the best thing you can do, is embrace the white space. Your brain needs room to stretch and to play, and if you’re filling every spare second of your day there’s no room. There’s no space for that. In 2014, the study of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that bored people are more likely to engage in sensation seeking. This means they go looking for activity, or sites, that engage their minds and that stimulates your brain’s reward centers. These people are also typically more prone to divergent styles of thinking, which means they’re more likely to come up with creative new ideas.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire, tested the link between boredom and creativity. Now, in their study what they did is they had two groups of participants. Group one was asked to think of as many possible
uses for plastic cups as they could. Group two had to sit down and they had to copy and read phone numbers from a phone book, and then they had to think of as many possible uses for plastic cups. The group that completed that really boring phone
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number task beforehand, they came up with far more creative answers than the other group who had not done the phone number task. This might be because boredom inspires lateral thinking, which engages your mind to seek a more creative solution to the problem at hand because the obvious solution is not interesting.
When we’re turning straight to our phone as soon as we’re bored, this can make us rush right past an important observation. In our pursuit of never being bored, we’re also filling our space needlessly. Checking your phone and social media, can feel like it’s a good way to distract yourselves in the moment, but it doesn’t help in the long run. It doesn’t really push you creatively. So I really want to encourage you to really enjoy that white space. Allow that space to really be filled with what you want to do creatively.
Okay. We’re just about out of time. I want to encourage you this week to try to pursue something that feels creative to you. Look at a problem from a new angle. Take the time to embrace your white space. Begin writing down your thoughts and ideas and I promise you, you’re going to find it to be really, really rewarding.
Now, next week I have a really special treat for you because I have an amazing guest on the show that I am so excited to introduce you to. Niki Nakayama is going to be on the show who is a world renowned chef, and she has the most inspiring story of how she has overcome so much in pursuit of her dreams. So I am excited to talk to you about that next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to connect with me, you can find me over at inkwellpress.com. You can find me on social media using the user name @inkwellpress. All right, until next time, happy planning.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox form inkWELL Press. To get free access to Tanya’s checklist, 5 Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply register at inkwellpress.com/podcast.