This Holiday Season is the Perfect Time to Start

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of that eureka moment. You’re going through your day, handling a task that leaves your mind free to wander, then boom – a big, creative idea bursts into being. It might be a solution to some intractable challenge, or some totally new idea you didn’t even realize your mind was engaging in the background. So the big question is, why do those ideas happen when they do, and how can we have them more often? For me they often happening when I am sleeping… or really tossing and turning.

As it turns out, location matters. If you’re like most people, your big ideas come in spaces where you’re comfortable, relaxed, and free to let your mind wander. There’s good reason that 72 percent of people – myself included – say the shower is a great place to think creatively. For some, it might be when you’re running, doing dishes, or that few moments in bed in the morning between dreaming and waking.

Find a Safe, Comfortable Place to Let Your Mind Wander

The basic idea is that we are able to think more creatively when we’re comfortable, and in a non-judgmental environment. For lots of people, the shower certainly fits the bill. It’s no coincidence that the shower is also a place where many of us with—ahem—less-than-stellar singing voices feel comfortable belting out our favorite tunes (although you may have noticed I will sometimes post my awful singing voice on FB). Whether at home or on the job, it’s important to create spaces where we feel comfortable thinking freely. Here are a few tips:

Go it alone: Even if you’re normally an extrovert, it can be very difficult to let your mind wander with other people around. Try thinking in solitude, then discussing your ideas with others after you’re finished.

Eliminate distractions: Sensory distractions like noise typically need to go, but everyone has different triggers. Some people require total quiet, while others prefer a low, steady sound like an air conditioner or running water to cancel out harsher sounds.

Unplug: For most of us, eliminating distractions also means unplugging, at least for a little while. It’s just hard to think freely when you’re worried about responding the next text, email, or social notification that lights up your phone.

Do it on the go: While these basic concepts are great for creating a dedicated “thinking space” in your home or office, you can also use them to find makeshift locations wherever you happen to be. If you can’t find a quiet place, try taking a walk instead.

Now, finding a safe, comfortable place to think is great, but what do you do when you get there? Just sit back and let the magic happen? In all honesty, that’s not far from the truth. Relaxation techniques are great for getting in the right frame of mind, but after that it really is about letting your mind wander.

If you’re struggling to get in the right frame of mind, try meditation techniques. Rather than trying to take each thought in a specific direction, try to act more like an observer, noting each thought as it passes through and blurs into the next. Alternately, you can try focusing deeply on one specific thought, object, or concept. One of the best tips is simply to focus on breathing. By focusing on each deep breath and avoiding sensory distractions, you can free your mind to think creatively.

For some people, physical activity is also a way to encourage free thinking. It might take the form of a quiet stroll or a vigorous workout at the gym. The sensory distractions are more numerous in these places, but the focus on exercise has a similar effect as meditation.

No matter where you choose to let your mind wander and what makes you comfortable, the most important thing is to make it a habit. Set aside time each day, or whenever you’re able, to visit the spaces where you do your best creative thinking, and try not to set any expectations on coming up with a great idea. Just sit back, let your mind wander, and observe. You can’t force a breakthrough moment, but you can definitely create the right environment to make it possible!

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