Have you experienced this creativity phenomenon? – You sit staring at your computer screen for hours without having any creative thoughts, then go out for a run and suddenly your head is full of ideas. This is not just a happy coincidence.

Mind-wandering or, more scientifically, “stimulus-independent thoughts”, refers to times when our minds stray from a state of full concentration, such as solving a problem, to completely unrelated thoughts. Mind-wandering actually consumes almost half of our waking hours and happens during nearly every daytime activity. This can be frustrating if you are trying to concentrate on completing a specific task, but quite surprisingly it can actually bring about the most productive way to work. 

The key question is: what steps can we take to recreate these seemingly random creative splurges and use them to our advantage? 

1. Stop working to start creating

Research on problem solving tells us that the best way to find solutions can be to take a break and distract yourself – concentrating too hard actually puts the brakes on your creativity. Tests have shown that to make yourself even more productive in this down-time try to occupy your mind with a physical task that occupies your mind without using too much brain-power. This could be yoga, a short workout, tidying the house or simply doing the washing up.

Man washing sauce pan while woman standing in background in kitchen while letting his mind wander. GamePlanA
Even doing the washing-up can help you to free your mind. ©Maskot/Getty Images

2. Pick your best creative window

We all have a time of day when we are most productive, but, confusingly, we should plan to generate ideas during our least productive periods. This might seem counterproductive because logically our brains would work better when we feel most awake and alert; however, this isn’t always the case.

If your performance is much better in the morning, consider thinking about ideas in the evening. If you are a night owl, meditate and brainstorm ideas over your first morning cup of coffee.  

Close-up book and coffee against the beautiful view from the window. Time to let your mind wander. GamePlanA
Work around the times that work best for you. ©Igor Ustynskyy/GettyImages

3. Create the illusion of space

Have you ever noticed that you have your best ideas come about when you’re sat on the sofa, in your pajamas or staring out of the window?

Psychology shows us that if we feel surrounded by space it can help foster a more creative state of mind. Not everyone has a massive home office to work in, but we can cheat our brains by finding the space that feels expansive: pick a room with high ceilings and sit in front of a window with a view. If neither of those are possible, then consider painting your walls blue. To our eyes, cool colors appear further away whereas hot colors – like red – seem closer.

Man working at desk in front of window. The ideal space to let his mind wander.
Find the space that works for you. ©Tay Jnr/GettyImages

4. Choose the ideal technique

The best way to increase your productive mind-wandering is through mindfulness meditation. In a successful state of meditation, your mind is occupied, but not taken over with analytical thoughts, thus allowing space for creativity.  

Firstly, focus on your breathing, then open your mind to allow any thoughts or sensations to occur. The aim is to let these pass through your mind without analyzing or judging them, then to pick up on them later after the meditation has finished.  

A girl sitting on the ground enjoying the view into the mountains while letting her mind wander.

A wandering mind is our most natural mental state as humans – the trick is to harness these thoughts to help with your search for ideas or solutions. 

Next time you have a problem to crack, why not try these techniques and let us know how you get on.

4 COMMENTS

Please take note of the commenting guidelines.
You will receive an email to approve your comment.
Please take note of the commenting guidelines.
You will receive an email to approve your comment.

Thanks for your comment

You will receive an email to approve your comment. It will only appear after your confirmation.

Okay

Oh no! An unexpected error occurred.

Try again
by Josh Diaz 08.04.2019
This is so true. Yesterday me and my partner tided up the entire house, did some recycling and went for a quick run afterwards and our creative process really boosted up to start the week fresh :)
Reply
by Nina Weihrauch Josh Diaz 12.04.2019
Hi Josh,

sounds super cool and it's just the best when creativity just starts flowing without actively doing something for it.
But how do you generate creative energy if you need to come up with an idea?

For me it works best when I consciously block my calendar to have time to focus and unwind at the same time. It sounds strange, but I try to create a relaxed atmosphere and environment to trigger creative thoughts. And: I always need to write things down on paper, screen kills my creativity most of the time...

Keep on creating and best,

Nina
Reply
by Claire 11.04.2019
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing these details.
Reply
by Neo 18.04.2019
True that. Only a free mind is able to culture and nourish new ideas, solutions to the most peculiar problems. Thanks for the article.
Reply