I read an article on Forbes.com earlier this week written by a Forbes staff, Susan Adams. The title of the article was Eight Ways Goofing Off Can Make You Productive. While it is somewhat lengthy, the article seems quite pedestrian. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the longer you sit in front the computer, the less productive you become. I call it ‘desk fatigue’. I have experienced it often, both in an office environment and at home. To majority of people who has a desk job (i.e sitting at a desk in front of the computer all day), this is not new information.
After reading the article, I was inspired to write something about the five ways I use to manufacture inspiration for this week’s post. Susan Adams’ article skimmed the surface lightly about how some great ideas often come outside of work hours or when the person wasn’t doing work, per se. It’s what I call the “IDMBTITS” Syndrome—the “I-Do-My-Best-Thinking-In-The-Shower” Syndrome. Have you ever thought of some great ideas while you were in the shower or sitting on the can in the toilet? Well, there is a scientific explanation for that. It’s influenced by our brain waves and its corresponding brain activities.
Brain wave technology has been around for quite some time. In fact, there are organizations and businesses that exist specifically to conduct research and produce products that can artificially alter our brain waves to enhance productivity.
- Beta (14-40Hz)
- Alpha (7.5-14Hz)
- Theta (4-7.5Hz)
- Delta (0.5-4Hz); and the lesser known
- Gamma (above 40Hz)
Beta is a state of heightened alertness. Of the three levels of brain waves we experience during our waking hours (Beta, Alpha and Theta), Beta has the highest frequency. It is where most people operate from during the day when they are problem solving, multi tasking and basically engaged in critical thinking and logical reasoning. People who are highly stressed or experience anxiety often are engaged in a prolonged or consistent state of Beta.
Alpha is a more relaxed state of alertness. The brain slows down to Alpha when we are disengaged from activities that stimulate or require high mental concentration. Getting up from your desk and taking a walk around the block slows down the brain wave from Beta to Alpha. Meditation is also another form of activity that slows the brain wave down to Alpha. Alpha is a state where ideas start to flow. So when you need some fresh ideas or a new perspective on something, walking away from the task at hand and taking a break to relax is a great way to facilitate slowing down your brain wave from Beta state to Alpha state.
Theta is the fertile ground for ideas. It is a state that allows creativity to flow. It usually occurs when we can mentally disengage from the activity at hand (i.e we don’t have to think too much while doing it). This can often be induced by some form of monotonous repetition like running, swimming, riding a bike etc. Theta is the place where “IDMBTITS” Syndrome—the “I-Do-My-Best-Thinking-In-The-Shower” Syndrome occurs. It is also present during pre-sleep (i.e just before we fall asleep) or in deep meditation.
And finally at Delta, the brain wave is at its slowest. This occurs when we are in deep sleep. Delta is a state of dreamless sleep when the body undergoes deep healing and regeneration.
Having some knowledge and awareness about the different brain wave frequencies is a great place to start when you need to artificially alter your brain wave to suit specific brain activities. For me, I tend to do more of what requires creativity versus logical problem solving so inspiration and ideas are fundamental to what I spend my time doing.
Aside from alternating between beta and alpha (and sometimes theta) through taking breaks and relaxing, here are my tips on the five ways to manufacture inspiration:
- Immerse in a new or different environment—If you work in an office environment, go for a walk outside. Go into shops you don’t normally go into and look at things you don’t normally see. Go to a different place for lunch. Take a different route from what you usually take. Create some variety in your daily routine and take in the senses in your environment.
- Talk to people—Two heads are better than one! Pick someone else’s brain, have a casual conversation, test each other’s ideas. A different perspective is a great way to look at the same thing and it’s easier to borrow a different perspective from someone else than to come up with it yourself.
- Research—If you have an idea that needs developing, researching is the best way to expand your knowledge and your thinking about different possibilities. This ties in with point number 2 about borrowing someone else’s perspective. Read books, read articles, look through magazines, go to talks or seminars, watch some informative documentaries or videos online. In the age of the internet, information is freely and abundantly available. It’s up to you to manage and control how much or how little you research.
- Contextual application of out-of-context ideas—Take something from somewhere else and apply it to your context. An example of this is the application of the laws of physics into the field of finance. Majority of derivatives pricing in finance is developed from the mathematics used in Hooke’s Law in Physics. Another example of this is the application of manufacturing principles in fast food outlets. Ray Kroc successfully built the MacDonald’s franchise by systemizing how food can be produced consistently and assembled easily.
- Be curious and have fun! Go out and play with child-like wonder. If you have children, play with them, talk with them, see the world through their eyes. Whether they are toddlers or teenagers, it is refreshing to see the world through a younger person’s filter. Sometimes, we forget the value of what we know because we think it is common sense and we tend to take it for granted. Other times, kids are better at thinking in new ways because their minds are not bogged down by too many pre-conceived ideas and their neural pathways are not as entrenched as ours.
So, those are my five tips on how to manufacture inspiration. What are some things you do to generate ideas? Share them with me at the end of this post, I would love to hear them.
To Brain Waves and Ideas,
P.S To read Susan Adams’ article, go HERE.
Copyright © Chiao Kee Lim 2012. No part of this article may be reproduced without the author’s permission.