Over the holidays I spent 10 days at a silent Buddhist meditation retreat. It’s not your typical New Year’s party. In fact, nothing about it was a party, but as I sat in silence and my mind stilled, it occurred to me that we think too much.
As someone who’s spent over 20 years in account management, is action-oriented and enjoys solving problems—whose habitual state is not one of silent meditation—I find it remarkable to see how gathering and relaxing my mind allows new ideas to emerge. I now welcome the openness that might have made me uncomfortable in the past as a birthplace for creation and restoration.
What if we could get to better ideas by thinking less? In advertising, we spend our days solving client problems, and it’s rewarding to use our minds and natural creativity to come up with ideas. All this thinking keeps our minds really busy, but creativity requires space and open minds—less thinking, more being.
As leaders, we ask a lot of the people we work with. And it’s important that we give them the freedom and space to nourish their creativity.
When our minds are calm, things get interesting. This feels counterintuitive because we’ve come to depend on our minds to help us get to ideas. We’ve trained them to think ourselves into and out of things, to help us predict, plan, solve and control in an effort to bring our ideas to life. We’re convinced that if we think through every detail, our clients will love what we’ve made for them.
The active mind will always be at the center of our work, but when we’re looking for real creative insight, thinking can sometimes get in the way. Many of our thoughts aren’t helpful because they’re about things we can’t control: the past, which is gone, or a future that we can’t predict. Sometimes our thoughts even become stories we tell ourselves that aren’t true, and we believe them. That stuff just clutters the mind, and we don’t have to give it our attention. Creativity doesn’t live there. There’s no room for it. It lives here in the open space, right now.
There are many things that defy thinking: our hearts beat by themselves, our lungs draw breath, our subconscious works in mysterious ways. What if we just relaxed and let our minds draw in ideas more naturally, like the scent of a hot apple pie from the oven? Each of us will arrive at our own unique way of accessing this place. It does not require meditation but giving it a little attention goes a long way.
Ask yourself these questions. When am I most relaxed? When do I lose track of time? When am I so present that I forget to check my phone? When am I in my body? When am I most connected to my heart? What would soften my current experience? What would calm my nervous system? How could I create these conditions in this moment?
Your brain is working on many levels, many of which are not conscious. Great things come from those spaces. When we quiet the mind, we can hear the whispers of our inner voice.
So the next time you’re searching for an answer, try something different. Prioritize creating space, especially when you feel you can’t.
This can be tricky at work when you’re moving from one meeting to the next. Try to schedule 50-minute meetings with 10 minutes to transition. Take three deep breaths through the nose before entering a room. Notice something pleasant, like a funny script or a cup of warm tea in your hands. Relax your feet. Have a soft smile. Quiet the eyes. Listen deeply. Give your best to what you’re doing, and let go of the outcome. Believe that ideas are all around you if you allow space for them.
Practice finding little opportunities for spaciousness throughout the day. We know that pauses are helpful—they’re like tiny vacations—but they are helpful only if we actually take them. Block some time on your calendar to do some not doing. Your best ideas will come from that space.
Make room for magic, and everything else will fall into place.