This is what I like to call the “hard work” model. We live in a world that valorizes this idea of work. We talk about work using phrases like, “keep your nose to the grindstone” and “no pain, no gain.” We spend endless hours working, ending each day drained and depleted.
But here’s another way to think about work. I call it work as “effortless creation.” The idea is simple. Think about times when you’ve done your best work. Think about when and where you came up with your most innovative ideas. My guess is that it didn’t happen while staring into your computer at the end of a 12-hour workday.
Our most creative ideas come in unexpected moments. You might be in the shower, on a walk, or driving when that brilliant new idea hits you. In these moments, creation is effortless. There’s no strain, no effort, no real work. You can do in a matter of hours or even minutes what it might take weeks to do through “hard work.”
So the key question is: how can we experience more moments of “effortless creation”? Since they come unannounced, these moments can’t be planned or forced. But here are a few things you can do to make their appearance more likely:
- Stop Working Hard
I realize this sounds crazy. But, if you spend your days working too hard, you drain yourself of creative energy. When this happens, a number of problems emerge. The first is that you become easily overwhelmed and exhausted. This leaves you without the energy and enthusiasm to pursue innovative new ideas. The second is that you become lost in the details of your work. After ten hours spent working on a report, book chapter, or project, you lose your ability to see the big picture. Take a break and refresh your mind occasionally each day.
- Do Nothing
This may also sound crazy. But, some of the latest discoveries in the field of neuroscience show that when we experience states like boredom, the brain shifts to a “default state.” In this state, our perception changes. Time slows down, we daydream more, and, most important, we open ourselves to new and more creative ways of thinking. This doesn’t mean that you should sit on your couch all day. But you might plan short periods for walking alone, sitting outside, or meditating to give yourself space for creative ideas to emerge.
- Slow Down
Pace has a huge impact on the chances of creative moments arising. Our tendency is to go fast. We drive fast, rush through meals, and prize the idea of efficiency in the workplace. But the faster you go, the more you enter into the mental state of “hard work.” All this rush drowns out creative new solutions and ideas playing in the sub-conscious background. So one of the best ways to tap into “effortless creation” is simply to slow down. Eat more slowly, write more slowly, and email more slowly. The more you slow down the flow of life, the more you open yourself to unexpected new ideas and insights.
- Record Your Genius
When your next great idea comes, go all out. Remember that you are experiencing a special state of consciousness. So allow yourself to follow the flow of inspiration. Write down everything that comes to mind. Be sure to capture the contents of your mind in this altered state of effortless creation. In a day, or even an hour, it may be gone.