Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Issac Newton, Albert Einstein all included long walks as part of their daily routine. Charles Darwin had a favorite “Sand Walk” that has since become famous and popular for tourists to walk. Teddy Roosevelt, who greatly expanded our National Parks, was such an avid outdoor enthusiast that after his Presidency, he spent almost a year on safari in Africa. Isaac Newton was known for his odd tendency of drifting off into silent trance of thought for several minutes even during his lectures.
Freud used the analogy of a large banquet hall to represent our unconscious, and an adjoining small drawing room to represent our conscious mind. At the door of the drawing room is a Watchman. Within the subconscious mind of the banquet hall, there are all varieties of guest ideas, while within the smaller drawing room are ideas the conscious mind is actively working with. The Watchman’s job is to allow entry to the drawing room for only those ideas which comply with our belief and logic system. So while we consciously work with only a small subset of ideas, skills, behaviors and attitudes in our active, conscious mind, William James, the father of modern psychology, believed we have a wealth of thoughts and ideas at our disposal now – we just don’t allow them into our conscious thought patterns. The Watchman evaluates bizarre, foreign, strange ideas in our subconscious and decides whether or not they can be permitted into the active thinking process. William James believed the healthiest mental relationship with our thoughts is to treat them as simply thoughts, without any bearing on reality. At the other end of the spectrum is psychosis, in which thoughts are treated as reality. In this mental state, if you have the thought that there are ants on your arms, you believe this is reality. That’s psychosis.
But if you can treat your thoughts as simply thoughts, without danger to reality, the Watchman will permit more into your active, conscious mind. The results is that you will have a much greater arsenal of ideas to work with. More tools for your creative problem solving.
After you start feeding your mind positive, constructive ideas, you need a pause in your efforts. These pauses open up the drawing room of your conscious mind allow new ideas from the subconscious to enter. And a physical or emotional provocation is a great way to start. By removing yourself from your desk, engaging in physical activity, attending an art exhibit, having lunch with someone who works in a different field, etc…, you allow the puzzles that are active in your work to incubate.
This incubation period is crucial to getting to synthesis – pulling together mentally the ideas into an innovation. Because new ideas and creativity aren’t enough. You must put them into action. Innovation = creativity X execution.
You must find the time to partition your active thinking and turn off the white noise in our lives. Yet our conscious thought is incredibly difficult to turn off. Just try it while lying awake at 2:00 am while your mind churns. Consciously persisting in repetitious mind games on ideas isn’t usually the best way to solve a problem because you aren’t allowing new ideas to enter your mind to contribute. You need to allow new ideas past the Watchman. Start by getting outside of your usual domain and getting comfortable with new ideas and experiences. You can teach the Watchman to allow more ideas into your active thinking process.