There’s a bubble of silence that surrounds you when you’re so deep in the act of creating that you do not stop to ask, “Is this good? Am I good? Will anything good come of making this?”
That bubble is the by product of shame leaving the body.
There are enough ideas, images, symbols, and experiences in your head already to work with for a lifetime. It’s a little like having a car with an unpredictable battery, though.”
We humans have a tendency to build cocoons – physical, emotional, and especially intellectual – because we usually like our lives to be safe, warm, and somewhat familiar. We like to know where we are, what we’re doing, and what we’re supposed to be thinking and feeling, so we look for things to tightly wrap ourselves inside of.
Insulation from Confrontation
We might find a place to stay, then stay there . . . forever . . . always . . . all the time.
We might learn a way to do things and repeatedly do things that way, swearing it’s the only one.
Or we might swear our allegiance to a religion, political party, or school of thought: one we can cling to, believe in, and never doubt because it’s easier, we discover, to leave the heavy thinking to someone else.
Then we can spend our time reading books that tell us what we think we already know. We can eat the same foods, hum the same tunes, visit the same places, and take the same routes we always have.
And we can make sure to surround ourselves with people who happen to, oddly enough, look, think, and act very much like we do. Did we select them or just assimilate? Hmm. Who cares? It’s all the same.
The main thing is that we avoid confrontation. The main thing is that we never force ourselves to adapt.
Development of the Everyday Brain
Before we know it, like a frog who doesn’t know it’s slowly being boiled, we begin to lose our imaginations, our ability to ask new questions, invoke new visions, and choose new directions. We find we have an everyday brain thinking everyday thoughts that move about in everyday circles.
We’re safe. We’re warm. We’re stuck.
If we’re happy being stuck (some folks seem to be), then all is well. No need to pull ourselves free.
But my guess is this isn’t true for you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. So what are we to do?
Ditch the Cocoon
If we want to get unstuck, we have to break out of our cocoons. We have to spread our wings and fly away from the things we think we know. This is how we stimulate our imaginations, by confronting our everyday brains with things uncertain and never before experienced.
Building the Imagination Muscle
Think of your imagination as if it were a muscle. A muscle, as every bodybuilder knows, is developed by challenging it to the point that it actually breaks down and has to rebuild itself. Imagination works much the same way.
If your brain is never confronted with anything new, it simply relies on old categories and ideas, things it thinks it already knows and understands. This works. That never will. This is always true. That could never be. My tribe is good. That one is just despicable.
A brain like that will raise its eyelid, see nothing new, and go back to sleep again.
But give it something new to contend with and it has to do some work. Old ways of thinking are broken down and new ones have to be employed.
Confronting your imagination with new stimuli forces your brain to use more neurons, make new connections, and build new pathways inside itself. The result of all this newness will often include the development of new questions, ideas, beliefs, and other forms of thought.
Here are a few ways to confront your brain, challenge your status quo, and help new thoughts to grow:
7 Degrees of Confrontation
New places are filled with new experiences. The more foreign things seem to you, the better, because, like Dorothy, you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore and you’ll be forced to think and act in ways you never have.
2. Listen to the Opposition
If you consider yourself to be a Democrat, listen to a Republican. If you’re religious, listen to an atheist. If you hated a book, listen to someone who loved it.
And really listen.
Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and attempt to discredit everything they’re saying. You’re always free to disagree, but first see if there’s anything they’re saying that knocks you off your center, makes you stop and think, and gives you something to investigate further.
3. Try Something You Just Know You’ll Suck At
Think you have zero musical talent? Try learning an instrument.
Can’t draw? Then by all means, please draw.
Does math confuse you? Allow yourself to be confused and try to learn something about it, anyway.
The more challenging you think something will be, the better chance it has of opening up something new inside of you, something you mistakingly thought wasn’t there.
4. Put Your Tastes Aside
You love Chinese food. Good for you. Now go eat at that new Honduran restaurant that opened up just last week.
You only subscribe to high brow publications? How magnificent. Now go out and buy a copy of Mad or Inked or Goat Magazine (“Dedicated to goats and the people who raise them“).
The point here is to forget about your preferences and experience things you would never otherwise think about. You can do this with almost anything for which you’ve developed a specific taste: books, music, film, date night activities, and so forth. Just leave your inner snob at home.
5. Shop Until You Pop
Visit stores that carry things you have no interest in purchasing.
Don’t know much about sewing? Visit a fabric store.
Not all that handy? Spend half a day in one of those huge, hardware supply chains.
You don’t have to buy anything. Just spend time looking at all the things other people see fit to produce and/or exchange their hard earned money for.
Ask yourself what the appeal might be. Ask the clerk about what items are most popular, what they’re used for, and how they’re used, but, before you do, try to come up with your own answers.
You may not leave with a bag full of goodies, but you’ll probably take home a few ideas.
6. Think of Silly Things
Imagine a purple moon. Envision your neighborhood in the midst of a whip cream storm. Think of how you’d run your very own kingdom if all the people were orange and your major export was tofu.
In his book, Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently, Gregory Burns points out that when we imagine something familiar like a sunset, we tend to stick with stock images, and not very vivid ones at that. But when we imagine something we’ve never seen (Burns uses the example of a sunset on Pluto), our brains work harder to fill in the details.
So think of things you’ve never witnessed, things that no one ever has, and things that simply don’t exist. It’s a great way to rev up your creativity.
7. Do It Yourself
There’s an endless number of ways to confront your everyday brain. One of the great ways, I believe, would be for you to think of some of your own. Make a list of all the ways you can think of to confront yourself and turn that list into a plan of action.
You could try a new one each week, working through your list until you’ve reached the end. By then, your imagination will have grown and you’ll be able to come up with a whole new list.
Maybe It’s Time to Get Confrontational
Just remember this the next time you’re feeling stuck. A little confrontation could do you good.