Creative Thinking: If you have a Problem or Question you also have the Ability to Cope and the Answer is Within You

I have never been lost but I was bewildered once for three days.” Daniel Boone 

I believe for every problem or question we have, we also have the ability to find the solution and the answer within us. To demonstrate this, I will tell you a story about Jack.

A Case Study

Jack’s Story

Some years ago, when Jack was just seven, his primary school decided they were going to form a school council with two representatives from each class. This was announced in the morning at school assembly, and the students were told that anyone who wanted to be considered would have an opportunity after lunch to speak in front of their class to be considered for nomination.

Jack relayed this to me at the end of the day when he told me he was among the candidates nominated from his class. I asked what he had done and said that resulted in his success at this initial stage. He said at lunch time he had found himself a quiet corner in the playground, and thought through what he might say. But when he stood in front of his class and saw everyone staring at him, he froze and could not remember what he was going to say. I asked what he did then, and he said: “Well I just started talking and I don’t remember what I said but at the end everyone clapped, and I was nominated”.

He was on a high and went about developing his campaign strategy. Then one day when he came home from school, he seemed quite subdued. When I asked what was wrong, he said: “Today Owen [one of his opponents] brought cookies to school and gave one to anyone who promised to vote for him”. He asked his dad and me what he should do. We just looked at each other and wondered if we should perhaps go out and buy chocolate for Jack to give to his friends. We did not do this though, nor did we have the answer to give Jack; and so he went about working on his campaign.

At the time Jack was into both The Simpsons and The Rugrats, and he made up stickers, leaflets, posters and banners saying ‘Vote for Jack’ using these animated characters. He had the whole family involved in his campaign. Jack took himself away from the immediate problem of how to compete against Owen and his cookies by busying himself.

Then the morning of the election came, and when I dropped Jack at school I asked what he was going to say in his election speech, he said he did not know, but he was concerned that his classmates would vote for Owen because they would get another cookie. 

I waited with bated breath all day, hoping he would not be too disappointed if he was not successful. When I picked him up in the evening, I asked tentatively what happened. And Jack said: “Oh yeah, I was elected,” in a no-big-deal sort of way. “But what did you say?” I asked.

Jack answered: “Well I stood up and everyone was staring at me, and I said, Owen has promised you cookies if you vote for him, these cookies will last a couple of minutes,  I can promise to help make your dreams come true, these will last forever.” “My god Jack,” I asked, “Where did that come from?” “I don’t know,” he said. “It just came to me”.

Therein lies my belief that if we have a problem or a question, that we think we do not have the ability to cope with or the answer to, we actually do.  Quite often the solution comes to us when we take ourselves away from the immediate problem or question, and busy ourselves with something perhaps related to the issue – just as Jack did by working on his campaign. Or we may just need to distance ourselves from the problem. I find I have my most inspirational thoughts in the bath, or when I sleep on it, or when I go for a walk. The 3 B’s of creative thinking are: Bath, Bed and Bus.

At the time Jack was successful in being elected to represent his class on the school council he loved Jackie Chan films and earned himself the nickname among his classmates as ‘Jackie Chan the first school council man’.

A Case Study

My Writing Story: The Strategies I Use to Move Forward when I’m Feeling Blocked or Stuck or I Have Unanswered Questions 

While this is the first book/online course I am writing, over the years I have written coaching and training programmes, short stories, blog posts and articles, dialogues for short films and live workplace theatre performances, which were scripted to support people development, and good workplace/WorkLife cultural practices.

I cannot say I have experienced writers block – I have always had lots of ideas –, but I have been blocked many times in knowing where I wanted to go with something. When this happens, it can mean I need to do different things to get moving again.

It can mean I have not done enough research, and so I go back to reading more. While at times I read everything I can on a specific topic and subject matter, I also read on topics and subject matters that could be loosely related. I also read about topics and subject matters that are completely unrelated. I read both fiction and non-fiction. As part of my research I take the same approach when listening to podcasts, or watching TV programmes and films. 

Other times it can mean I just need to keep going with it. I will force myself to write. It most likely will not be perfect, it might not even be any good, but that is OK. I can go back and revisit it later, revise and rewrite it. When I do go back, I always find something, even if it is just a nugget that I can work with, and I develop it from there.

Each piece of writing I do begins with bullet points of what I want to accomplish with that particular piece of work. Then as I flesh out the bullet points, each one becomes a chapter or a module that results in a story, a course and now a book. This gives me the outline I need, and this helps me to overcome blocks. When I do not know where to go next – if I am having trouble with one chapter, if it is not coming – I will go on to the next chapter, write that one and then go back.  

The more complete my preparation is (the research I have done, the outline I have developed), the easier it is to finish, and the harder it is to get blocked or stuck.

All of that said there are also times when I just take a nap, or I clean my home.

There are times when I take a day off, and there are times when I take a walk. Both work when I go back in being able to figure it out. I always seem to know which approach to take. It is something I have come to be able to figure out.

When working on this book I found it better to work on just one thing to be able to stay focused, and to push through times when I became blocked. On other pieces of work I  have been able to go back and forth between different pieces of work: for example, when I am in the early stages of research for a course, I can switch to writing blog posts, which can be on related, somewhat related, or unrelated topics to the course; then I can switch to developing the course outlines into rough drafts. Letting go of one piece of work for a while and writing something else helps both pieces of work. Switching my brain over to something else can help me to become unstuck.

Walking really helps me to know what I need to know, to get to where I need to be. The physical helps the mental. On so many occasions I have had a breakthrough in my thinking while I have been walking. Suddenly the solution comes to me, and I reached it by not really focussing on it but by doing something else. 

I have a number of walking routes from my home, which I take depending on how long I want to walk for or what I want to take in along my route: for example, different river walk paths, different park walks, different streets of London walks. I always remember exactly where I was walking when a particular solution came to me, and when I hit that ‘landmark’ in the road again it always makes me smile and think about how far I have walked in my life since then – the physical miles I have walked, and the metaphorical miles I have walked in my WorkLife since I had that breakthrough in my thinking.

I work really well from home, but when I am feeling blocked or stuck I will go to a coffee shop to work. Sometimes I do not even work, I sit and read. Or I sit and observe the world around me, the people in the café, the people walking in the street, the atmosphere around me. A change of environment really helps me.

I also have great Bath, Bed and Bus Ideas: The Three B’s of Creative Thinking:

I turn my bathroom into a sanctuary with wonderfully fragrant bubbles and flickering candles. I have simple rituals. Sometimes as I soak, I read or listen to Audible, more often than not fiction – I really like mysteries as a way of taking my mind off solving my own problem. Other times I simply switch my mind off and do nothing other than soak in the wonderfully relaxing environment I have created. Whichever approach I take, suddenly ideas will just bubble up.

I like sleeping on it too. Actually, I just really like sleeping. I love dreaming too, both daydreams and night dreams. Going from my bath ritual to bed helps my sleeping ritual, in that the answer I need will come to me in my dreams, or I will wake up with the answer. 

Sometimes I will sit on a bus, or more likely take a train journey, where I might read or listen to a podcast. But most likely I will just look out the window, take in the scenery, let my mind wander and wonder, and ideas seep in. 

And sometimes when I have the realisation it is not happening today, I am OK shutting it down, and coming back to it tomorrow.

Develop Your WorkLife Story

When your mind is clear in whatever environment that is best for you in that given moment, or when you tap into the Three B’s of Creativity, Bath, Bed or Bus, your mind is unconsciously outlining for you, and working out the solution to your problem, and the answer to your question. 

Creating your Best Creative Practices and Rituals Assignment

Think about how you can create the environment for those breakthrough moments in your thinking to happen, the moments when the solution to your problem or the answer to your question suddenly comes to you.

Where are your best creative environments? (Indoors or Outdoors)

Where do you have your best ideas – Bath, Bed, or Bus? 

What practices or rituals can you put in place or create to get the insight and inspiration you need to solve your problem or answer your question?

Whether you’re directly working on it, indirectly working on it, or not working on it at all, trust that your brain is always working on it. It will offer you thoughts, ideas and inspiration when you least expect it, and suddenly it will all start making sense. You have to be open to it. You have to allow enough time and have trust to allow it to happen.

The Moral of this Story

Everything you do depends for its quality on the thinking you do first. You need to create a ‘Thinking Space’ or a ‘Non-Thinking Space’ to switch on or switch off your mind, to be able to look within yourself for the solution to your problem or the answer to your question.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Self-feedback frees your mind to think about what matters most, and helps your creative wheels turn faster.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

Insightful self-questioning unlocks your imagination, and helps you to explore your options and look at your possibilities. Probe your thought processes with questions that encourage creativity:

If it were possible, how would I do it?

If I knew the answer, what would it be?

Words of Wisdom

Throughout this book you’ve been exploring your own imagination, you’ve been going deep within yourself by asking insightful questions and giving yourself continuous feedback. Following this path of wonderment will inspire your creativity. All you need to do is to take that instinct and transform it into words or actions.

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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