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While Social Distancing, Pause for Creativity’s Sake

A veteran HOW Design Live favorite, Sam Harrison’s mission in life is to help people expand and express their creativity. And as Sam puts it, pausing nourishes creativity. We’ll let him take it from here!

The brain hungers for time to reflect and recharge. Pausing also lets the subconscious slide into action. That’s why watching sunsets, strolling paths or taking showers often produces those “aha” and “eureka” moments. 

“It’s as if a light turns on and you suddenly see an answer to a problem that had you stumped,” according to Mark Beeman, professor at Northwestern University’s cognitive neuroscience program. 

Pauses are potent, but we normally complain that we just don’t have enough time in our busy lives to stop and pause. 

Well, these aren’t normal times. With social distancing and sheltering in place, many of us find we have unallocated minutes or hours on our hands. So why not set aside time to pause for creative rejuvenation? 

My recently released book—Creative Zing!—discusses a few ways to practice pausing: 

1. Zone in.

Awareness leads to insights, and insights inspire ideas. But we often move through life wearing blinders or with eyes glued to phones.

Try this: Here’s a three-minute drill to spur awareness. Stop and spend one minute observing your surroundings. Notice objects, lights and shadows. Pay attention to shapes, surfaces and colors.  

Then spend a minute listening to sounds. Distant sounds. Close sounds. Piercing sounds. Subtle sounds.

Spend the third minute with one of the remaining three senses. Linger over the taste and aftertaste of a food or beverage. Or notice smells of various objects if you’re inside or trees and plants if outside. Or spend the minute feeling textures of objects and surfaces.  

2. Space out.

In addition to radical attentiveness, there’s also creative value in letting the mind wander.

 “It seems an incubation period in which to let their mind wander really helps the creative process,” Dr. Jonathan Schooler, researcher at University of California Santa Barbara, told a CNN interviewer.

Try this: Sit quietly with a wandering mind for 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t dwell on work or worries. Just close your eyes or gaze into the distance and let your brain roam free.

3. Move about.

Walking provides a path for pausing. It’s a gratifying way to free the mind (assuming hands are phone-free).

Walking is a full-body experience, according to author Robert Macfarlane. “Mind and body function inseparably,” he says, “such that thought becomes both site-specific and motion-sensitive.”

Another persuasive endorsement for walking comes from poet Wallace Stevens, who wrote: “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”

Try this: Be relaxed yet fully aware while walking, whether on streets or in nature. Slow down. Look around. Pay attention to sights, sounds and smells. Soak it all in.

“The world is a crazy, beautiful, ugly, complicated place, and it keeps moving from crisis to strangeness to beauty to weirdness to tragedy,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. “The caravan keeps moving on, and the job…is to stop—to pause—and when the caravan goes away, that’s when this stuff comes.” 

The coronavirus caravan will eventually move on. In the meantime, stay safe, keep distance and pause for healthy creativity.

—Sam Harrison for HOW Design Live

Sam Harrison is a popular speaker and author on creativity-related topics and on presentation skills. His fourth book, Creative Zing! was recently released online and in bookstores.