Do you ever find yourself sitting at your desk, unable to think of any ideas? Or times when you struggle to be your most productive? It may well be that the physical environment that you’re sat in is causing your brain to get stuck in a similar cycle of thought, making it much more difficult to produce more work.
Jonah Lehrer, bestselling author on the subject of how creativity works, describes a curious phenomenon of the mind: it associates working patterns with its various physical surroundings. Simply put, this means that you will begin to think in similar ways every time if you’re regularly in familiar locations. If you’re usually focussed on reviewing work, responding to emails and doing analysis at your office desk, then when you sit down there in the morning your mind will become more prepped for that sort of work.
However, it also works the other way, in that you can impart a mental state on a location like your desk. If you’re having a particularly stressful time, or are having issues at home, then you are likely to bring them with you to familiar locations. Therefore, if you bring stress to the office, it can reduce your productivity further, especially in types of work which require new ideas. This is because new ideas require a relaxed mind, at a low “alpha” frequency, whereas a stressed mind is much more active, at a higher frequency, which dampens your ability to generate ideas.
So if you notice that you’re struggling to come up with ideas, or just being less productive than you usually are, one easy thing to do is to change your physical location, even if only temporarily. If you can work in the park, or a library, or a friend’s house, you will likely notice a change in your ability to come up with ideas. This is also one of the main reasons why going on vacations are important. The further away you are physically from your desk, the further away you also are mentally, which means you’re not automatically getting into the same mental state. It has the effect of relaxing you, and also freeing up parts of the mind which would previously be occupied or dampened. This is why you are more likely to have flashes of insight related to work appear when you’re somewhere else.
Finally, what if you can’t move away from your desk? Well, the next best thing is to close your eyes and try to imaging the location of your desk is somewhere else. If you try to visualise your desk being somewhere far away and relaxing, like on a Caribbean beach or in a Swiss Mountain chalet, then it will have a similar effect as if you’d actually moved yourself.
Why don’t you try it out the next time you’re stuck for an idea at your desk. Let us know in the comments below whether it helped you. And remember to sign up to our mailing list using the form on the right to get all of our insights on innovation and creativity training exercises.