Updated: Aug 5, 2020
I love to mow my yard. I love the smell of fresh cut grass, the dragonflies darting about, the sun on my face. Even as a kid, when the only option was an old pull-start push mower and not a cool John Deere ride with a cushy seat and cup holder, I would choose mowing over any other chore. There is something a bit Zen about creating neat and tidy rows, rectangles and circles that fold in on themselves until every last bit has been shaped, nipped and tucked. Something intensely relaxing about letting my mind wander...
Just how many chickadees live in that tree by the deck?
Why does chamomile grow right next to the firepit and nowhere else?
Should I pick up JoJo’s tennis ball or can it survive a spin through the mower deck? What do you call that sound that a dragonfly makes?
I have a good size yard now, even on a riding mower it takes nearly three hours to finish. I don’t mind.
Clear Your Head
I typically head to the yard because the grass needs mowing. However, I also head to the yard when I have a problem to solve. I learned a long time ago that sometimes the best way to sort out a vexing issue was to walk away for a bit – put it on the back burner so to speak. I call this ‘noodling’ and there just ain’t nothing that’s going to hurry it along.
If I were being brutally honest, when I was younger, I would just give up if I couldn’t wrestle an issue to the ground in fairly short order, only to find the answer emerging just a bit further down the road when I least expected it. I’m sure most have had this experience at one time or another, when a solution, insight or burst of creativity came through in an unpredictable manner. I used to think it a fluke, but it turns out that there is real science behind the phenomenon.
According to a Scientific American article, we are best at grinding out analytical problems when we are at our peak, which may be morning or evening depending on your own personal body clock. However, when we are trying to solve something not so black and white, requiring insight and creativity, we do better when our brain is on its down cycle. Insight problems often require us to abandon an original or stated interpretation and seek alternatives. If we need to climb out of the proverbial box to find our answers, letting our mind be distracted from the issue can be of benefit. It would appear that it is at these times, when we are less focused, that we allow a broader range of information to seep in. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations which can bring new insight and innovation.
So how do we do this on purpose?
Do we simply write down our problem, stare at it for a bit, crumple it up and toss it to the trash in eager anticipation that magic will then ensue? It’s a lovely thought, but not likely. Here’s what I have learned works for me.
- Intentional Focus. No miraculous insight ever happens by pure accident. It may seem that way, but trust that true eureka moments come after much thought, deliberation and study. It is surprising how often we work so hard to solve a problem that isn’t really the problem – that is where I always start. It pays tremendous dividends to clearly define the problem you’ve set out to address and make sure that it’s actually the problem you need to solve.
- Space to Think. Give yourself room to noodle, whether it be mediation, running, working on a puzzle or riding a John Deere mower. Somewhere along the line we decided that multi-tasking (which isn’t even a real thing) was the best way to accomplish the endless list of tasks and chores that all just have to get done. Truth is, it doesn’t all have to get done. At the point I gave myself permission to slow down and focus on one important thing at a time, I found the results much more satisfying and successful.
- Take Action. This final piece closes the loop. Taking action as you work through ideas (often it starts with just writing things down) helps continue to move the creative process along. You may even find that you start seeing hidden connections that you didn’t before. It helps with identifying additional elements you may want to think through and creates organization to when the solution is complex. Honestly, it helps me not forget bits and pieces along the way that may not seem to fit but will fall into place at some point. No problem is solved in a vacuum or silence, so this piece will include, when you’re ready, articulating and communicating the solution you’ve come up with.
The most important takeaway here though is to BE BRAVE! You have perspective that no one else has – that is the beauty of human individuality. We all take in, analyze and apply data differently than everyone else, and this gives each one of us the ability to uniquely solve the issues in front of us, whether they be business or personal. Why not reinvent the wheel if it needs reinventing? Give yourself some room to think creatively and bounce outside the boxes that others have built.
“Creativity is just connecting things.” Steve Jobs
 The Inspiration Paradox: Your Best Creative Time Is Not When You Think