How often has this happened to you? You can’t seem to focus, so you try to stoke your concentration with caffeine, hoping that a jolt will pry the creative cobwebs loose and set your ideas a flowing. Only it doesn’t seem to work all that well.
It turns out that forcing ourselves to focus can be counterproductive, while letting our minds wander can actually stimulate more creative results. In fact, new research shows that there’s a clear link between daydreaming and creativity: people who daydream a lot also excel at generating fresh ideas.
What’s going on here? According to scientists, lack of focus can sometimes actually be a boon to creativity rather than a barrier to it. A wandering mind can result in a richer mix of ideas because people who find themselves distracted are having a hard time filtering out stimuli. As a result, they end up letting everything in, which forces them to be more open-minded — a crucial creative booster.
Think about it: When you’re faced with a tough problem in your writing, the first idea you focus on — the most obvious solution — often may not turn out to be best one. If you are willing to consider some far-fetched ideas and approach your challenge from an unusual angle, you may end up with better creative fuel.
This is why distraction can be an asset: People who can’t seem to zero in on one particular idea are more likely to absorb and consider information that might seem useless and irrelevant at first glance, but will later trigger a breakthrough.
All this isn’t to say that intense concentration isn’t important. It just highlights what most of us already know: the creative mind doesn’t respond well to a straitjacketed style or to mental and emotional tension. Sometimes the most creative thing we can do when we hit a roadblock is to ease up and divert ourselves for a while, gather fresh new impressions unrelated to what we’re doing, and simply allow our thoughts to wander where they will. Over focusing and over thinking stifle innovation rather than fueling it. So let’s lighten up and light up the page.