I write a lot about ideas for getting the most out of every day – how to fit in workouts and dates and healthy meals and gratitude and self-care amidst crazy and busy and overplanned lives. So today I thought I’d write about something just as important, and arguably even more meaningful: the moments in between. The “unmoments.” These are the moments when our brain has time to wander and rest, to drift from thought to thought and idea to idea. For me, these moments usually happen when I’m running or doing an art project or folding laundry or stirring a soup, when my mind is distracted enough from day-to-day stress to be free to begin to both generate new ideas and connect existing ones in interesting ways.
Most often known as “shower moments,” there is a long history and tons of research about down time and its connection with creativity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalya, the Hungarian positive psychology guru best known for his work on Flow refers to these moments as “incubation,” of the time away from work itself where our subsconscious minds are free to work on our behalf and deliver ideas back to our conscious minds. And based on the experience of wildly successful idea people (Steve Jobs reported getting tons of great ideas following meditation), it works.
We all need space to do and space to just be, and we need a healthy balance of both. If we’re spending most of our time “being,” we may not have a lot of material to incubate. But if we’re spending all of our time doing, we are likely to miss the big ideas and aha moments that come with processing our day-to-day lives. So, if you’re not already leaving space for these unmoments in your life, here are a few simple things you can do to make room:
- Observe yourself for a week. When do you have the most new ideas or even revelations about things that have been leaving you stumped? When you’re driving? Swimming? Doodling?
- Make time. Once you identify what activities help your mind drift, try to do those things more often…even every day if you can. Shift your thinking about this time from one of luxury to one of necessity and block it out on your calendar just as you would an important meeting.
- Jot down your thoughts. If you have ideas during your “unmoments,” jot them down (I literally keep a piece of paper taped on my wall…it’s that simple). You may see patterns in your thoughts that will increase your understanding about something in your day-to-day life.
What works for you? When do you incubate your best ideas, and how do you make time for it?