How do you have a great thought?
You’re sat at your desk and the pressure is on. Market conditions are tough, but your boss and the business needs an idea, an innovation that will help you stay ahead of the competition. You’ve been racking your brains for almost two hours and absolutely nothing new is occurring to you. Then suddenly you have a flash of inspiration and a great idea just comes into your head – fantastic!
Have you ever stopped to wonder how that happened? Why did the idea come to you then? Why not an hour and 50 minutes ago? Where was that idea 30 seconds before it actually occurred to you? Most people can’t answer these questions and just consider the moment of inspiration to be one of life’s mysteries.
Unlock innovative thinking
Neuroscience has begun to solve this apparent mystery. As Einstein’s conundrum suggested – we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. We need new levels of thinking. While you can’t just tell yourself to come up with a great idea or think your way into better thinking, you can get that idea to land earlier - when you really need it. Innovative thinking is actually a developmental issue and it is possible for anyone to become much more disruptively innovative if they understand how the mind works and how to unlock its potential.
The truth is that thoughts don't occur in vacuums, they occur in the context of our biology and our emotional state. That means that if we can change the environment in which our thoughts occur, by changing our biology and emotional state, different thoughts and ideas will come to us.
Thirty seconds before your idea lands it is already in your mind. The problem is not whether you can think of it; the answer is already there. The real issue is whether you can land the new idea that is circulating in your mind and move it from unconscious to conscious awareness. Once you know how to do this it is possible to land great ideas every single day.
A great idea is a lot like a 747 circling above the runway at Heathrow airport. The 747 is there, just like the idea is there, but unless the conditions change – you remove other aircrafts, the fog lifts, etc – the 747 (the idea) is not able to land. If you change your internal conditions, then great ideas can start to land easily; you open up the landing slots for your 747s.
Controlling your emotional state
Changing your internal conditions all starts with controlling your physiology and your emotional state. Physiology encompasses all the streams of data and information that occur in your body every moment of every day. You can control your physiology through rhythmic breathing - that’s not deep breathing, but breathing rhythmically and evenly through the centre of your chest. This type of breath control creates the right conditions; a state of physiological coherence that can give you greater clarity of thought and access to new ideas. If you are stuck in a negative emotional state your breathing is likely to be erratic and your physiology will be similarly chaotic. Changing your internal conditions enables you to step change your thinking, so when you need a good idea, you’ll be able to land one.
Understanding that your thoughts are not created in a vacuum - they exist in the context of your physiology – means that you can learn to control that context. Chaotic or unhelpful emotions will prevent your ideas from landing and you’ll spend weeks trying to come up with that critical new idea. Change your internal weather, create a coherent state and you’ll be holding the planes (ideas) back as they’ll be landing every two minutes. Once you have learnt to create the right biological conditions for ideas to land, you will have step changed your ability to innovate.
Dr Alan Watkins is the author of Coherence, the secret science of brilliant leadership
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