Thinking Outside the Box and Cultivating Creative Thinking



Welcome back to me after a few months of not writing a blog.  I have a good reason though, I have been writing, but instead of writing blogs, I dedicated special time to finishing my book.  Hopefully, it will be available at the end of March 2021.  The title of my book is “Your Journey Begins Now!  Start and Market your Own Successful Counselling or Coaching Private Practice in South Africa”.  I know, that is quite a mouth full, but I just could not think of a shorter title.

How often have you heard “Think outside the box”?  If I got a mere R1,00 for every time that I heard it at school, conferences, training, or in general conversation, I would have been happily swimming around in my pond of money.  Unfortunately, though, not everybody knows how to cultivate that creative thinking process and it can be hindering in their progress and growth.

The benefits of creative thinking are astounding.  Not only does it help you to tackle problems from many different perspectives, but it allows you to come up with special ideas and unique solutions.  It will also allow you to persist in times of resistance and persevere in times when things are not flowing in the same direction as you.  Believe me when I say that creative thinking needs to become a habit.  It is not a magic spell.  It is not a once-off scenario where you can pull a rabbit out of a hat in extraordinary times.  It needs to become part of your life and part of how you view things so that you do not even realise that you are doing it.

Now, if you think that you are not born with this creative gene, then you are wrong.  We are all capable of creative thinking, some just need to develop it over time whereas with others it might come more naturally.  The fact is that the more we stimulate creative thinking, the more developed it becomes.  I want to encourage you to ditch the comfort of the familiar, even though you take the chance for failure and rejection.  Risks are essential for growth, personally and in business.  Are you willing to take a chance?

There are two parts to creative thinking.  The first is the divergent thinking part which entails the process of opening up ideas and finding as many possible solutions as you can.  The second part is convergent thinking.  This is the part is where you narrow down your ideas until you find the one that you can develop into a solution.  Can you see how these two parts need to work together within the creative thinking sphere?

Before the Covid-19 crisis hit, many were pleasantly living their lives in a very nonchalant way.  Some were really struggling with the disruption that the virus brought and went into full panic mode in a truly short period of time.  Ideally, creative thinking needs to be cultivated before a crisis occurs, but it is never too late to establish this discipline for anything that life might bring across our paths in the future.

Here are a few ideas on how you can cultivate creative thinking and start “thinking outside the box”.

  • Read: When last did you dive deep into a book, getting lost among the words and being carried away to another time and place?  Reading does not only expand your imagination, but also grows empathy.  It also gives you the opportunity to take the ideas, knowledge and experiences of others and implement it in your own life.
  • Expand your Circle: There are so many people in this world, and many have lived dramatically different lives than you.  Go out there, meet new people, ask questions, learn about their backgrounds and ways of thinking.  This will expand your perspective as well as your empathy towards others.
  • Find an Artistic Outlet: Whatever it is, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing or anything that serves as an artistic outlet will spark your creative brain into gear by just giving it a bit of serenity and stillness, much like meditation.
  • Go Outside and Take Time Off: Spending time outdoors sparks creativity.  While you are sitting at the office or at home, take a few precious minutes to be outside for a while.  This gives your brain chance to breathe while you are escaping from stresses and routines.  While you are at it, you might want to take a brisk walk or do a few jumps.  This will not only make you feel healthier but will also allow you to become more present in your thoughts.  Who knows, this might even trigger an idea or thought that you did not consider before.
  • Sleep: When we are tired, our brains tend to work in slow-motion.  We retain information harder than normal, and the irritability becomes more prominent.  Make sure that you get quality sleep.  This will help you to effectively give attention to any given tasks.
  • Do More of What You Love: When you are happy, then you tend to be more creative.  If you are of high spirit, you will be able to function at a higher level.  So, go ahead, do what you love and allow yourself the fortune of happiness.
  • Take more Risks and Dare to Fail: When you take risks, you expand your life events to a broader spectrum.  In turn, this will greatly increase your perspective.  When you are confronted by a problem, you can refer to some of your life experiences to come up with solutions and ideas.  Do not let fear inhibit you from trying something new.  Taking more chances will greatly expand your knowledge treasure-trove that you can dive into when new ideas and solutions are needed for a problem.  Take risks that other people are afraid to take and stand up for your own beliefs.

There can be no creative thinking when the fear of failure overwhelms the desire to create a solution.  When the desire is there to develop the right solution, a practical solution or even the profitable solution, then the motivation needs to be run with drive and gusto.  Practice, practice and practice a bit more to get the desired outcome.  Do not give up and go beyond the obvious solutions.  By embracing your mistakes and incorporating them into your life and strategies will allow for random input that might be exactly what you need.

  • Reconfigure Space: At work, you might not be able to move the furniture around, but can you think of a space at home where you can use space in a new way?  Is there some way where you can take your indoors to the outdoors and explore new surroundings?  Create a new space, invite a few loved ones, and connect with one another by coming up with fresh, new, and exciting ideas.
  • Become Part of the Community: Not only does community outreach programmes give you the opportunity to become part of something great, but you can learn a great deal from others.  You can gather invaluable knowledge from others, tap into their expertise and form great partnerships while cultivating creativity at the same time.  This could lead to uncommon discoveries and a general feeling of companionship amongst everybody involved.
  • Do Q&A with Yourself: Have you ever considered asking yourself a random and interesting question early in the morning?  I want to invite you to become curious.  Ask yourself “why?”.  By the end of the day, you should have asked questions to people, searched the internet and expanded your knowledge in such a way that you would be able to answer the question that you asked in the morning.
  • Focus on the Thoughts that Serve You: Keep your self-doubt in check, especially when things do not go the way that you want it to go.  You are not a failure.  What are you saying to yourself?  Is the dialogue that you are having with yourself positive and are you supporting of yourself?
  • Learn to Manage Anxiety: Deep breaths.  Have quality me-times and make yourself a priority.  I have covered anxiety in a few of my previous blogs and would like to invite you to go back to them and reread the techniques and tips on how to manage your anxiety.
  • Brainstorm Strategies and Imagine: More often than we would like to admit, but a piece of paper to write strategies on is always a good idea.  Firstly, write down the challenges.  Next, concentrate on different solutions to the challenges.  Basically, focussing on different strategies that you can implement to overcome the challenges.  Use your imagination when coming up with these different ideas.  Thereafter, what will your own personal bonus be that you can gift to yourself once you completed and overcome a challenge?  Can you see a pattern here?  When you are faced with a problem, you need to break it into manageable steps.  Once you have done this, you need to come up with various ways on how to accomplish those manageable steps and once you have accomplished them, how can you treat yourself with a congratulatory gift?
  • Practice Mental Agility: To be rigid in your thinking will not enhance your creative thinking.  Creative, outside-the-box-thinking needs flexibility.  Before throwing an idea out the window, think of how it can help and what purpose it can serve to ultimately reach the target or overcome a problem.  Sometimes we need to take a bit of one solution, pair it with a part of another solution to be able to come up with a third idea which might fit in perfect with the solution.
  • Be Unreasonable and Dare to be Different: Sometimes logic and reasonable thinking works, but it often comes in the way of being creative.  Be willing to be a bit unconventional in your thinking and take unreasonable ideas into consideration.  Force yourself to be a bit risky in your thinking and to consider other “way-out” ideas.  By expanding your thinking can lead you to breakthroughs that you could have missed.  Remember, it is okay to think outside of the norm.  Be willing to challenge every assumption.  Accepting assumptions will only hinder your creative thinking.  Invite a bit of randomness into your life and into your work.  This will help you move past the everyday patterns that is holding your creative thinking back.
  • See Problems as Opportunities: Every problem is an opportunity to learn.  Problems, in fact, gives you the chance to build, improve and innovate.  By changing your mindset on a specific problem can make a big difference in your journey.
  • Observe: Use all your senses when working on a problem or when you are being faced with a challenge.  See it, taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, think it, and speak it.  Become a good observer, not only of nature, but also of other people and events around you.
  • Simplify It: Not everything needs to be complicated.  When it is too difficult for a child to understand, take some time to simplify it.  Simply by simplifying a problem can make it so much easier for grownups to understand and come up with creative and simpler solutions.  It is okay to start from scratch and get away from the way we always used to do things.  Imagine a clean slate.  It can help you change perspective.
  • Learn something New: Study a new industry or learn about another religion.  You might even want to take a class and learn a new topic.  This will teach you new ways of looking at everyday life.  It can also help you make sense of certain aspects that you came across that you did not quite understand.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: It is easy to accept your own ideas, after all, you thought of them.  Be aware of falling in love with your own ideas and solutions.  Play devil’s advocate with your own ideas.  Try to find loopholes and faults or weaknesses in your ideas.  This will allow you to expand on ideas, open your mind to all possibilities and if necessary, propose new solutions and ideas that could result in a much better outcome.
  • Be Open to Possibilities: Be willing to listen to others and their opinions.  Change you attitude from being the only one looking for ideas and solutions, to an attitude to search for ideas and asking for the input from others.  Learn from others and listen with an open mind to the possibilities that they see.

As you can see, there are various ways to expand your creative thinking and becoming able to think outside the proverbial box.  Sometimes you just need to brush your teeth with the other hand to give you a bit of an immediate realisation that things can get done in another way.  Allow for more opportunities to come into your life.  In general start thinking differently.  At the end of the day, it will allow you to gain so much insight and perspective which will only benefit you and those around you.

As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following might give you a bit more insight.  The first one is from Mark Manson who said, “When we learn something new, we don’t go from ‘wrong’ to ‘right’.  Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong.  And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on.  We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.”, and this one from Criss Jami who said, “Think outside the box?  Indeed.  But to add balance to that, one should not in the process forget what the inside of the box looks like as well.  Those who are best at thinking outside the box do it not to puff themselves up, but to see how small, boring existence to us, imagine a larger, more perspective kingdom to whom our contented existences may appear to be small and boring.  This is where true creativity and massive perspective abilities spawn a sense of intellectual humility; the kind which God adores.”.  Lastly this one from Tim Ferriss who said “It isn’t enough to think outside the box.  Thinking is passive.  Get used to acting outside the box.”.

As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching offers Skype Video Calls, Zoom Video Meetings, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible.  I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in enclosed environments.  Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health.

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