Mental Scribbles: 5 Ways to Create Space For High-Quality Ideas
This post is about creating space,
to fully develop your ideas, rather than trying to move forward with fragmented thoughts.
I will be sharing some of my own obstacles and experiences, and give you 5 actions to take toward making mental masterpieces out of your mental scribbles.
If you asked someone to paint a picture, and gave them time to come up with a concept, get their inspiration in place, select their colors and tools, and then spend solid time to work on it, you’d probably get a beautiful outcome at the end.
But if you asked them to paint a picture and said, “You have thirty seconds to get as much done as you can. Go!" Then what you would get is a scrambled, scrappy, warped caricature of the fragmented thought.
Because you didn't provide hardly enough time to even think of a good idea, much less to execute it skillfully.
The only way that you can see your dreams realized, accomplish your goals, and end up to where you want to be on your journey is to make your ideas happen. And in order for ideas to happen, they need the right environment.
I’ve been reading an awesome book called “Making Ideas Happen", written by Scott Belsky, and it has been affirming a lot of the things that I do that help me move forward and confronting a lot of the things I do that hold me back. For anyone looking to reprogram your approach to creating/starting/doing, go read it. At the heart of it is the concept of having a bias toward action vs. inaction.
As someone who is continually in the process of chasing things I care about that are both intimidating and exciting (ex: This Blog), I’ve been finding that taking action is producing momentum for me to keep going and to stay accountable to my vision. And from that experience I’ve pulled these actions that I think will help you move closer to where you want to be.
There’s an anecdote about taking action that goes like this:
“There were 5 birds sitting on a tree branch. 4 of those birds decided to fly off of the branch. How many birds are left on the branch?"
5 birds. Why?
Because thinking about doing something is different than doing it.
Taking action is often our biggest obstacle to growth. So, as you read forward, keep in mind this metaphor of how you can take your mental scribbles (unfinished/interrupted ideas), and apply these five actions to make them masterpieces (developed ideas that become fully realized).
1. Give Yourself Structure
"Well I did it, I woke up at 6 am and stayed up!”, I wrote to myself in my journal recently.
I had made the commitment to wake up at 6am each morning, no matter when I had gone to sleep, in order to create time and opportunities for me to process thoughts in depth. Eventually, I found myself waking up periodically before my alarm even went off! For me, personally, early morning really is prime time for writing or creating because it's the most open and the least interrupted time of the day.
All I needed to do was make sure that I got to sleep early enough so that waking up early at 5 or 6 wouldn't be that difficult… “Yeah right!”. It was still difficult. Although it sounded simple in theory, it was way harder in practice.
But I knew that if the choice was between watching more Netflix and spending more time online before bed and waking up late, or actually having time to write things I felt I needed to write, that it was crucial for me to make the choice that would move me forward. I still have a hard time with this, and I typically wake up at 7am or 8am because I like to spend quality time with my wife, Shannon, in the evenings.
But what’s important is that I’m in the constant pursuit of creating time and mental space for me to create.
I’ve found the section of the day that works best for me to create: it’s typically starting in the morning leading up to 11am. My mind is fresh and I haven’t got bogged down by too many to-dos. And when there are exceptions, like balancing work, I adjust accordingly. This ensures that writing is a priority and that it gets done. Even the schedule of posting to this blog weekly is a system that I’ve put in place to ensure that I’m accountable to writing consistently.
How often have you planned time to do the things you want to do vs squeezing it into random gaps in your schedule?
If these “Dreams” we have are so important, don’t you think that they deserve better attention?
How we spend our most precious resources (time, energy, money, health, etc.) is a reflection of what our top priorities are.
I feel personally challenged every time I think about this statement, and I want to challenge you to re-evaluate your decisions based on this as well. After all, the reason you’ve read this far is because some part of you genuinely cares about accomplishing something you dream about.
Find out what times you are able to be most productive and inspired, then adjust your schedule to protect those windows of time.
During those times, remove distractions: Your phone, email, social media. I’ve even heard of writers who have apps that disable their internet connection during their assigned writing hours so they have to focus on writing!
Creating is less about raw moments of inspiration and more about consistency.
By consistently providing yourself opportunities for creating, the chances of you having those moments of inspiration increases significantly.
2.Overcome Mental Overload & Fragmented Thoughts
Another decision I’ve made recently was to delete the social media apps off of my phone: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, IMDB (I’m a movie trivia junkie), etc.
Even beyond that, I’ve also disabled the Internet browser on my phone. I can only access email for work, Messenger for Facebook (which I still don’t check that often), and other web-connected resources that I use for daily life. (Not including when I post promotional posts for the blog.)
Despite the inconveniences (aka: #FirstWorldProblems), putting these self-imposed limitations in place has actually been a really good thing. It's reduced my distractions drastically. And because I don’t have anything to check, I’m not looking at my phone every few minutes whenever there's a small break in time.
Not only that but I’m also a lot more present:
I listen to my wife a lot better and I am doing a better job at not giving token half-responses like, “Uh-huh”, “Yeah”, or “Hah” when we are talking because I am actually HEARING what she is saying to me.
I actually WATCH movies when we’re together instead of putting it on and then being on my phone.
I actually EAT meals instead of spending the first 5-10 minutes developing an Instagram post and letting my food get cold.
I’m actually WITH my friends when I’m with my friends, not with my other "digital friends" (Facebook, etc.) who aren’t actually in the room with me. (Raise your hand if you’re guilty of that one!)
Sometimes I feel like if my brain were a smartphone, I'd have every app open, while playing music, surfing the web, watching Youtube, and trying to text message five people all at once.
In the pursuit of trying to maximize my time, I end up maxing out my mind.
As a result of always being stimulated with information, I don’t often give myself time to process or think of new thoughts. Then I feel like it's always necessary to take a brain-break and have someone else think for me, so I seek out information online: blogs, videos, posts, pictures, etc.
Our brains are designed to process, but our culture has largely chosen a secondary form of that:
instead of thinking for ourselves, we choose to let someone else think for us, or even further, to not think at all and "unplug",
where we literally just consume media and content that doesn't nourish our mind at all; its sole purpose is to provide an escape from thinking.
An escape from thinking.
What a weird concept! Why would we feel the need to escape from thinking? – Perhaps it's because we're not getting it right.
I think that what we are really trying to escape is the mental load that we place on ourselves through our overly-stimulated lifestyle. Through checking our emails, texts, posts, etc. every minute, we hardly allow ourselves the opportunity to focus on a single task or thought for enough time to truly get in the groove.
Rather than a flow, our days become a series of false starts.
We point our brain in a different direction every other minute and say, “Engage!", then interrupt that train of thought and repeat the process again. We weren't made to function that way, so our brains get exhausted and burned out faster than ever.
Stats on Mental Overload:
Studies have shown that the typical social media user consumes 285 pieces of content daily, which equates to around 54,000 words, the length of the average novel.
The average person consumes more than 34 Gigabytes of data outside of work each day.(http://neomam.com/interactive/13reasons)
“Media Overload” is the #6 top cause of stress in the U.S., right under “Poor Nutrition” and above “Sleep Deprivation”. (http://www.statisticbrain.com/stress-statistics)
48% of 18-34 year-olds check Facebook when they wake up. 28% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook before they even get out of bed. (http://www.statisticbrain.com/facebook-statistics)
81% of people admit to interrupting conversation, meals, or time with family or friends to check their social media, texts, or email. (http://www.mequilibrium.com)
What we need isn't an escape from thinking, it's an escape from interruption.
We need to provide ourselves with higher-quality time again, where we can find out what we actually think about something, and allow ourselves to paint a mental picture.
3.Align Your Priorities
Where does one get the kind of time you need to have mental space?
"Life is too busy for me. I don't have the time for this.”, we tell ourselves. – Bull. – I think the statement should be rephrased to, "I don't have enough DESIRE for this."
Where there is a strong enough desire, the "how" reveals itself.
"Where there's a will there's a way."
If you truly want something, you will find a way to get it.
And by no means am I saying that you are lazy and trying to shame you into action. Passion is a much stronger motivator than shame will ever be. It lasts longer and comes from within, rather than externally.
I decided a while back that my writing and creating wasn't happening because I wasn't providing myself time to create. And my life was pretty full already, so every time I tried to make time in the most competitive hours of my day, the most urgent things or the things that directly influenced my financial stability (i.e.: work) always won out, and the passion projects always got pushed back.
So I decided that I needed a different approach.
I needed to create a new time for creating. A time where there's quiet, uninterrupted space for me to explore and develop ideas. For me, that's the early morning. And it's no wonder why most successful people are well into their day by 6am: because they have a lot going on in their lives, but have recognized the importance of creating personal time – so they wake up early. (This approach won’t be the same for everyone, but trying different things based on your schedule will help you find the best fit for you.)
When it's still dark, I wake up and get some caffeine in me, change into some comfy clothes and begin to write. It starts out in journal format most of the time, but I eventually find an idea that surfaces that I care enough about that I can explore. Sometimes it’s something that excites me, sometimes it’s something that upsets me, and sometimes it’s about the lessons I’m learning currently in life.
If something is important enough, you will do it.
Writing, teaching and encouraging are important to me. So is building a community of people who care about chasing their dreams and sticking to their values, which is why I’m writing Frontrunners. I care about these things enough to restructure my life around making them a priority; and staying focused on these has made sifting out the non-priorities much easier.
Needless to say though, these changes are tough to make – I’ve been forced to take a lot of my own advice in the process of writing and revising this article!
4.Refine Your Ideas
Your creative brain works the same way as the painting example from the introduction:
It was designed to formulate an idea, rework and develop ideas.
When it's not given time to do that, the default is to grab an idea off the top of your head and get as much done as possible within the fragments of time you provide yourself. Which isn't even enough time to evaluate if an idea is even good or not, much less come up with a good solution.
What you end up with is a brain that is unskilled in thinking creatively or developing ideas in depth.
It gets burned out easily because you force it to sprint every day, a hundred times a day, rather than choosing the few directions that are truly worth taking your time on. If your mind were a gallery, the pictures on the walls are only sketches scribbled on napkins an post-it notes – nothing completed and not a single masterpiece on the walls. [See first Comic]
Idea sketches are great, and we are definitely designed to think quickly, but ideas are meant to be developed. Quick ideas are merely the seeds of bigger ideas, and must be given time to grow and develop in order to build upon them and see what they could really become. This is a big reason why so many of us have desires to create/do great things, but so few of us actually DO them; because very few people provide themselves time to build, rework, and develop their idea into something tangible.
Begin providing yourself with mental space to paint your mental pictures. Then you will have a lot more paintings in your mental gallery, not just mental scribbles.
Practice being still when you have a gap of time. It’s a huge challenge to just sit or stand when you’re waiting without reaching in your pocket for your phone.
Spend longer than a minute, or five, or twenty, or sixty on an idea. Carve out an hour to get deep, and another hour to develop.
For me, I need at least a second hour beyond my initial exploration and development to really find a groove for writing an idea or creating something new. Then I am able to build upon it, challenge it to be better, and explore facets of it that I would have never discovered if I hadn't provided myself the time.
Freestyle on the ideas that stand out.
Some great questions I like to ask myself are:
How does this affect me?
What other factors impact this?
Where does it comes from?
What problems are connected to the idea?
What solutions are connected to the idea?
How do I feel about this?
Does this impact other people besides myself, and how? and what ways do I think I could help other people who encounter this thing?
And by the end of my time, I usually have a great amount of free writing on my idea. It’s now like a painting – I sketched out the thought, and then brought in colors, shading and shapes to tell more of the story.
Ideas are like rocks.
The most common, cliché and mediocre ones are the ones you stumble over quickly and can pick up off the ground without any searching. To get better, less-common ideas, you have to start digging beneath the surface. As you go deeper, you find rarer and rarer ideas that fewer and fewer people would spend the time to discover. And the truly great ideas are the ones you dig for, sort through, and then refine and polish all the facets.
5.Launch Your Ideas
The next part to get down after refining an idea is sharing it with others. Otherwise it only benefits you.
I believe that our ideas aren't owned by just us, they are also owned by the people who need to hear them.
I believe we have a responsibility to share ideas with others that we believe will make their lives better. Our thoughts, words, actions, inventions, etc. are purposed to be a catalyst to inspire thoughts, words, actions and inventions in others. If we keep them to ourselves, then we withhold that gift from them.
I have to practice sharing these developed ideas with others.
I have to allow people to come and view my mental gallery.
If you have ideas that are genuinely benefitting you, chances are they will benefit others. We need to invite others to view our ideas, read them, respond to them, and experience them. We shouldn't hoard them to ourselves.
An idea isn't complete until it is shared with someone else.
Artwork isn't complete (it doesn't serve its full purpose) until it is shared with someone and they have an opportunity to respond to it. Ideas are conversations. They are the introduction to deeper conversations. Hiding them from others limits their potential.
We hide ideas because we are afraid they will be rejected by others, but by hiding them we are rejecting them ourselves.
And we are denying those ideas the chance to be validated by others, developed, or challenged to grow. Ideas need to be challenged to grow, by us, and by others.
Art isn't created in an empty vacuum of space. It is influenced by our life and relationships and experiences.
Just Go For It.
It's a huge challenge for me to share ideas that aren't completely refined.
I fear they will be misunderstood or rejected, and by association that I myself will be rejected. I fear they won't accomplish the purpose that I sent them out to accomplish. I fear that they will be ignored or overlooked or washed out amongst the deluge of other ideas.
But I have to trust that they are good enough to shine through the dirt, like a diamond in the rough.
I have to trust the process of growth and remember that my ideas will only get better if I allow myself to share them and go through this process.
I have to trust that my ideas may not be for everyone but they are for someone.
And I have to trust that diligence on my part will inspire others to act on their own dreams.
I may not be in control of how others respond to my ideas, but I am in control of the action I take toward them. If anything, I would like to inspire others through my consistency and dedication alone, and if any ideas connect with them, that’s a bonus. Not everyone will be inspired by what I say, but I will make sure they can't deny they are challenged by what I do.
Protect your mental space. And if you don't have any, then create it.
Your ideas won't just appear out of thin air and actually become something unless you provide them an environment to survive. Make your life an environment that is conducive to growing good ideas. Choose the few things that are important and necessary and then allow the other things to fall away.
There’s a lot of noise out there that can keep your thoughts fragmented – but don’t let it. Find out what matters to you.
You may not know what it looks like completely, but if you create the opportunity for your vision to grow you will see it take shape over time.
Structure consistent time where your ideas have an opportunity to form. Create consistent time for painting mental pictures.
Take breaks from the overload and noise of life to form complete thoughts.
Make your dreams a priority over non-essential things.
When you find your ideas, refine them to make them yours and pull out their full potential.
Let your ideas take full form by sharing them with other people.
Don't let your ideas be like Pins that you save on Pinterest but never look at. Put these actions into practice and help them come to life.