For many problems, the best solution comes from a fresh perspective. But how do you shift your perspective? There are a number of ways. You can imagine yourself as another person with a different set of beliefs and experiences. You can consciously force yourself (as yourself) to walk around the issue and see it from all different angles. You can talk to people you trust to get their opinions. But, if none of these work, then you need to try something new.
Try mixing up your morning routine.
There are a few reasons that I love this technique:
- It’s easy.
- You don’t have to know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re just making yourself more open to possibilities.
- The results are often surprising.
How routines limit us, and what to do about it
I first read about the idea that simple, good habits can limit our perspective in Bonni Goldberg’s Beyond the Words. She describes the concept of Fixed Functionality and how Ben Reynolds applies it to writing: “Ben’s idea is that if we challenge any aspect of our functional fixedness by making a change, we can create a shift in our perceptions.”
I did a little research, and it turns out that the term is originally from psychology, Gestalt psychology, to be exact. When someone is functionally fixed about an object, he can only imagine using the object for one purpose. So, if you hand a man a book when he needs a paperweight, he will wonder why (or start reading it). When someone is not functionally fixed, an object can have many uses. For example, a book can make a very nice paperweight. I think MacGyver might be the poster child for being “unfixed.”
When we take the idea from objects to ideas, the importance of remaining unfixed takes on new meaning. As entrepreneurs, one of the worst things that we can do is get fixed in our thinking. When we stop thinking creatively about business issues, our business stagnates. We need creative solutions to stay on top of the day-to-day business and to plan strategically.
My attempt to get "unfixed"
I decided to change my morning routine to test out the theory. Instead of checking my e-mail (either on my phone or computer) first thing, I sketched with pencil and paper. I was curious to see if delaying both technology and the voices of the outside world would have an effect. Would I be more focused? Would I be more creative?
Notes along the way
I found a few things right away. I have pretty vivid dreams, but my tendency to wake up and get going on something usually pushes my dreams out of reach. Sketching first thing helped me tap into my dreams. One morning, the image of a butterfly was foremost in my mind. I had been dreaming about a butterfly spreading its wings after emerging from a cocoon hanging on a branch. The butterfly went from mind to paper quickly. And soon words and phrases followed. Spread your wings. Prepare to soar. I had been pondering the idea of becoming more. These ideas went into my dreams and then emerged more powerfully.
I chose to sketch on the sofa in the living room. An unexpected bonus happened when our cat saw the chance to snuggle in next to me. She didn’t get in the way; instead she curled up next to me and started purring. Other mornings, she had meowed for attention, and it caused stress. By sitting with her for fifteen minutes, she got the together time that she needed, and helped me feel calm at the same time. The fact that just being on the couch with her satisfied her need for attention illuminated that there is usually more than one way to fill a need—or solve a problem. I was stumped on editing/rewriting a document, but the ideas are flowing now.
Sketching has rekindled my desire to create. I’m carving out time to work on my novel. And blog posts and other writing assignments feel easier and more satisfying.
Most of my sketching had been capturing a real object as realistically as possible. Sketching as a morning practice expressed my thoughts and ideas. It let me look inside instead of outside.
The last day of my experiment, I slept late and couldn’t ignore urgent e-mail and phone messages. They were both about new opportunities, which was great. But, they were flying around in my head, chasing each other. I had slipped back into reactive mode. I wrote a quick haiku in lieu of sketching, but I found that it didn’t have the same effect. Writing in the morning taps into my conscious mind, while sketching taps into my subconscious mind.
The results of the experiment
After sketching in the morning, I felt calm and grounded but also excited. Those feelings stayed with me through reading and responding to e-mails, phone calls with potential clients, and reading other people’s writing. I started from a solid place, and everything else flowed from there.
Sometimes, the smallest change can have the biggest effect. And you never know until you try. I plan to shift my routine every once and a while to see what happens.
I dare you to make a small change this week. And I’d love to hear if getting unfixed opens up new ideas for you!