In my opinion, one of the best things about Spring and Summer is that I spend about 3 hours each week mowing my 4 acres of grass on my Husqvarna riding mower. I’ll gas it up, get a big dip of Grizzly long-cut wintergreen, and put my Spotify mowing playlist (mostly classic rock), and get busy. It’s my thinking time and where I usually clear my head and come up with new ideas…
…which was recently interrupted when my mower threw the serpentine belt about two hours into the job. Now I was stuck and had to re-thread the belt. Usually it’s not that hard but this time the belt was hopelessly twisted. I had to get down on my belly and try to untwist it plus re-thread it around six different pulleys. It was hot, grass clippings were stuck to my skin, sweat was stinging my eyes (when you’re bald, sweat seems to pour faster), and gnats kept pestering me. Finally, after 15 minutes, I had used up all my patience and every possible curse word in my lexicon (plus a few new ones I invented) and walked away. I looked at every YouTube video I could find on re-threading the belt and found I was doing everything right. After 30 minutes, I walked back out to the mower and in 3 minutes managed to get the belt on correctly. I bolted the two plastic guards back on and finished the job. Walking away was the best thing I could have done.
All of us are good problem-solvers. We all have something we’re good at. Sometimes though it works against us. Our tried-and-true methods don’t seem to work and we push on, determined to prove we can do it. The harder we try, the worse the problem gets.
When that happens, try the most counter-intuitive strategy you can. It goes something like this:
- Walk away. You won’t get a new perspective on a problem by staring at it the same way.
- Look at conventional methods of solving it. Find, based on sheer numbers of documented success, what most people are doing. Just as a sanity check.
- Visualize the problem in your head. Walk through your solving steps without looking or thinking about the particular problem at hand.
- Refresh yourself. Get something to eat or drink. Watch something entertaining if just for a few minutes.
- Now go back and see the real problem again. Just the act of taking a break can clear out your old decision channels and let you see the problem as it actually is, not as you have solved it before.
My reasons for using the mower for creative thinking is that it takes me out of the home office and off the computer. When that environment presented its own challenge, I should have actually gone into my home office and turned on the computer right away. The key is distance and objectivity.
This week, when faced with a perplexing problem, take the time to create some space. Your brain is an amazing tool, but it too requires rest and maintenance. I promise it will come back in better shape when you do that.