The ATM, Toilet Paper and Creativity

My stomach is knotted, my teeth are clinched, my eyes are squinted and I am in deep concentration. A loud sound breaks the silence and I jump and scream. That’s a problem because I am only trying to upload a picture and the sound is the phone ringing. This is reminder to me of how easy it is to go into stress mode.

My body responds with anxiety as I try harder and harder to upload the photo. I think, I have to figure this out, I have to figure this out, I have to figure this out. With each failed attempt, I grow more anxious, I can feel my heart rate accelerating and my breath quicken and let’s face it, trying to upload a photo is not a life and death situation, but the fact that I jumped and screamed when the phone rang would seem to indicate otherwise.

I put myself into flight or fight mode and neither flight nor fight are good for problem solving. Instead of getting my mind closer to answer, I’m getting my body closer to an adrenalin overload, which shuts down higher cognitive powers to prepare me for either flight or fight. The mode is fight or flight; not fight flight or figure. In order to get a solution to the problem, the first step is to get a solution to the stress.

The solution to the stress is to take a break, walk away and do something mindless. This relaxed and distracted state produces dopamine which acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain that allows information to flow between different areas in the brain AND that is what solves problems and begets creativity.

My creative ideas have never come at that moment I sitting in front of the problem. One of my best designs was a cash gate for ATMs. The challenge was how to fit the cash gate and motor into a very small space. The idea came to me as I loaded a roll of toilet paper; I realized everyone was trying to design to mount the motor on top when you could mount the motor from the bottom.

I’ve heard it many times, to solve a problem, walk away. Relax and give your brain a chance to process thoughts. Simple activities such as running, walking, cleaning, etcetera give the brain a chance to problem solve giving you that aha, eureka moment when everything comes together.  Seriously, most people don’t jump and scream at a ringing phone. That experience was a reminder to me to stop relax and breathe. I went outside for fresh air and immediately the solution came to me. I had to download the photo form the cloud first before I could upload it to the blog. Yup, relax and breathe really works.

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