We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of the absurd – of embracing this idea that life has no meaning and all that spins from that insight. Part of that is cultivating a detached view of yourself.
By cultivating a detached view of yourself, we mean that you try to achieve a little distance in how you look at what you are doing. You see the bigger picture around you. You see yourself as playing a role. Kind of hard to describe, but we know sometimes we sit at our favorite café and “zoom out” – like in those commercials where they show a guy, then the guy around his house, then zoom out to his neighborhood, then the U.S., then the planet… It’s just a way to disengage your immediate emotional self and gain perspective. You pull away and see things at a more abstract level.
Well, it turns out this kind of detachment can also boost your creativity.
A reader of ours, Jack Sparrow, forwarded to us a piece in Scientific American about this idea of “psychological distance.” It concludes that achieving this state of mind can actually boost creativity. An excerpt:
“Psychological distance affects the way we mentally represent things, so that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way while psychologically near things seem more concrete. Consider, for instance, a corn plant. A concrete representation would refer to the shape, color, taste, and smell of the plant, and connect the item to its most common use – a food product. An abstract representation, on the other hand, might refer to the corn plant as a source of energy or as a fast growing plant. These more abstract thoughts might lead us to contemplate other, less common uses for corn, such as a source for ethanol, or to use the plant to create mazes for children. What this example demonstrates is how abstract thinking makes it easier for people to form surprising connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, such as fast growing plants (corn) and fuel for cars (ethanol).”
And the conclusion:
“This research has important practical implications. It suggests that there are several simple steps we can all take to increase creativity, such as traveling to faraway places (or even just thinking about such places), thinking about the distant future, communicating with people who are dissimilar to us, and considering unlikely alternatives to reality. Perhaps the modern environment, with its increased access to people, sights, music, and food from faraway places, helps us become more creative not only by exposing us to a variety of styles and ideas, but also by allowing us to think more abstractly. So the next time you’re stuck on a problem that seems impossible don’t give up. Instead, try to gain a little psychological distance, and pretend the problem came from somewhere very far away.”
You can find the full piece here.