With over 9 million UK workers now furloughed (according to latest figures from the British Chambers of Commerce) a significant proportion of us are staying home, and trying to stay healthy to help our health service. But this enforced work pause needn’t bring our brains to a full stop. Furlough doesn’t have to mean ‘fallow’…
In fact, for anyone wanting to get generative, we couldn’t have been delivered a better ‘stimulus package’: free time, physical disconnect from work and a host of new experiences. Who hasn’t come back from an extended break bursting with bright ideas and new resolutions they’re keen to try? Granted, this is a lockdown, not two weeks in Lanzarote. But even if you’re not feeling the holiday vibe (stuck with small kids / hysterical flatmates/ your increasingly agonised id) your brain will already be reaping the benefit…
In scientific terms: Latest research links creativity to the neuroplasticity of the brain, ie the way our neural pathways flex and adapt to stimulation. The more we are exposed to new sounds, sights and sensations, the more connections are sparked inside our brains – allowing us to spark ideas and solutions. Crucially, this neuroplasticity is capable of generation and regeneration throughout our lives – we only need to stay stimulated.
In real-life terms: The simple fact of furlough is already growing your creative capacity. Forced to switch your daily commute to the kitchen, then watch your partner ‘do’ their cardio in the living room, you’re already sending up sparks! So what rewards could you reap if you actively tried to work your creative ‘muscle’?
Try these evidence-led experiments to maximise your creative ‘fertility’ in furlough, so when you do return to work, you’re primed to be your most productive.
Get yourself primed for the challenges ahead
You may be constrained from working, but you are free to think. Gifted with time and headspace, you are more receptive to the creative power of your subconscious. (To give this some context, neuroscientist David Eagleman compares our conscious brain to our subconscious as “a broom closet in the mansion of the brain.” Stuck in the house, I know where I’d like to hang!) If you prime your subconscious by consciously reflecting on challenges you need to solve, your brain will work on them, even when you’re relaxing/home schooling the kids.
Big Question Poster
Spend a few moments at the start of each week writing down the 2 or 3 questions or challenges you’d like to have ideas around. Write them as opportunity questions, (i.e. ‘How can I use the furlough to make me even more creative, so that I’m a whirlwind of brilliant ideas when I get back to work?’). Write the questions BIG and stick them somewhere you can see through your day.
Get yourself a notepad and use it as an ideas diary. Jot down thoughts – no matter how random or half-formed – as they occur. Inspiration can strike at any time, be ready to catch it. Who knows what home-schooling hacks could enlighten staff training. Lightbulb moments might strike when screwing in a lightbulb…
Keep refreshing your stimulus
We all like to huddle in our comfort zone – especially in a time of crisis – so it takes active effort to get more creative in our choices. If we actively structure time (and tech) to try new things then we’ll soon have lots of new ideas.
Shake up your media consumption
Take turns with other members of your household to pick a movie each night – or a music soundtrack for your day. Read a book from a genre you’ve always LOUDLY DECLAIMED. Ditto online podcasts/newsfeeds/ magazines. If you’ve always been a classical kind of gal, try to get into hard rock. Never watched a single telenovela? Get out the hankies and start now!
Set yourself a learning agenda
Take up something you’ve always been tempted to try, but couldn’t find the time (or courage!) Simultaneously, can you learn to master something that always seemed dull to you? Make a regular commitment to both – are you surprised by which one takes off/ talents you never dreamed you had!
Build your network
When busy with work, it’s our human network that goes out of the window (to our detriment: research shows that people with more social ties are happier and more successful). Now finally we have time for friends – let’s use it. The more diverse – and active – you can make your network, the more opportunities and creative input you’ll reap down the line. Re-igniting old friendships and forging new ones can stimulate your way of thinking.
Get ‘the old gang’ back together
Create a list of all the people you meant to keep in touch with over the years (then failed to send so much as a Christmas card…) Keep a running tab of all those to whom you ‘owe’ an email; aim to tick off a couple of names each day. You might be surprised where life has carried them – and the fresh places they can take you.
Make new friends
Benefit from the warm-hearted spirit of ‘outreach’ that’s being fostered by physical distancing. Start a club, sign up to one already out there: Having been a fantasy-gamer during your spotty teenage years, is now the time to join that Dungeons and Dragons chat room? (Yes, you can call yourself ‘Thoromor, the Goblin Wench’). Start an online group for your local community – whether support or pub quiz. (After 10 years of living on the same street, can you finally get to know your neighbours?!)
Hunch: Researchers have found that when we distract our conscious brains with something that isn’t too new or difficult (knitting, exercise, gardening, playing a video game) then our subconscious brain works on the problems we’ve set it – and comes up with more ideas, and more novel ideas. Spending time cooking dinner, painting a room or doing a jigsaw will help you put the pieces together.
Arts & Crafts
Allocate time each day for you to paint or create something. It might be as simple as having fun with a colouring book, knitting a scarf or doing a doodle. Focus on creating one thing, and see what else bubbles to the surface.
Go for a Walk
If social distancing measure allow, head out for a wander – or simply start pacing around the kitchen. Let your legs go as your mind roams free and see what ideas pop, unbidden, into your brain.
Stop putting off painting that room, sanding those bookshelves or fixing those fittings – as your hands get busy, your brain will solve the important stuff.
Immerse yourself in cooking or baking. Enjoy your culinary creations in the knowledge that your brain will be creating food for thought.