Ways to Activate Your Diffuse-Thinking Superpower

01.11.2017 |

Episode #4 of the course How to have breakthrough ideas by Eileen Purdy


The good news is diffuse thinking occurs naturally whenever we aren’t using our focused thinking. It is built in because we need it! But since most of us lead over-scheduled, super busy, and stressed-out lives, people often only experience the bare minimum diffuse-thinking time. Now for you, the seeker of breakthrough ideas, this simply won’t do.

Let me share with you some tricks of the trade.

Sleep on it. The half-asleep and half-awake times are the Holy Grail of diffuse thinking and breakthrough ideas. It is a time when our focused thinking is on pause so our diffuse thinking can rule the roost. And that it does!

To use this time effectively, pose a specific question for your brain to noodle on while you are going to sleep each night. In doing this, you are deliberately guiding your brain to find associations and connections in the direction you want. When you wake up, spend the first five minutes journaling. Capture all the first thoughts, ideas, and insights that come to you. This is how Adam Cheyer was able to figure out the herculean and breakthrough creation of Apple’s AI voice assistant, Siri.

Take a walk. According to Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey studied the habits of nearly 200 of the world’s most prolific inventors and innovators over the ages and found that they all had one thing in common: They took walks. If you want to help activate your diffuse thinking/breakthrough idea mode, start taking more walks.

Your walks don’t have to be a certain length of time, but long enough for you to settle into a mind-wandering rhythm. Like the strategy above, before your walk, deliberately invite your diffuse mind to work on a specific problem or outcome you’re working on. As you walk, take in the sights, smells, and sounds you encounter. Walking for breakthrough purposes works much better in environments that are less busy so your focused thinking brain doesn’t have to be engaged to help you navigate your surroundings.

Take a break. You can power your way through a lot of things, but creativity is not one of them. If you’re involved in a project that requires creative thinking or innovative problem-solving, you’ll be better off if you just take a break and stop thinking about whatever you’re thinking about. Totally counterintuitive, I know. But in light of what we’ve learned about how absolutely vital our diffuse thinking mode is, it totally makes sense. So, after you’ve reached a point where you’re not making progress on whatever it is you are working on, take a break from it. Move on to something else, or better yet, set your timer for ten minutes, lean back, and let your mind daydream away!

Open Monitoring Meditation. In contrast to focused attention meditation, there is no object or target for you to focus on during your meditation. You start out the same by finding a comfortable position, relaxing your body, and setting a timer for a short period of time. The aim here, however, is to be aware of the thoughts or experiences that arise and to stay in a monitoring state of attention to them. Without selecting, judging, or focusing on any thought, you allow yourself to be aware of things your mind is bouncing around on. You practice being an observer, not a director or controller, of your thoughts. The idea isn’t that you are going to stumble upon your breakthrough idea during this type of meditation but that you’ll strengthen your brain’s ability to allow the jumping around of ideas and create more associations.

Tomorrow, you will have some bonafide insightful moments with the lesson on cognitive biases. We all have them—the people having the breakthrough ideas just know how to use them.


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Recommended book

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey


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