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Break Habits - Get Creative
By Bob Bapes   Printer Friendly Version

Habits are nature's compensation for not giving us very many instincts. When a dog gets up in the morning it does what it does because it's a dog. We, on the other hand, face choices from the moment the alarm goes off (assuming that you decided to set an alarm). You have to decide whether you are going to get up immediately or hit the snooze button. Then you have to decide if you are going to spring from bed or slink from under the covers. After that you decide whether to put on slippers, and if so, which foot first. From there, you decide whether to put on a robe, which arm goes in first, tie it or not. You get the picture.

If you had to make a conscious decision about everything you do to get out of the house in the morning, you'd still be there. This is where habits are useful. They're great for handling routine, repetitive tasks to help us get through the day.

Unfortunately habits can be dangerous. Maybe you've had the experience of getting in your car in the morning, putting your key in the ignition and the next thing you know, you're at work. You remember nothing of the trip. This habit saved you the necessity of making every driving decision, freeing your mind for other tasks.

During this kind of "automatic" commute, have you ever realized in horror that you have run a stop sign that wasn't there yesterday? This is one of many instances where habits can be dangerous. They prevent us from seeing changes in the environment.

In the exact same way, habit prevents us from seeing business opportunities. We have all heard the story of Chester Carlson taking "dry process copying" (Xerox) to many companies, including Kodak. IBM initially ignoring the personal computer market until it was almost too late. In all these stories, individuals and organizations are blind to opportunities because their habits don't allow them to question assumptions or see changes in the environment.

To train yourself to see opportunities and changes, break unimportant habits. The newness of these activities help us become more open to creativity, both our own and that of others.

Breaking habits does two things for our creativity muscle. First, you learn to tolerate discomfort. Creativity is about change and change is uncomfortable. To become more creative is to accept more ambiguity in your life. Train yourself to enjoy change by breaking habits.

Second, breaking habits forces us to think about our assumptions. When we question assumptions, we no longer take the environment as constant, but rather as dynamic. Understanding the dynamic nature of the environment leads to increased creativity.

Here are a few habits that you can break to ease your journey to becoming more creative:

  • Work from the other side of your desk.
  • Use your off-hand for common tasks, like eating , brushing your hair or teeth, writing, using the computer mouse.
  • Watch the TV with the sound off or listen to classic radio programs on National Public Radio. Either of these activities engages our "theater of the mind" imagination.
  • Experiment with foods, either a cuisine you are not familiar with or one that you know but with a different twist.
  • Listen to different music than you are used to.
  • Go to a cultural event that is beyond your normal range of things.
  • Take a different route to work, or better yet, a different mode of transportation.
  • Work from home or someone else's office for a day.
  • Do someone else's work for a day.

The first step to becoming more creative is to see the world differently and that requires breaking our current habits. The opportunities to break habits are endless. The rewards for becoming more creative are boundless.

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