I need brain yoga.
November 13, 2012 9:36 AM   Subscribe

What are some good techniques for relaxing mental rigidity and getting a fresh perspective?

I depend on focused CBT-like reasoning and self-talk to keep myself functioning from day to day. But as a result, my mind has become arthritic in its insistence on rationality, "truth," facts, correctness, etc. I think my creative work is suffering as a result.

Are there safe ways of breaking these habits of thought without becoming a bubble-headed loon? My anxiety and resistance is very high, due to how much I rely on staying grounded in the real world for my mental health.

*One last thing: I'm expecting some people's answers might include a recommendation for meditation. If so, would you please explain which type of meditation?
posted by overeducated_alligator to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
My recommendation is getting out and walking or hiking. Take a drive to a park that has some walking trails. Bring a notebook and write or sketch while you're out. Don't worry about quality, make sure you make, draw, or write something while you're out.
posted by smitt at 9:45 AM on November 13, 2012

I have a lot of my good ideas in the shower. I think this is similar to smitt's "take a walk" suggestion -- any activity that is not in itself mentally stimulating and which separates you from your usual distractions.

Depending on your feelings about directly altered brain chemistry, there's also the "very small amounts of marijuana" technique. Generally not so useful for doing the work itself, but potentially helpful at the brainstorming stage.
posted by ook at 9:55 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am super rigid. One of the things that helps me is getting into situations where there are a lot of unexpected and/or chaotic elements and realizing that I am actualy decently adaptable and I also actually sort of like these kinds of things, I just don't think i will like them in advance so I often avoid them.

For some people this includes things like having a pet, interacting with kids, dealing with the public in some unstructured way, doing volunteering with people you don't know, drugs (including lots of caffeine, sugar, or whatever), exercise, interacting with nature or just putting yourself in a new situation and trying to not interact with it from inside of your bubble.
posted by jessamyn at 9:58 AM on November 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a thought exercise. When you find yourself thinking something "rigid," make an argument to yourself for the exact opposite.

Now turn that rigid thought into a joke.

Now turn it into a poem.

Now write a sentence with the most important words in that thought out on a piece of paper. Draw around the words. Illustrate them. Think about what the letter-shapes mean to you.

Do all of this in about 10 minutes. What happens is that you'll start to deconstruct the way you think in creative ways, which can break up the rigidity.

This type of technique has helped me tremendously with my overwhelming thoughts associated with OCD. It's kind of a "rigid" way of taking apart "rigid" thoughts, but it's worked for me.
posted by xingcat at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

This is totally off the wall, but try looking at things that are both true and creative. Such as Deep Sea Creatures!

Holy crap, these things are so amazing and beautiful and interesting (I think!) but they're also REAL, they exist, they're not part of some crazy trip or flight of fancy that leaves cognitive reason behind.

What fascinates and amazes you? Go toward that.
posted by Calicatt at 11:02 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you heard of Oblique Strategies? It's this odd little deck of cards designed to be consulted when you're stuck on a creative problem - it gives both practical and goofy suggestions like "Work at a different speed" or "Use an unacceptable color" or "Ghost echoes". It might be an interesting tool to apply, a kind of mental exercise. Here's a website about them, and here's a page that gives you a random one.
posted by dreamyshade at 11:39 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a volunteer in a Johns Hopkins project studying the effects of meditation. I'm here to recommend it based on what it's done for me so far. You should know before I start gushing that I am firmly anti-woo: I despise most anything deemed alternative medicine, accupuncture, chiropractic, the whole nine yards. Plus, I joined this study primarily because I thought the research might help a friend of mine, not because I wanted to adopt meditation.

But after adopting a meditation practice as outline in "Passage Meditation" by Eknath Easwaran, I've experienced the following over the past few months:

- decreased impatience with predictable agitator people in my life
- better ability to fall back to sleep during insomnia
- unexpected moderate-to-large change in one of my phobias that I wasn't even trying to change
- moderate uptick in fearlessness in my creative work

Easwaran's book focuses on selecting a passage and repeating it daily. Getting past the woo factor, you're just sitting in a quiet place, saying the words in your head (after you've memorized it), and eventually moving through thinking about the words, to thinking about other things, to ideally thinking about nothing at all. For about 15 minutes a day.

He also has a book that focuses on mantram meditation, which is essentially a single phrase you repeat throughout your day at different times as needed.

I'm far from an expert, but I really do suggest checking out this or another form of meditation based on what I've unexpectedly--almost accidentally--gained from it thus far after only a few months.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:38 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try the following simple technique. Hold the breath as long as you can. It does not matter if it is on breath in or out. But as long as you can. After you cannot hold the breath anymore take a deep breath. Breath out. Take the second deep breath, close the eyes and while you are breathing out try to see "absolute emptiness". After this simple exercise more likely you mind will be cleared, you will almost forget your thoughts you thought a minute before. After this you definitely will start with fresh mind, fresh perspective. Good luck!
posted by giantman at 8:17 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, the magic key to persuading my left brain to give my right brain permission to lead sometimes was reading The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

I also write down my dreams every night and occasionally read through them to prove to myself that there's a whole other person in there who isn't at all bothered about logic and rationality and who often knows better than me, and way in advance, what's really going on in my life.

Other people have already recommended meditation, so I won't repeat it (I practice mindfulness), but here's a slightly different take on developing awareness of your intuitive, non-logical knowing: Focusing.
posted by stuck on an island at 2:33 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, another great book recommendation for getting in touch with your more unconscious, symbolic, creative ways of knowing, without floating off into woo-woo land: Robert Johnson's Inner Work.
posted by stuck on an island at 2:36 AM on November 14, 2012

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