Surprise ourselves to break through walls that block us
And how to take a break from our thoughts.
Sometimes we feel unmotivated, sluggish, and without energy. We all know this feeling. Yet we wanted to get so much done today. This mood can last for several days or even longer. The unpleasant thing is that we find it more and more challenging to get going each day. To get out of this hole, we can use a little trick that becomes easier the more often we use it: We consciously turn off our mind for a moment at the right time when we feel doubt and the nagging voice creeping up. For this moment, we leave all hindering thoughts outside.
In my life, there was one of these moments that is still very important to me today. For years I had dreamed of taking a long trip to foreign lands. When my itinerary was finally set, all I had to do was click the “book now” button. At that moment, an avalanche of doubt and resistance was brewing. “I can’t do this all alone.” “What if I run out of money or get robbed?”, “Do I even want to do this?”. I felt myself getting warm all of a sudden. My index finger hovered, trembling over the mouse. I was about to turn off the computer when finally I turned off my head for a split second and heard the click of the mouse. Now there was no turning back. And that felt right.
Gianluigi Buffon is one of the world’s best football goalkeepers. In an interview, he talks about his most difficult time as a professional. A time in which the pressure to perform, the training, the loss of the game’s fun overwhelmed him. He was physically unharmed, but he hardly managed to get out of bed. His legs felt like rubber. He was utterly listless and a shadow of himself in goal. According to the attending physician, these were symptoms of incipient depression. He didn’t want to take medication, so Buffon recounts a moment that saved him. He was walking through downtown Turin and passed an exhibition of Marc Chagall. Normally, he would have just walked past, but he turned off his “normally” for a brief moment and entered the gallery. Of the approximately 200 paintings, one, in particular, caught his eye. The painting “la Promenade.” The childlike effect of the image touched him: “It transmitted to me what I probably needed at the moment. It gave me joy.” In retrospect, this painting was a piece of the puzzle that brought him out of depression. A quick decision. A slight deviation in his daily routine. A new impulse. He knew he needed that new impetus, and he looked for it. After a few months, he was like new.
Whether for the creative process or our well-being, this way of surprising ourselves is valuable. Especially when we feel stuck. Here are some ideas on how to give ourselves new impetus:
1. Take a walk. Right now. Don’t think. Get up and go. Even if it’s raining. Surprise yourself by doing it now. 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, it doesn’t matter. The soothing unexplored is out there. The moment we start thinking, we already don’t do it. Stand up. Don’t read any further. You can come back later. See you in a moment.
2. What’s wrong with going to the train station, taking a ticket and going to an unknown station? We drink a coffee or eat in a small snack bar before we go back. On our own without any company. Maybe with a sketchbook or notebook at the most. Perhaps we even leave the smartphone at home? What’s wrong with that? Come on, let’s dare.
3. Next time you walk through your neighborhood, try to imagine for a moment that you have never been here before. Imagine that you just got off the plane, and this is your vacation spot that you are now exploring and discovering. Picture yourself that behind that house over there is the unknown. Maybe there’s a forest behind it? More houses? Or perhaps the sea? We briefly dive into our imagination and begin to see more in the known than before. We begin to see more than there actually is.
We draw new strength in this kind of exercise because we inevitably receive new impulses. Our concentration, imagination, and creativity increase. This can be the best medicine because it is difficult to be curious and sad or angry at the same time.