How to Use Distraction to Your Advantage

Have you ever noticed that your best ideas come not from where you were looking, but from something you saw out of the corner of your eye? — Highly creative people tend to have minds that pay attention in a particularly “open” kind of way.

Specifically, people who’ve had creative success often have “leaky attention,” meaning that when they are concentrating on one thing, other irrelevant information can still seep into their consciousness (information that’s irrelevant to their current task, but potentially very useful longer term).

It’s as if creative types have an attentional system that’s less of a spotlight and more of a lantern that picks up a wide range of information. A real-life equivalent would be trying to concentrate on reading an article in a magazine, but realizing that your attention has just been grabbed by the ad on the opposite page. This is going to be detrimental to reading the article, obviously, but at the same time that ad could provide the spark for your next creative idea.

When you’re at the idea generation stage of work, then your leaky mind is your strength. As a result it helps to think of your brain as having two “modes”: Idea generation mode and idea execution mode.

At the idea generation phase in the creative process, you can exploit your mental style by exposing yourself to as much noise, buzz, bustle, and distraction as possible. Go to parties, flick through magazines, leave Twitter and Facebook chattering in the background, ride public transport. Do this and the chances are your open mind will let in the very idea you’ve been waiting for.
When you’re at the idea generation stage of work, then your leaky mind is your strength.

But when it comes time to get to work, you must go through great pains to keep focused. Also try not to fluctuate frequently between tasks.

Summing-up: With some working memory training exercises that involve juggling information in your mind over short time periods you can help improve the control you have over your own attentional focus. But beware, by fixing your leaky mind, you might risk losing your greatest strength – your creativity.

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