Think outside the box — you've heard someone say it to you before, whether that was a college professor, a parent, a mentor
, a manager or someone else entirely.
What's a word for thinking outside the box? Mentation. Intellection. Using your creativity. Divergent thinking. Innovating. Thinking critically.
But what does all of that mean? How do you think outside the box? It's easier said than done. That's why we've rounded up 10 tips for helping you to do just that.
10 strategies to help you think outside the box
Here are 10 strategies to help you open your mind and welcome creativity.
1. Simplify your thoughts.
Sometimes, in order to think outside the box, you need to stop thinking so much. When you become stuck in a tangled web of thoughts and ideas, it can be difficult to remove yourself from what's already inside your head. If you can simplify your thoughts, however, it's easier to take a step back and look at them clearly. Once you can do that, you can critique those individual thoughts, add to those thoughts, nix those ideas or expand upon those ideas. You can't do that when your head is all over the place.
2. Ask yourself "why."
When you're trying to think outside the box, ask yourself "why" you're doing what you're doing. If, for example, you're trying to think of creative ways to sell a product or service, instead of thinking about how to sell to a customer or client, ask yourself why they should buy your product or service (or why you would!). Why does this matter? Why should anyone care? Why is your product or service unique? Why should a customer or client choose you? Likewise, if you're writing a book and trying to think outside the box for titles, ask yourself why you wrote the book, why someone should read it, why anyone would want to read it, why it deserves to be read.
3. Play devil's advocate with yourself.
How do you think outside the box? Think the exact opposite of what you were already thinking. It's easy to fall in love with your own words and ideas — after all, you came up with them. It's not so easy to refute your own thoughts, however. And that's exactly why you should. Playing devil's advocate with yourself will force you to find potential loopholes or flaws in your ideas and, therefore, expand on ideas or propose new ones. Forcing yourself to see the opposite will help you to open your mind to all possibilities.
4. Freewrite in a journal.
Freewriting in a journal can really help you to open your mind and get your creative juices flowing. Give yourself a prompt that can help to stimulate out-of-the-box ideas. If you're trying to think outside the box about potential business ideas you could start, for example, you could start freewriting about experiences in your life that felt especially fulfilling to you. Perhaps you write about a business you really admire. These exercises will help you to think critically and creatively about your passions, interests
5. Take a class to develop new skills.
If you're hitting a wall, it might be wise to take a class where you can learn or develop new skills. These skills might help you to approach problems differently and, as such, allow you to think outside of the box you were in before you took the class. Maybe you want to start a business but you're stuck on how to go about launching a website. Taking a class on building a business and/or web building can help to spark some creativity in you and light a fire under you.
While meditation is often described as "quieting the mind," the reality is that our minds are always wandering, and all meditation does is help you notice that. In meditation, you're tasked with noticing the inevitable thoughts that wander into your mind without attaching to them or judging them. Ideas and thoughts cross our minds all day long, but we don't always stop to meditate on them. So sit with yourself for some time to actually recognize what's going through your head.
7. Create a mindmap.
A mindmap can help you to organize what's going on inside your brain. It's an easy way to brainstorm creative ideas and to, yes, get you thinking outside the box. You start with a subject and then branch out to sub-subjects, which then branch out to sub-sub-subjects. You don't have to worry about the structure or flow of your thoughts. All you have to do is record your ideas in a visual way so that you have a palpable piece of creativity with which to work.
8. Have a candid conversation with friends.
Sometimes all it takes to think outside the box is to think outside your own head. You may need to talk out loud. So try having a chat with a friend about a problem you're facing or an idea you have in order. What they say and/or how they react may trigger new out-of-the-box thoughts for you, and they may also have recommendations that can help propel you forward.
9. Ask a child's opinion.
Children are always thinking outside of the box; they have better imaginations than adults, after all. So, how do you think outside the box? Consider asking a child what they think about your idea! At the very least, you can rest assured that they'll probably be honest with you.
The fact is that you can't think creatively if you're just plain exhausted. Sometimes you just need to sleep on it. Getting the rest you need to recuperate and rejuvenate your mind might be all it takes in order to wake up with a refreshed attitude and a clear head. The mind works in wondrous ways, and it needs sleep in order to function optimally. So make sure you give it some time to turn off. Besides, your dreams might speak to you, too!
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.