“The mind ought sometimes be diverted that it may return to better thinking.”
Welcome to the high dive, way above the deep end of the ambiguity pool. Today’s flow activation exercise will teach you an unique hands-on method for swimming in ambiguity and finding sunken treasure. True problem solving and solid leadership requires creative ways of seeing, flowing and thinking. I want you to get something important for yourself today, so I’m asking you to explore a challenge that currently has you dog-paddling in circles. Pick a good one. Something that has some juice to it, as this is no ordinary learning. It will require you to open up to curiosity and uncertainty. You will need to suspend your tired habitual thinking patterns or perhaps simply let them float on a tube down in the shallow end for awhile. You can always retrieve them later, if you think that’s useful or necessary.
So without further explanation, let’s jump up and down a few times on this board and leap. It’s time to create some flow and the water is fine!
Taking the Plunge
Select a current project, challenge or problem (work related or personal) you would like to explore more fully. Here is your opportunity to generate multiple possibilities and expand your understandings. Innovative problem solving and decision making occurs through the interconnecting of familiar and unique ideas in fresh ways. To accomplish this, energy must be introduced into the creative system. This flow generator exercise requires your time and participation beyond your work desk or easy chair. However, you do want to get unstuck and the payoffs of this exercise can be rather amazing.
Block off 90 minutes of uninterrupted time for this experience. You many use more or less time, however, a 90 minute commitment will provide you with an adequate time span for exploration and reflection. Now there are many ways to begin and multiple choices for your to make, so continue to mentally collect your thoughts, knowing that your ways of exploring can open in many directions.
Taking the next 5 minutes, write with pen and paper about your challenge. Recording your thoughts, not on a computer or tablet, but through long-hand writing, creates different neural networks than typing or voice recording. Write in brief note-like phrases, bullet points, sentences or paragraphs, whatever works best as you capture the essence of your problem and its many moving parts.
Next, please gather the following three items as they are crucial to the success of this experience: one nail, one stone and one ring.
- The nail can be of any size.
- The stone should be no larger than 1-2 inches in diameter. It can be polished or unpolished, interesting or dull in appearance, yet a stone that provokes your curiosity.
- The ring should be of some value to you, sentimental and / or monetary.
These items may seem to be an odd assortment, however you will soon discover many other dimensions and interconnections between this grouping.
Select a time of day that is most enjoyable to you for performing this exercise outdoors. You will also select a location of beauty. The time and location determination is solely yours. A special place of beauty for one person may be in nature, for another, the heart of the city. You are the best judge of what you need in order to open and learn something unique and intriguing.
At your specifically chosen time, take you nail, stone and ring to your location. While standing still, hold them together in one hand for the first five minutes, as you think about your challenge. Allow your thoughts to wander between your challenge and the objects in your hand. Don’t forget to also enjoy your surroundings. All of what you are seeing, hearing, wondering and feeling will provide you with interesting and useful information towards your goal.
Your next step is to select two of the objects for your right hand and one for your left. Then, quietly stroll around your place of beauty for the next 10 minutes. Concentrate on the objects in one hand and then the other. Allow the questions and answers regarding their significance to you and your challenge to emerge at their own rate.
At the end of your walking time, find somewhere in your environment to leave the nail and the stone. You can decide if you place them together or in different locations. You might leave them out in the open or hide them in some way. Whatever you decide, do what seems most appropriate to you. Take the ring with you as a remembrance of your experience and so much more. Return to a quiet place where you can think further and write about your experience and answer the questions below.
Q and A
As you continue to reflect on your experience please take some time to record what happened. Write about any new and familiar thoughts, emotions, sensations, perceptions and questions that capture your adventure.
The following questions can be of assistance in expanding your thoughts and the multilayered meanings that are now emerging. Answer as many of these in writing as you’d like. All will take you deeper into understanding your process and your challenge.
- What do a nail, stone and ring symbolize for you? Generate as many associations as you can.
- What connections did you make between the objects? (Similarities and differences)
- How do they relate to your challenge?
- Why did you select the specific time and location for your experience?
- What thoughts and feelings emerged when holding all the objects together while standing still?
- How did you decide which objects to pair in one hand and singularly in the other?
- How did these standing and walking experiences differ and seem similar?
- Where did you leave the nail and stone? What was it like to leave them?
- Look at your ring now and write all the thoughts and feelings that arise?
- What did you learn about yourself?
- What did you learn about your problem?
- What will you keep the same and what will you do differently in regards to your challenge?
In a week’s time, please read over these writings and add additional thoughts, understandings and learnings that have continued to unfold.
Why This Works
The presence of ambiguity in every aspect of this exercise forces broader, multi-layered options into consideration. This deliberate ambiguity causes the disruption of habitual thinking. Introducing dissimilar items (the nail, stone and ring) paired with a variety of actions (selecting time and location, standing still or walking and what to do with individual objects) sets a curious and compelling stage for new connections to form. While many decisions were left to your discretion, much of the novelty here centers around the symbolism of the three items and the on-going question of how this all make sense towards solving your problem.
Our minds gravitate towards the curious. Solving mysteries is a deeply satisfying experience. By generating multiple meanings for the three items while simultaneously connecting those meanings to your challenge, new approaches, thoughts and understands are forged. As you walked and wondered, immersed in your questions and interconnecting, you created an internal flow state. Flow is a dynamic swirl of energetic momentum, pulsing through us. Even the most familiar objects can take on elevated significance when held within this new context. Ambiguity is a strong catalyst for this alchemy of creative insight and change. Here, you were engaged in an exercise of purposeful meaning making created by the interconnecting of dissimilar parts. You may not have always known where you were stepping or what would emerge next, but you could feel the pulse of your exploration. This is your activation of flow: mystery and revelation, together, simultaneously.
For the Record
So the next time a project gets you bogged down in the old familiar places, remember this experience. Invite yourself to an ambiguity plunge. Feel free to change up the items, location and specific actions. By actively diverting and engaging your mind and body, new associations, connections and meanings will emerge. This creative activation filled with ambiguity, curiosity and symbolism will encourage your internal resources to emerge and greater understandings to flow.
Join the discussion 8 Comments
You’re brilliant ♥️
Quite the challenge!
Kathe, You’re right, this one is a challenge, yet so worth the effort. When we spend time embracing ambiguity, paradoxically, greater clarity and interconnected understandings often arise.
I was skeptical since the exercise sounds fairly complex and I was unsure of its value. But after giving it an honest try I found that it was waaay more engaging than I would have imagined and issues emerged about my apparent dependence on the concrete that I hadn’t expected. Have been thinking that it might be interesting for me to do this again in a few months and see if my impressions about uncertainty have changed and if I am warming up to ambiguity in my creative and personal life.
Thank you! Great exercise.
This is most intriguing and I’ll definitely give it a go. Thanks!
Bev, When you give it a go, I’d love to hear about any surprises and learnings you receive from the experience. Thanks
I loved the exercise! It is always painful to be confused and ambiguous- but that seems to be where clarity comes from. I loved all the detail of the instructions, and the questions that I was to ask myself really helped me to go deeper into seeing things in a new way. It really worked for me. I had been struggling with an issue that I am now able to set aside. Thank you so much!
Congrats Jane Marie, It is always exciting when we can take a challenge and turn it inside out. Sounds like you allowed your confusion, curiosity and ambiguity to all work together on this one for an entirely different and productive experience. Happy to be part of your journey. Thanks for your comments.