Physically stepping away from your work when you feel stuck can help you find a solution more effectively compared to focusing all your attention on the project and grinding away to force an outcome. This is something Ed Catmull in Creativity Inc. talks about: “I’ve heard some people describe creativity as ‘unexpected connections between unrelated concepts or ideas!” If that’s at all true, you have to be in a certain mindset to make those connections. So when I sense we’re getting nowhere, I just shut things down. We all go off to something else. Later, once the mood has shifted, I’ll attack the problem again.”
It might look like you’ve stopped thinking about the project, but the break actually allows your subconscious to work on it without you getting in the way by force-thinking a solution. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi in Creativity describes an incubation stage in the creative process “during which ideas churn around below the threshold of consciousness. It is during this time that unusual connections are likely to be made.”
Given that the subconscious – the unconscious mind – makes up 90% of your total brain function, it’s actually a richer and wiser resource to draw from. Russell L. Colling and Tony W. York explain “The unconscious mind contains knowledge accumulated in various ways throughout life. The vast storehouse contains past experiences… the reservoir of total memory and intuitive judgment.”
Csikzentmihalyi continues “When we intend to solve a problem consciously, we process information in a linear, logical fashion. But when ideas call to each other on their own, without our leading them down a straight and narrow path, unexpected combinations may come into being.”
A stepping back, incubation approach is actually a more effect way to work on a problem than a nose-to-the-grindstone hustle, so give your wise subconscious the chance to help you.