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The freedom of constraint, Part I

Constraint

Photo credit: Flickr/Abraham Williams

I can’t think inside my house.

Am I alone in this? Does anyone else feel their cognitive ability leak out of their ears the moment they cross the threshold?

When I walk through the door I’m immediately assaulted by a rush of unrelated details clamoring for my attention. DISHES! CRAP TO TAKE TO GOODWILL! MAIL TO OPEN! DINNER TO BE COOKED! It’s like my house is surrounded by a brain-disruption field. I want to turn around and run away.

I’ve already pegged part of the problem to my extroverted nature — I’m much better among people than alone — but that doesn’t explain everything.

The things tugging my sleeve insisting I take care of them aren’t even my children. I used to chalk up my stunted attention span and tendency toward distraction to my kids’ interruptions, but I can’t even blame them anymore. While they’re at school, I’m home, flitting unproductively between writing, cleaning up, thinking about stuff, running errands, fretting over stuff I’ve forgotten to do, doing household stuff, making phone calls, and haunting social media space procrastinating.

But: Get me on a plane, in a car, in a cafe, or in a new place, and my mental course straightens almost immediately. The idea for Parent Hacks was born in a cafe in Amsterdam. My best brainstorming happens on the plane ride back from vacation or a conference. This post is getting written in a Portland coffeehouse. When geography imposes a limit on my mind’s ability to wander, my brain gets to work.

Constraints inspire creativity. Twitter figured this out by limiting updates to 140 characters. When you can’t do anything you want, you focus on what you can do, which increases the likelihood you’ll do it well.

I’m thinking about how to apply this particular discovery to my life. Do more work in coffeehouses, perhaps. Travel more, if I can. Follow a budget. Impose a few dietary restrictions, just to see how I feel. Turn off wi-fi. Remember that setting limits with my kids helps them strengthen problem-solving skills.

How have constraints made you creative in your own life?

Roxanna (Everyday Treats) talked about just this scenario in Creativity is Born Out of Limitation.

Read Part 2: What will you limit to make room for something awesome?


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♦ Being organized during the holidays and beyond
♦ Challenge encourages learning, anxiety kills it

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