Have you every been so stuck on a solution to a problem that you have difficulty solving the problem?
What if your problem is the SOLUTION and NOT THE PROBLEM at all?
Yesterday, I was sent a video with the riddle below:
Two girls were born on the same exact day, same month and same hour, and from the same birth parents...and they are not twins!
“How is this possible?” You might ask?
SPOILER ALERT: They are triplets!
Now, most of you probably had a picture of twins in your brain, and might have had difficulty questioning your assumption.
Leonard Mlodinow, the author of Elastic, explains elastic thinking as looking at the problem, not the solution.
This type of thinking, called "elastic thinking" can be implemented when you are stuck in your thinking. Believe it or not, the answer can be easy once you question your assumptions.
According to Psychology Today, "Elastic thinking endows us with the ability to solve novel problems and overcome the neural and psychological barriers that can impede us from looking beyond the existing order... Though no computer and few animals excel at elastic thinking, this ability is built into the human brain."
So, how do you think elastically, you might ask?
Below I have listed some healthy ways Leonard Mlodinow suggests to focus your brain to think “elastically.”
It should be noted that what I am about to suggest is VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE TIPS I usually suggest in GETTING THINGS DONE! *Do not confuse these suggestions with the strategies I’ve provided in the past to complete conventional tasks!*
Keep all distractions away, cell phone, computer, etc. Even if alerts don’t go off, it is best to keep anything that you could divert your attention to away.
Don't even think about trying to multi-task. Keep your focus on the problem.
Give yourself as much time as you need to have ideas come to you. With ADHD, most individuals get tasks done when they are the busiest and are under many time constraints. Elastic thinking is different. To get your most creative ideas, you must relax your brain and give yourself unlimited time to let your ideas flow and explore. *I enjoy the idea of mind-mapping with index cards or online and brainstorming to help me in this area.*
Let yourself be okay with the idea of fear of failure. Most theoretical physicists get used to the idea of failing. Don’t try to be a conventional thinker who is afraid of failing. A lot of your ideas might not work but one or two might stick!
If you want a broader range of ideas to come in, be in a quiet, less lit room with higher ceilings. This is different than when you want to complete conventional and logical tasks with concentrated ideas flowing, where you would be in a more lit and enclosed room.
Why can individuals with ADHD have an easier time exercising elastic thinking?
According to Leonard Mlodinow, "The human brain has a system of filters to sort through all the possible associations, notions and urges that the brain generates, allowing only the most promising ones to pass into conscious awareness."
These filters usually block out creative ideas. However, individuals with ADHD naturally have less stringent filters which can make them more distractible, but more creative. They generally have an easier time with elastic thinking than others, it’s just a matter of channeling these creative ideas.
Elastic thinking can occur when you exhaust your executive functions located in your prefrontal cortex.
Do you ever notice that after you complete multiple tedious tasks that require focused effort that strains your power of concentration, you are more creative and imaginative when you are finished?
Dr. Thomas E. Brown, clinical psychologist and author of A New Understanding of ADHD in Children & Adults: Executive Function Impairments explains ADHD as Executive Dysfunction. This appears to be a natural advantage to individuals with ADHD and can possibly be an explanation to why they tend to be more creative and "out of the box" thinkers.
So if you have ADHD and you or someone you know are stuck on a big obstacle like a career move or relationship conflict, consider putting your superpower of elastic thinking to work!