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Two of the greatest variables which enhance creativity (which happens to be a close cousin of problem-solving) are novelty and challenge.
Novelty is simply doing something which is a departure or disruption from your usual routine, thought patterns or subject matter which consumes a great deal of your time ordinarily. By the way, novelty can be a departure from physical routine as well as psychological or intellectual routines.
Challenge is the exercise of pushing your psychological, intellectual or physical envelope or self-imposed 'comfy cube'
Where novelty forces you to focus on those different skill sets or muscle groups, challenge has to do with applying and exercising them. By analogy, novelty is like exercising a new and formerly neglected muscle group (i.e., exercising your triceps where you've been only exercising your biceps for years), and challenge is actually doing more repetitions, more sets and using increased weights as you integrate this whole new regimen into your routine.
The following twelve somewhat zany but very effective exercises were created by Dorothea Brande, and were mentioned by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project:
1. Spend an hour each day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions, in the midst of the usual group, without creating the impression that you’re sulking or ill. Be as ordinary as possible. But do not volunteer remarks or try to draw out information.
2. Think for 30 minutes a day about one subject exclusively. Start with five minutes.
3. Write a letter without using the words I, me, mine, my.
4. Talk for 15 minutes a day without using I, me, my, mine.
5. Write a letter in a “successful” or placid tone. No misstatements, no lying. Look for aspects or activities that can be honestly reported that way.
6. Pause on the threshold of any crowded room and size it up.
7. Keep a new acquaintance talking about himself or herself without allowing him to become conscious of it. Turn back any courteous reciprocal questions in a way that your auditor doesn’t feel rebuffed.
8. Talk exclusively about yourself and your interests without complaining, boasting, or boring your companions.
9. Cut “I mean” or “As a matter of fact” or any other verbal mannerism out of your conversation.
10. Plan two hours of a day and stick to the plan.
11. Set yourself twelve tasks at random: e.g., go twenty miles from home using ordinary conveyance; go 12 hours without food; go eat a meal in the most unlikely place you can find; say nothing all day except in answer to questions; stay up all night and work.
12. From time to time, give yourself a day when you answer “yes” to any reasonable request.
These are actually tremendous novelties paired with potentially enormous challenges for most of us. I would suggest that you review the whole list before embarking upon any of its proposals. How often have you ever actually done any one of them? How often has anybody whom you may know done of any of them -- or at least to the extent that you noticed?
When you've finished evaluating the list and thinking "Come On... Does that snooty Douglas E. Castle really expect me to do these things?" My answer is "Yes. Do every single one. Also, don't call me snooty."
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