Mindlessness Over Mindfulness with Inspector Clouseau

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In keeping with the current organizational fads, I just read my ump-teenth book on the importance of mindfulness. Once again, I’m told that we should be focusing our attention on what we’re experiencing in the present moment. This seems reasonable until I’m expected to retain my mindfulness on a constant and consistent basis. So instead of living in a continuous state of alert, maybe I’ll try to be more like Inspector Clouseau.

Inspector Clouseau is the police detective from the Pink Panther movie series. While he is clueless, clumsy and generally inept, Clouseau always seems to solve the unsolvable case. You may view him as dimwitted, but his ability to connect the dots puts him at a higher level of creativity than many of his peers.

Clouseau commonly experiences the Aha! moment, that instant when we suddenly understand a previously incomprehensible problem. These Aha! moments are the result of mindlessness (also called zoning out, daydreaming, and a wandering mind). Studies show that as much as 50% of our waking time is occupied with mind wandering. Some may see this as wasting half their day; I prefer to rely on the research.

Evidence suggests that being in a mindless state is directly linked to creative problem solving and the planning of future goals. When your minds wander, it is pulled towards unresolved issues. It may feel as though we’re relaxing, but the unconscious parts of our brain are hard at work. According to Todd Kashdan, co-author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment,

When we’re zoning out, really what this is, is the incubation period of creativity.

If you are trying to pinpoint your most recent Aha moment, it should contain these four attributes:

  1. It appears suddenly.
  2. There is a fluent connection between the solution and problem.
  3. It produces a positive affect.
  4. When it happens, you are convinced that a solution is true.

I’d like to be able to suggest ways to enter your state of mindlessness and elicit an Aha! moment, but we each take mental breaks in different ways. You may consider taking a walk, doing a crossword puzzle, or going for a drive (that’s when I tend to get mine). Whatever you decide, just remember that it requires you to be alone in your thoughts.

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