We’re taught at school to think inside the box. If you do anything weird, your teachers will politely bring you back on track and box in your thinking.
Questions are often taught as only having one right answer, even though that’s not the case.
For instance, when I was at school scientists were only just discovering that continents drifted so we weren’t taught that concept.
There are almost certainly lots of things that were accepted as truth when you were younger but are now debunked.
And that’s ignoring any conspiracy theories.
One of the main ways that new things are discovered is by thinking outside the box.
Our modern day concept of gravity didn’t happen until Newton thought about why an apple was falling from a tree.
And Albert Einstein came up with all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas that still form the basis of a lot of science.
He did that by letting his imagination roam wild.
Something that is at odds with thinking inside the box.
But you don’t have to be a scientist to develop your outside the box thinking skills.
Artists do it – surrealism and abstract art are probably the most extreme cases.
One musician I listen to writes music that doesn’t “work” if you look at the score but plays perfectly when you listen to it.
With that particular artist, I’m not sure how much their thinking was enhanced by other things but that doesn’t stop their work from being good to listen to.
So how can you train your brain to think outside the box more often, regardless of the area you want to break free from your current boundaries?
There are lots of exercises online that will help – one of my favourites is having a conversation without using the letter “e”
That’s because “e” is a very common letter. Ignoring the letter in quote marks, I used 5 times in that previous short sentence.
Don’t play that for too long at first otherwise your brain will start to ache.
There’s also a game I played when I was younger where each player says a word in turn but the next word can’t be related to the previous word. Or must be related to it. Or can’t involve anything made from wood. Or lots of other rules.
All those are simple and cause you to think outside the box, even if it’s only for a few seconds.
Those few seconds are good because they push the boundaries of your brain. Even if it’s only briefly.
Our brain isn’t like a rubber band – it doesn’t spring back to its original size at the first available opportunity.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what our brain does when it’s stretched but it’s closer to building up muscle – it stretches and then continues to fill the new space it’s created.
The neurons in our mind connect up our thoughts and there are lots of those connections.
We don’t really know how many – estimates vary between lots (100 trillion) and even more (1,000 trillion) – and those numbers will vary from person to person.
Even if it’s the lower figure, the numbers are difficult to comprehend.
Thinking outside the box is likely to push up the number of connections.
It’s difficult for scientists to study precisely as we’re not currently capable of monitoring exactly what’s happening inside our minds.
Although we’re getting closer with machine learning – where computers work out their own rules. Google does that a lot even though the skills are still in their infancy.
One thing I like to do to stretch my brain and force it to think – hopefully outside the box – is to ask questions.
They could be fairly dumb ones – I remember reading years ago that McDonalds had something like 27 stages in their restaurants to cooking their fries and I tried to work out what all those could be.
Sat navs (and their app equivalents) store around 100 different items for every single point they have. I struggled to come up with more than a handful of items but it was a nice brain stretch.
So train your brain to question facts and figures by asking “why” or mentally taking the lid off the often bland statements like the “kills 99.9% of germs” – how do we get to that figure?
And given the small size and large quantity of germs, what happens to the remainder?
And regardless of how many germs are killed, how long does it take for a new batch to arrive?
Set aside a bit of time each day to investigate that kind of question.
Whatever takes your fancy because it’s the thought that counts.
The more you ask your brain to think outside whatever box you’ve previously contained it in, the more it will think that thinking outside the box is normal.
Which makes these kind of exercises a virtuous circle.
One other way I like to think outside the box is by listening to a self help track.
Normally for me that would be hypnosis.
But because I don’t like to get stuck in a rut, I chose subliminal messages to work alongside my mind and get it thinking from different angles.
I also did what I often do with subliminal messages – I looked for studies that proved one way or the other whether they work.
Of course, that’s difficult.
You can’t do like the shampoo adverts and use subliminals on one half of your brain but not on the other and then compare the results.
So the results are really closer to hearsay than they are to science.
But that doesn’t mean subliminals don’t work.
I’ve noticed my mind stretching itself more and more since I’ve played myself the track.
Maybe you can do the same?
Click this link and test the idea for yourself!