Unless you have been living in a cave away from civilization for decades, you have no doubt heard the phrase “think outside the box.”
It could have been a teacher saying it to you in a classroom, your boss instructing you to do so in a staff meeting, or your parents as they encouraged you to find a solution to one of life’s many problems.
For most of us, having this said to you can either drive you closer to madness or instead unleash creativity and innovation you never realized existed within you.
In an age where artificial intelligence and advanced forms of technology seem to be taking over more and more of daily life, my experiences have shown that we humans still have an innate ability to put our creative talents to work in ways that modern machines cannot and may not be able to do so for generations.
If you are striving to learn how to think outside the box in your personal and perhaps even your professional life, I’ve got some suggestions you may want to consider.
How To Think Outside The Box | The Tips For Success
What Does It Mean To Think Outside The Box?
When it comes to the meaning of thinking outside the box, I have always found it ultimately comes down to your ability to do away with the many and varied constraints you have knowingly or unknowingly placed upon your way of thinking.
For example, as you age, you naturally become a creature of habit, both with your behavior and your thinking.
As a result, you become more and more comfortable with familiar routines, making it more difficult and inconvenient to put aside your long-held beliefs about various topics.
Thus, rather than face the risk of failure or rejection, I have found we instead cling to our beliefs much like Linus did with his security blanket, ultimately limiting ourselves and keeping ourselves from reaching our full potential.
The end result is never using our minds to try think of new ways to do things. We trap ourselves and our thinking and have a hard time thinking differently.
Here is a great video about all of this.
Why Is Thinking Outside the Box So Hard?
When you are thinking differently than perhaps you have done throughout your life, you will quickly find it is far more difficult than you expected.
As to why this happens, I believe there are many factors at work.
To begin with, having a willingness to think differently means taking a chance on being different from family, friends, and coworkers.
For many of us, this is a fate worse than death, since we may risk alienating those who are closest to us.
Instead, we find it to be much easier and emotionally soothing to be a follower, rather than a leader.
Along with this, my experiences have found that thinking beyond the box is a concept that the majority of people simply find too foreign to understand.
However, much like you would study a foreign language, doing so diligently will ultimately result in you being able to unleash new and innovative ways of thinking.
Thinking Like A Child
According to many leading experts on how to think outside the box, you only need to look at children to see how well this concept can work.
Based on a University of Colorado study pertaining to child psychology, researchers studied the effects of free play and structured play on children’s ability to set and reach their goals.
Upon conclusion of the study, researchers found the more time kids spent in activities that were less structured, the better they were at setting and reaching their goals.
Conversely, the more time they spent in activities that were more rigid and structured, the less successful they were at setting and reaching goals.
As I have found, most kids have few preconceived notions about most topics, which enables them to think more freely without worrying about rejection or failure.
Therefore, if you want to improve your ability to think outside the box, just spend your time watching how children live their lives.
How To Start Thinking Outside The Box
Now that I have hopefully convinced you of the merits associated with thinking beyond the box, I’m sure you are full of anticipation as to just how you can start unleashing this hidden power you have always possessed.
As for one suggestion, I believe it is always best to change our way of thinking so that we encounter ideas, rather than try to come up with them.
By changing your attitude to browse for ideas rather than create them, I have found it immediately eliminates any pressure I have put upon myself.
By making this one simple change, you are changing your brain’s direction.
Now, instead of having to create something from nothing, you simply get to browse through your brain until you stumble upon the solution to your problem.
As the noted painter Bob Ross always liked to say, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”
Thus, once you stumble upon one happy accident, chances are you will find it much easier in the future to stumble upon many more along the way.
Here are a few examples of thinking outside the box to help you get started.
#1. Always Be Willing To Ask “Why?”
If you stop to think about it, most of the greatest ideas throughout history started by someone likely asking “why?” when trying to solve a problem.
Whether it was Thomas Edison working on a light bulb, Louis Pasteur wondering about sour milk, or the Wright Brothers wanting to realize their dreams of flying an airplane, these and other people were never afraid to challenge the belief that their ideas were too outlandish or radical for serious consideration.
If you are like me, you no doubt have had a boss or someone else say to you “we’ve always done it this way.”
If you have ever wanted to see an example of a person who is more determined than ever to not think outside the box, simply look at the person who just said that phrase to you.
By choosing to sidestep the usual roadblocks you and others place on your thinking, I’m sure you’ll be amazed at just how much creative thinking comes pouring out of you day after day.
#2. When In Doubt, Take A Walk
Along with giving you a great amount of exercise, I have always found that taking a walk around my neighborhood or at a local park can do wonders for helping me think outside the box to solve a problem.
Whether you walk alone or with a friend, you’ll find yourself focusing not on the issue that has been giving you fits, but instead on simple things such as the beauty of nearby flowers and trees, a bird singing in the distance, or a funny story your walking buddy just told you.
Whatever the case may be, exercise is always touted as a great way to release endorphins that make you feel better physically and mentally.
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So when in doubt, take a walk.
You’ll find many of your best ideas come when you least expect them.
#3. Play Games
Along with walking, there are plenty of great games and exercises that can help you improve your ability to think outside the box.
One of the best games I use on a regular basis is to simply do what is known as free writing.
With this exercise, I simply pick a topic, give myself about 10 minutes, and then proceed to write as much as I can as quickly as possible without stopping to edit.
By doing so, I force my brain to think in creative rather than conventional terms, and to do so under the pressure of a time constraint.
Along with this, I also like to pick up some crayons once in a while and use them to draw a picture.
If you do not consider yourself to be an artist, don’t let that stop you.
By drawing any type of picture, you will accomplish two things.
One, you will use many different parts of your brain, allowing your creativity to shine.
Two, you will probably start to relive some happy childhood memories, when life was so carefree that your biggest worry was which crayon you were going to select for your next picture in your coloring book.
#4. Brush Your Teeth Differently
A simple trick to help change your thinking is to do something as simple as brushing your teeth differently.
If you’ve been brushing your teeth for decades, you always brush with the same hand.
And while you are brushing, your mind wanders.
Next time you brush, switch hands. Try brushing with your opposite hand.
You will brush slower and you will have to think about the task a lot more.
#5. Take A New Route To Work
Another easy game to play is to take a different route to work. Chances are you always take the same route every day.
At worst, you have another route just in case your main route has heavy traffic.
To get your brain thinking, try a completely different route.
Not only will you exercise your mind, but you will see different parts of your local area.
By trying these two exercises, I guarantee you’ll get great results.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should you think outside the box?
Thinking outside the box leads to more success in life.
Instead of limiting yourself to your same way of thinking, thinking differently allows for new ideas, new solutions to problems, and more opportunities in life.
Plus, by keeping your mind sharp, you can stay healthier as you age.
What are some easy ways to practice thinking outside the box?
I mentioned the easiest ones above.
Here is a quick recap.
- Brush your teeth with your other hand
- Take a different way to work
- Take a walk
- Play games
- Question the status quo
- Line dot test
You can pick and choose which games you want to play to practice learning to think differently.
How can I think smart and fast?
You already think fast.
Whenever you judge people when you first meet then, you are thinking fast.
You also think fast when you use your intuition.
But most people are interested in learning how to think fast when it comes to other areas in life.
For this, you need to practice.
One great way to practice is to try to solve a puzzle as fast as you can.
Then try to solve it again, only this time faster.
As you practice this, you will start thinking of ways to complete it faster, and thus improve the speed of your thought process.
What are the best puzzles for thinking outside the box?
There are a lot of puzzles out there for thinking outside the box.
Some of my favorites include the following:
Think Outside the Box (Brain Benders): A book full of fun puzzles to challenge your mind into thinking differently. You can buy it on Amazon here.
ThinkFun Escape the Room Stargazer’s Manor: This is a great game that will keep you entertained while performing critical thinking techniques at the same time. It’s a great game to play with the entire family. You can buy it on Amazon by clicking here.
Bepuzzled Hourglass Hanayama Cast Metal Brain Teaser Puzzle: This puzzle is my favorite. It is small enough to take with you on the go and once you solve it by taking it apart, you then have to figure out how to put it back together. Here it is on Amazon.
At the end of the day, any game that challenges your mind will work to help you improve your thinking.
How do you start thinking creatively?
The best way to start thinking creatively is to solve problems in a fun, non-serious way.
For example, if your living room carpet needs to be vacuumed, how can you do it other than using a sweeper?
There are no right or wrong answers here. The goal is to simple think of different ways to sweep the floor.
Solutions could include using your hands to pick up the dirt you see. Another option is to use a lawn mower.
I realize it makes zero sense to use a lawn mower, but again, you are practicing thinking creatively.
How can I get my imagination back?
You can get your imagination back by starting with the tip I offered for thinking creatively.
Another thing you can do is to day dream.
Close your eyes and imagine you are stranded on a desert island. Now think of what you can do to survive.
You can imagine any scenario you want and just play along trying to find solutions to problems.
How do I teach my child to think outside the box?
Children naturally think outside the box.
Just sit down with a child for 10 minutes and you will be amazed at how powerful their imagination is.
They have not been taught a structured way of thinking and they are not old enough to develop long standing routines.
If you want your child to continue to think differently, be sure to allow them to play without any structure.
By putting some time and effort into learning how to think outside the box, you are bound to discover qualities about yourself you never realized existed.
Upon doing so, I am sure others around you will notice the changes as well.
Once this occurs, you will find your personal and professional lives will take a turn for the better, allowing even more happiness and success to enter your life.