Percolating for Epiphanies
When stuck on a problem, our instinct is to wrestle with it till we find a solution. I’m particularly prone to this, where my impatience & desire to control makes me obsessive & I can’t rest till I get it out of my head. It could be something as simple as finding the right font for something I’m working on, a conflict with a friend or a desire to buy something that I really want. When faced with the problem, I’ll obsess about it for hours, days or weeks & try to come up with a solution ASAP. The bias for action, while good in certain scenarios, is counter-productive a lot of times. I’ll end up making rash decisions which may feel like I’m moving forward but sometimes end up making matters worse.
To counter this, I've been experimenting with a framework of percolating for epiphanies. As with all frameworks, it's simple enough in theory, but can be a pain to execute. If you find yourself with similar obsessive, maniacal tendencies, maybe this will help. When faced with a problem, if you can't arrive at a solution soon enough and catch yourself getting impatient, try moving away from the problem. As my therapist has been trying to drill into my head, less doing, more being. By allowing yourself to stay with the issue and registering it in your subconscious and unconscious mind, you're forcing it to make new connections, gather perspectives, and see things in a new light. Think of it like brewing a cup of coffee. Once you pour the coffee and water into the French Press, you have to wait for the coffee to bloom. The brewing process can't be rushed.
You can think of the problems you're working on in a similar fashion. When stuck, let them be. Come back to them in a day or ten, sleep on them. If there's not enough time to do that, go for a walk. Think of something else for a bit. Do work that is menial, rote, and repetitive. It might lead you to the answer sooner.
I remember reading somewhere about Einstein working in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern from 1902 to 1909. This was the same period that he published his four Annus Mirabilis (miracle year) 1905 papers, including his theory of Special Relativity. Maybe filing patents, which was a rote desk job, allowed Einstein to step away from the problems he was thinking about, allowing him to work with new ideas for his famous thought experiments. While I might be trivialising what the great man did, I think there's merit in stepping away from problems to harness creativity.
You might have heard about the importance of boredom for creativity, and while that might be very relevant here, I'd dare to say that we'd rather be percolating for epiphanies.