Try a little straight thinking

Holidays are not just for getting the body beautiful; they are also a time to think things through. Jurgen Wolff offers ideas to get the creative juices flowing

We associate holidays with the chance to exercise our bodies, but it's also possible - and enjoyable - to use a break to exercise your mind and increase your creative thinking powers. Here are a few techniques to get you started.

* Invent the solution. Describe a machine that would solve a problem or challenge, then try to "construct" it.

For example, let's say you use a prioritised to-do list but you never actually do the tasks in that order. What you need is a machine to tell you the most important task first, and not tell you the next one until the first is done. Now imagine how you can construct such a machine.

One solution would be to draw up the list and speak the items into a tape recorder in order of priority, leaving a pause between items. Throw away the list and listen to the recording to hear the first task. Do it, and only then listen for the second one, and so on.

* Adapt and adopt. Look around you to see who are the big successes in fields other than yours. Describe as simply as possible what makes them successful. Then generate ideas about how one or more of these qualities could be adapted to help you accomplish what you want.

Take the Pret a Manger sandwich chain. The elements that have made it successful include fresh ingredients, fast service, and convenient locations. Imagine that you're trying to write and sell some articles to a newspaper or magazine during the summer break. The equivalent of "fresh ingredients" might be writing about familiar topics (the yo-yo economy, the possibility of another war in the Gulf, the epidemic of obesity), but with a fresh angle; namely, how each of these affects youngsters or the education system.

One of the things that takes time in journalism is locating experts and interviewing them, but if you already are in touch with other educators via email, or even the telephone, you could quickly get their opinions, leading to "fast service", and so on.

* Construct an alter ego. When faced with a task you don't enjoy, try to imagine the kind of person who would enjoy doing it. What qualities would he or she have? How would this person go about accomplishing this task? Then step into that role for the duration.

Let's say you want to get all your papers organised before term resumes. Who enjoys doing this? Personally, I imagine a superhero, a rather anal-retentive man who is focused totally on the task at hand, handles each piece of paper only once, and sees clutter as his arch enemy. When I imagine him vividly enough and then step into his role, I'm able to sort through papers and old magazines with a drive and determination that would normally elude me.

One thing all of these creativity techniques have in common is playfulness. Well, who said that only children should have fun during the holidays? And once you've tried these exercises, you'll find them helpful in dealing with a variety of challenges throughout the year.

Next week: Fighting the time bandits.Jurgen Wolff is a hypnotherapist and writer. His most recent book is 'Do Something Different', published by Virgin Business Guides. His free monthly creativity e-bulletin, Brainstorm, is available from BstormUK@aol.com.

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