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24 May 2019
BY Ollie Cunningham

Creative Zen: How I learnt to embrace silence

How setting aside thinking time has made me a better designer.

I’m not an organised person. I’m not able to process thousands of thoughts and ideas and shape them into a neat and time-bound daily plan. I can’t do that. Despite my best efforts, when trying to focus on a task, my mind wanders. But this is a good thing when you’re a creative. It’s the very reason I’ve ended up doing what I’m doing. Essentially, having the ability to not focus on one thing enables you to join dots that wouldn’t ordinarily be joined. It’s the very essence of creativity.

Over the last few years my life has suddenly become very busy. As a Father of three my time is limited to say the least. In my younger years I used to be able to think myself out of a problem, but when you don’t have a minute in the day to reflect... what do you do? 

It took me a while to realise that although I felt like I didn’t have any time to think, I actually did. The problem was that I was letting myself get distracted. Distracted from my own thoughts. I hadn’t set aside any time for thinking. In the car I would listen to the radio. Any spare ad-hoc moments were spent fiddling with my phone. I was letting technology get the better of me.  

So, how does an unorganised creative person organise their thoughts? In one word: silence. It’s amidst the silence that my thoughts fall into place. It’s amidst the silence that I find clarity. If we surround ourselves with incoming thoughts, we have no time for outgoing thoughts. I’ve come across many different terms for this precious time –  ‘headspace’, ‘decompression time’, ‘processing time’, incubation time’. whatever you want to call it, the sentiment is the same: embracing the silence and setting your mind to output mode. For me this is my drive to and from work or going for a run. 

It’s resisting the temptation turn on the radio, listen to a podcast or put in my earphones. 

It’s reacquainting myself with my thoughts and in the process sharpening my intuition. 

No mean feat in this day and age, but it works for me.