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“Airplane Mode” – downtime for creative minds

I had a dream on Sunday night that may have changed my life. Well, it has changed me for the last couple of days since I had it as it is still so vivid and slightly disturbing.

I dreamed I was still at the large conference I was helping run the week previously. This was an intense week that was preceded by a busy couple of months of consultative challenge to bring some of the ideas of complexity and seeing organisations as social processes into the design of a mass event for 700+ delegates. This work really stretched my thinking, my creativity and my determination to challenge the norms of conference design and had my mind working on overdrive. The conference went very well but on Sunday night I obviously hadn’t mentally de-tuned from the creative process.

I dreamed that I was in a big dorm at the conference centre and somebody came in to ask me if I had done something that the delegates needed immediately. They were not clear on what it was and I started to get really confused. “I don’t know what you want me to do!” I said. They mumbled something. I started to panic – had I forgotten something critical? The person said to me “It’s me!” I strained to see their face in the dark but couldn’t make it out. “Who are you?” I said with my heart pounding as I realised my total confusion as to what was going on. In my panicked state I thought to myself “What’s happened to me? Am I having some sort of mental breakdown?” It was then that my wife switched on the light and I realised it was her. “Where are we?” I asked. “We’re at home darling!” she said. At that point I slipped out of my confused somnambulistic state just enough to realise that I was in fact at home and the mystery person I was talking to was my wife who had just come into the room. Somehow my dream had flipped into reality.

This may not sound like a classic nightmare of monsters, thunderstorms or falling from a great height but it really disturbed me. It disturbed me because it made me realise how my mind is constantly doing the work I love and how little down time it has. I’d made a conscious decision a couple of years back to have a healthy diet and to exercise as much as possible but I’d not considered giving my mind some down time – this dream made me realise that it was much needed!

As I went for a run that evening I thought about how I might do this and it was then that I realised that, unless I am sleeping, I am constantly bombarded by information that provokes my creative mind to do what it is good at – imagine, think, plan and create. A colleague and friend of mine, Roger, recently wrote a wonderful blog entitled ‘switching off the standby button’ where he spoke of the difficulty in being able to switch off totally and always being on ‘standby’ just in case he needed to spring into action and, as I ran and considered Roger’s words, I started to realise that the technology that I rely on plays a huge part in my inability to switch off.

My iPhone has three e-mail accounts, three calendars on it, every social network possible as well as news and information portals and I treat a moment of calm in my day to day as an opportunity to check what’s going on. Whilst I am good at not responding to anything unless urgent the very fact that new information is presented has an impact on me, albeit unconsciously. It seems that all my recent development work in nurturing my creative mind and better trusting my spontaneous self has a downside – it takes very little stimulus to get my mind working at full pace. My dream taught me this.

As I ran back towards home a number of mobile telephony related images came to mind. They said “SOS calls only”, “Searching...” and a picture of an airplane symbolising “Flight Mode”. Having been out of the country last week these signs frustrated me as it meant I couldn’t tune in to the information I needed. I thought to myself how great it would be if my home was as unconnected as being at 35,000 feet or in a remote part of the world without a signal. It was then that I made a decision to experiment with creating more mental downtime for myself using these symbols as a metaphor. When I get home, from 7pm, I am going to switch my phone and my mind onto “Airplane Mode”. For these precious and limited hours at home I am going to adopt an “SOS Calls Only” philosophy about when I allow my mind to tune into work. When I notice myself “Searching for a signal” I am going to do something else instead (run, play with my daughter, do some gardening, cook, meditate).

After one day of experimenting with this I already feel a much calmer mind and the downtime between 7pm last night and 6am this morning didn’t result in any consultative catastrophe, in fact, I was in a much clearer state this morning to engage with the information that was waiting for me.

Whilst I am still disturbed by this incredibly vivid dream I am greatful for the questions it has prompted me to ask and the realisation that training and stretching a creative mind is great but it is as important to tame it and rest it.

So, if my blog isn’t posted regularly on a Thursday as I was previously aiming to – be assured that it is because I have switched on my personal ‘Airplane mode’ 🙂

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