A-HA! moments don’t happen with your nose to the grindstone

Have you ever struggled with a problem, which seemed to have no solution? The harder you work, the more unlikely the prospect of resolution is?  But still, you knew in your gut that there must be a way out. If only you worked harder, or re-read the material?

Or maybe you are a creative type who suddenly cannot create. Writer’s Block, maybe?

Stop. Put the laptop down. Get up from your desk.

In a way, this block is a signal from your brain.

It’s an opportunity.

Think about standing in front of a Monet.  What is the brilliance and allure of an impressionist painting?

The millions of tiny strokes that come together to mimic lifelike images.  But if you stand too close, those tiny strokes look like a muddy mess.

Or panning back to see the forest, vs the trees.

We use the term “think outside the box”.

It all comes down to giving your brain the chance to see things differently. And when we’re standing with our nose to a Monet, we don’t see much at all.

We have to give our (over taxed) brains a break.

For those of you killing yourself at work without satisfactory results:


Do something that gives your brain and your body either a break or some different stimuli.

Reboot and Reset and you inevitably come at it from another angle. Not only will you be better for it.  But the work will be.  If your goal is to produce great work, it’s not only HARD work that gets you there.

Eureka moments rarely happen when you are “nose to the grindstone”. It’s more likely to come to you, sitting under an apple tree (i.e. Newton’s Theory of Relativity).

Wikipedia defines “The eureka effect (also known as the Aha! moment or eureka moment) as “the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept.

After a break in mental fixation or re-evaluating the problem, the answer is retrieved.”

There is a time for nose to the grindstone.

Of course we should apply ourselves conscientiously to our work. But not to our detriment.

In fact, one derivation of the ”nose the grindstone” idiom refers to holding someone’s nose to the grindstone as a form of punishment.

And that’s what it can feel like if creativity, gratification and sense of accomplishment is lost.

Even if you don’t have a big a-ha moment, breaks  ensure you have more brain capacity to access answers, creativity or maybe energy to keep going (nose to the grindstone!).

It’s not always realistic, depending on schedule, but I encourage naps as a vital break for the brain.  Some unconscious processing may take place while a person is asleep, and there are several cases of scientific discoveries coming to people in their dreams.

Even daydreaming is a space for potential unmined creativity.  But we’re doing less play and relaxation (and boredom) today because of work demands, which thanks to smart phones has its tentacles wrapped around us morning to night.

Now we have to set voluntary boundaries since the physical boundaries have been taken from us (ahh, remember when you left work, and you actually left work?).

When I do set voluntary boundaries like conscious breaks, I’ve noticed I have a different relationship with work.

Besides having more creativity, I don’t resent “the grind”. I also don’t resent my boss’s demands (and nowadays, I’m the boss of myself, so that gets real complicated!).

I feel a lightness and an excitement to be productive whereas before I felt like I “should” be productive because otherwise, I must be lazy ne’er-do-well. (I can be a terrible boss to myself at times…lots of disgust and judgement and criticism)

And an unexpected bonus of taking breaks/vacations/art classes (whatever you are into), you’ll be more interesting at parties.  No one wants to hear ONLY about the work you do.  Especially if it’s super specialized and “inside baseball”.  They REALLY aren’t going to stay interested in you.

Mostly because we humans are looking for things to connect over, some common ground. And sure, sometimes we want to learn something new, but probably not the inner workings of block chain technology at your company, for example.  But I would love to hear how taking a walk in the woods and noticing how all the Aspen trees were connected gave you an idea about how to improve block chain technology.

So, do yourself a favor, do your company a favor, and do everyone a favor – pick your head up from that grindstone, and take that much needed time off.  You 100% deserve it.

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