"So you see, imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering."
This rainy Sunday has me curled up on the couch with a big mug of chai and thinking that today would be a perfect day for some moodling. What the heck, you might ask, is moodling?
Brenda Ueland coined the term when she wrote the book, If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit in the 1930s. If you Google the term, you'll find that numerous people have tried to put "moodling" into words. Personally, I like this way of defining it: "To moodle is to engage in an act of divine laziness, that lovely inactivity that leads to moments of creativity and inspiration."
Divine laziness. What a wonderful concept that is. In this culture, we are generally taught that productivity = good and laziness = bad. But what if it's the moments of "happy idling, dawdling, and puttering" that actually enable us to be our most creative and productive selves?
As a blogger and writer, I will often sit down at the computer only to find myself staring blankly at the screen, unable to translate the current of thoughts and ideas streaming through my mind into words. So what do I do? I wander into the kitchen to chop vegetables for soup. I take a walk. I look at old photo albums or sort through my jewelry box. When I return to the computer, I find that the words flow more easily. Sometimes I'm even able to articulate some new tidbit of inspiration or glimmer of an idea that tiptoed into my awareness while I was engaged in the "non-productive" activity.
Sound familiar? This is moodling at work. But how does moodling work its magic? Engaging in pleasantly "non-productive" activities lulls your mind into a relaxed, receptive state, enabling it to synthesize and assimilate information on a sub-conscious or semi-conscious level. Judy Anne Brenneman writes:
In order to moodle we need to make space for alpha waves to operate in our brain. If we are too exhausted our mind will quickly move into theta (drowsiness) then delta (deep sleep). If we are too focused on a problem or given objective we are using beta waves (consciously focused). Alpha waves bring in that in-between, meditative state where our mind can gather together conscious thoughts and unconscious information in order to create something brand new. Inspiration occurs with a great burst of alpha waves.
The next time you find yourself at a loss for inspiration or feel resistance toward completing a task, consider that your mind might be telling you it needs some playful puttering in order to do what you're asking of it.
You might try one of these moodling activities:
Browsing cookbooks for new recipes
Knitting, sewing or any craft that requires calm, repetitive motion
Organizing your spice cupboard
Folding laundry while listening to music
Re-organizing your closet
Sorting through a box of old photos, letters, or keepsakes
Re-arranging items on a shelf or another surface
Gardening or yardwork
Walking or jogging
Cooking a meal from scratch
Painting your nails, deep-conditioning your hair, making a homemade beauty mask
Baking bread or muffins
You can apply the same concept at work. At work, you might moodle by:
De-cluttering the surface of your desk
Getting up from your desk to stretch or walk around the office
Cleaning out one of your desk drawers
Re-stocking your office supplies (tape, paper clips, pens, etc.)
Sipping a mug of tea and clipping interesting articles from a publication related to your industry (like Chronicle of Philanthropy for you non-profit workers)
Moodling doesn't need to be inherently creative, although it can be. However, I find that the less conscious thought the moodling activity requires, the more effective it is. That's why activities that involve some element of physicality or repetitive movement are perfect because they don't take up too much "intellectual bandwidth." The mind is then free to wander in a relaxed, unfocused way, producing the essential "alpha waves" described above.
Do you moodle? What is your preferred moodling method?