Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.

Exercise the Mind by Thinking Outside the Box

by Tamara Martfeld

One of the many ways to help yourself become more creative and stretch the mind is to find alternate uses for common objects. Alternately, you can also remember to use common objects for their intended purpose in an unusual situation.

Pick any object you use daily and think of as many uses as you can for that object. For example, in addition to a writing implement, a pencil can be used as a straight-edge, a hole punch (when sharp), or as a stake for a plant. One source states there are at least 50 alternate ways to use a pencil. I have not yet tried to think of them all. What about a binder clip (the large black paper clips for large stacks of paper)? I recently used one to hold up a sprinkler so I could fix it, definitely not the intended purpose.

A stick was recognized a few years ago as a classic toy because children were able to use their imaginations and make it into so many things. If you are having trouble coming up with alternate uses for common objects, try pretending you are a child or that you are teaching a child how to play.

One way to stimulate thinking is to think of a situation when you have to use only the resources in the room you are in. For example, if there is a flood preventing you from leaving the room, how would you use the objects in the room to make your situation better? The pencil might be used to prop open a window, the binder clip might be used to hold drapes together for privacy (something I frequently use them for in hotel rooms when the drapes donít close properly). Use your imagination.

This leads to the use of common objects for their intended purpose in an unusual situation. For example, bar-be-ques are for cooking, usually in the summer or at a party (at least in my area). If it is not summer and there is no party, can you still use the bar-be-que for cooking? Yes, but only if you remember it is there. I had a friend who was without power for several days and complained she was tired of eating cold food out of cans. It was late fall. I asked her if she had a bar-be-que. She gave me a strange look. She had never thought to use the bar-be-que to cook her meals Ė it was out of season.

I live in California which is prone to earthquakes. Part of the way I have prepared myself is to determine what I could do in a worse-case scenario which in my area means I would most likely have a standing house but no utilities. (I am prepared to sleep outside if needed, but it is not likely.) Given the scenario, what would I need and do I need to purchase anything? I have canned goods and have an electric can opener. Do I need to buy a non-electric can opener? Actually, no. The style of electric can opener I have punches a hole in the can as I push the handle to place the can for opening. To open without electricity all I need to do is continue to punch holes around the can. This is using the electric can opener in the unusual situation of having no electricity.

What items can you use for their intended purposes in a situation not normal for that item?

Training your mind to find alternate used for common objects can come in handy. On a car trip we purchased items for lunch from a store on the road and discovered we had nothing to use to spread the condiments. We looked around and saw the nice flat tab which held the wrap on the bread closed. We washed it and voila! We had the needed spreader.

These exercises help the brain get used to thinking in alternate ways. There can be another advantage: when a situation arises needing someone to figure our how to use what is available, you can be the hero with the creative solution! You may also be the one person able to able to solve the difficult problem at work simply because you are used to thinking unconventionally.