Apr 212013

Muscle Confusion -> Mental Confusion

mental confusion brain

If you have been to the gym or involved in any fitness for the past few years, you certainly run into the concept of “muscle confusion“.

The idea behind the concept is that muscles accommodate to a specific type of stress/exercise when the same stress is continually applied to the muscles over time. We become very proficient at doing that same exercise but we eventually reach a plateau, where we get stuck.

The solution:  mix up your exercise routines. You are a jogger? Try some strength training. Yoga is your passion? Give swimming a chance, every so often. A mix of different exercises was the novel ingredient to the incredibly successful P90X

When it comes to our daily job, we also become very proficient at it over time. Our brains develop routines and we stick to them because they work. That said, by not challenging the way we do things we invariably plateau and reach a state of pleasant comfort, sometime without even realizing it. However, there is nothing more dangerous in life than comfort because it can quietly kill your creativity, desire to innovate and aspiration for a better tomorrow.

If you have reached that dangerous level of comfort or don’t want to get even near it, let me offer a solution: Mental Confusion.

I do realize that “train your brain as if it was  a muscle” metaphor has been overused but in this case it seems very apropos.

2 ways to stimulate Mental Confusion

How do you go about creating “mental confusion”?  My suggestions are simple:

  • do something unrelated to your day job
  • do whatever makes you (somewhat) uncomfortable

Say, you are a software engineer, programming all day. Why not pick up a book about doing simple sketching. Check out Mark Kistler‘s books. That new skill will help you express your software design to non-engineers.

You are a finance guy, and although no one can rock a spreadsheet like you do, writing has never been your forte. Why not start a blog on a topic you cherish? It can be finance related or not.

You are a math teacher and you nailed your lesson plan… 10 years ago and you can now do it with your eyes closed. How about looking into the ways Khan Academy has successfully harnessed the elements of gamification into their own lessons plans? How? Take this excellent Coursera course on the topic.

You are a magazine editor with a successful personal blog on the side about fashion and have always wanted to customize the look-and-feel of your WordPress blog. Why not take a class on HTML5/PHP/CSS? They are so many good  resources (videos, classes, etc…) on those topics that it’s a shame not to take advantage of them.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.

Benefits of Mental Confusion

Outside the obvious  advantages of broadening your mental horizon. The new skills will make you more creative overall, more able to be innovative and find better ways of excelling at your trade.

It is no surprise that successful entrepreneurs these days no longer look for talents in a narrow field. Instead they seek well-rounded, dual (T-shaped) or even multidisciplinarity individuals who can contribute at many levels and bring both left and right brains at the table. Companies like IDEO have long preached the gospels of having employees being skillful  in more than one field. Practicing “mental confusion” will lead you to become one of those creative innovators.

Universities have also noticed the trend with schools like the Stanford D-school  offering a degree in design, combining traditional design teaching with finance/entrepreneurship  acumen. Even, bastion of technical/scientific knowledge like Caltech now offers the very popular class PA 16… on Cooking Basics and other typically right-brain topics.

Innovation often emerges at the intersection of 2 disciplines or when 2 experts in their respective domains have a chance encounter. Imagine what you will be able to achieve once various areas of your brain have been sufficiently cultivated .

Ready to get “mentally confused”?  Don’t wait, get out of your comfort zone.

If you still need some extra motivation, check out Seth Godin‘s excellent blog post “the simple power of one a day”.

[Image credit: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo]

  4 Responses to “Cultivate Mental Confusion”

  1. I strongly believe that roles should be switched temporarily every once in a while when there isn’t a mad rush to complete a release. Even a small switch such as a GUI person doing the Database work for one iteration, and the Database guy doing some QA for one iteration provides some boredom relief. This opens up a understanding and better communication across all aspect of development and helps when planing stories. After a while each person somehow understands how much work each person really has to put in to get the job done and is especially helpful when team members are in vacation, others can step up and help out as they have had done that role before.

    The best thing in my opinion would be for mandatory spikes where someone each week goes out and present a non programming topic on fridays that caught their interest during the week. Example would be someone talking about new car, new camera, a house, remodeled classic music ect, for 5 minutes. Then each person should give at least one feedback on the topic just to encourage everyone to think about the main topic and provide improvements, suggestions or ask random questions. This would stimulate the creative side of the brain and is somehow similar to what your article is saying.

  2. Thanks for the excellent article Jerome! And here I thought I was already mentally confused!

    This reminds me of the “alternative” meaning of the word “recreation” – “re-creation”. Doing something different that I don’t do all day often has a revitalizing effect (even if it isn’t something I think of as enjoyable – e.g., pulling weeds!). Maybe this is due to new & different neural pathways getting tickled.


    • Thanks for the positive feedback, Russell!
      I completely agree with your re-definition of recreation and I love the visual image you painted with your “new neural pathways getting tickled”.

      Stay confused!

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