Combinatory play and cheating on your craft

It’s easy to get locked in to our craft. When we’re in the thick of trying to solve creative problems, tunnel vision can kick in.

We put our heads down, focus in, and try to surge through.

Seems like the right thing to do. It’s at these times when we think we can’t afford to be distracted. We become obsessed with the work. Our breath shortens. Our shoulders tense up. We get that ugly scowl on our face. And we become huge assholes to our loved ones.

It actually. Hurts.

This never works.

I’m going to challenge you to do something insane. Something that your ego is going to rage against. Ready?

Back away.

Yep. When it becomes too much of a chore, too much of a brain-suck, too much of a slog in the mud — step away from the work and do something else entirely. Something fun, meditative, or relatively enjoyable.

Go chop wood, push the kid on a swing, work on those chords — anything.

When your work becomes too much of a grind, it means your inner child is bored. It needs to go chug some Mountain Dew and run around in an open field with its shirt off for awhile.

Einstein called this combinatory play — the act of opening up one mental channel by playing around in another. When he was mathematically blocked, he’d grab his violin and go to town. After a few hours, the answer would unexpectedly appear.

It feels like cheating on your craft. If you’re a writer and you decide to drop everything and go paint, you’re going to feel like you should be giving your faltering relationship with the written word as much TLC as you can right now.

But you have to walk away. You need your space. The page will understand. That little cursor will still be blinking when you get back.

Combinatory play is why famed creativity coach, Julia Cameron, suggests taking yourself on ‘artist dates’.

What happens in combinatory play is your ego takes a back seat. It says to itself, “Whelp, this isn’t my thing,” and it goes and takes a long nap.

Meanwhile, spirit enters. You’re doing something you enjoy for no reason but that you enjoy doing it. Spirit perks up its ears and enters stage left. It’s the perfect emotional petri dish for creativity to take root and grow.


If you enjoyed this piece, proclaim your love to the world by recommending it below. Thanks!

Jonas writes short, whimsical daily discourses here at Higher Thoughts. To get them delivered straight to your inbox as soon as they’re live, click here.