To Get Unstuck, Think With Your Hands
Researchers have found that our thoughts and choices can be transformed by physical interaction with objects
At some point, I subconsciously decided that “open computer” equals “working.” So each morning, that’s what I do: flip open my laptop and get to work. Or rather, I try to work. The problem is, I often find myself thinking in circles, returning to my inbox, or feeling totally stuck.
The reality is that the computer is a sad tool for human ideation, one that pales in comparison to the infinite workspace of the real, three-dimensional world. To come up with more ideas, better ideas, and engage with thoughts more deeply, we need to work with our hands. This instinct shows up a lot in our daily lives. It’s why we gesture in space when we are trying extremely hard to understand things or communicate a point to someone else. It’s why little kids say “I love you this much” and stretch their arms out wide. It’s why when we count change, we slide the coins to one side. It’s why keeping six feet of space between our friends breeds awkwardness, even when that’s the only change in the relationship. Three-dimensional space is our problem-solving space, but in intellectual settings such as school, where kids are taught to count in their heads and not with their fingers, we’ve learned to associate it with cognitive weakness.
Gaëlle and Frédéric Valée-Tourangeau, cognitive science researchers at Kingston University, found that our minds do not think like computers — rather, our thoughts and choices can be “transformed by physical interaction with things.” Similarly, in a 2019 TED Talk, artist Louise Despont argued that thinking with our hands is a form of deep listening. Without fail, when I give myself permission to shut my computer, I come up with my best, most creative ideas. An idea that could take half an hour to render in a software program often takes only seconds to sketch out on paper. A sketch is like the world’s most rapid prototype: In 30 seconds, I can determine if an idea is worth fleshing out on the computer in a more time-intensive way.
Here are a few ways thinking with your hands can get you unstuck:
Moving your body gets your brain ready to think. We evolved to think while…