Break open your thinking with a random transitional object

Blog Post | Aug 1st, 2021

Imagine a small child clutching his blankie while his mother lays him in the crib and kisses him goodnight.

The blankie in this scene serves the brilliant function of helping the small child transition from a dependent newborn to an independent small child. The soft touch, smell of home, and portability of the blankie reminds the child of his home and loving family as he ventures outward and grows to become a fully formed human.

A reminder of what?

Later in life, our transitional objects become more sophisticated and personal. Jewelry, art, mementos... we use these items to remember a spouse, a long lost friend or perhaps a beloved parent or grandparent who passed and we miss dearly.

Transitional objects can remind us of just about anything.

In this quirky but effective exercise, we'll use a transitional object to summon the flow of novel ideas.

First step: Visualize your problem

In How to get er done while traversing labyrinth-like forests and fields of rabbit holes, I emphasize the importance of defining a vision.

To properly execute our transitional object exercise, it's imperative that you clearly define the problem you are trying to solve. If you're not sure, perhaps your problem is that you need to discover a problem worth solving.

Step two: Pick an object

Portability is usually a good quality for a creativity inspiring transitional object because you can carry it out and about during the course of your day. Some people keep an object at a workstation. Others keep one on the nightstand. It's really up to you.

Whichever object you choose, it will serve as a reminder that you are solving a problem and seeking fresh ideas.

Step three: How this works

Whenever you see, touch, taste, hear or smell your transitional object, you should stop all thinking and doing, recall your vision, and immediately turn to your powers of observation. What do you see? What do you hear?

Name these things, out loud if possible. Describe each observation in vivid detail. What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like? What is its purpose? Why is it there? Imagine you're describing them to someone who cannot see, hear, or otherwise use the sense you are exploring.

This works best if you are sensing something real rather than imagined. Part of the objective here is to transport elements from the outside world into your imagination. The more clear your description, the better your observation will serve you.

Step four: Wait with patience

This is hardly a step at all, but waiting patiently is truly critical to the process. Creativity experts call this stage "incubation". Like a succulent entree waiting to broil, your creative mind is marinating in the juices you seasoned with these thoughts.

Continue and quietly observe

Don't try to force your idea. Instead, go about your day as you normally would, with the exception that you will repeat steps three and four whenever you encounter your transitional object.

Let it flow

Soon enough, creative ideas will emerge. Like a bag of microwave popcorn, the first few will pop intermittently. Just one or two at first, then a few more, and pretty soon they'll rise into a gradual crescendo. Now is a perfect time for a divergent thinking exercise.

If you're able, grab a pen or keyboard and freewrite. Or, you might want to make some art or flow your voice into a microphone. You could also try our divergent thinking game.


You've just used a proven and powerful psychological tool in a different way. Even if you didn't come up with the perfect idea on your first try, hopefully you at least discovered one or two possibilities worthy of future exploration.


If you'd like, join us here in the reddit discussion and share your ideas.

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Written by brian kerr
"Existentialism Is a Cyborgism"
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