Having the dreaded writer’s block or designer’s block? Can’t come up with an ingenious idea for your company project? What if I tell you that there are some ways to boost your creativity whenever you’re short of it? Contrary to popular belief, your mind can be augmented to think more creatively any time you need it.
These tips are considered quick-fixes rather than permanent solutions for long-lasting improvements to your creativity level. My intention here is to assure you that there are always things you can try to make yourself more innovative, more creative and brimming with ideas.
When faced with a problem that can’t be solved, we usually use brute force, and "crack our head" over it for hours or even days. Eventually, we know that we won’t get anything constructive from the exercise, and that’s when a shift in perspective is required.
This is when we need to create a psychological distance, according to the construal level theory (CLT). Basically, we let our imaginations run wild and adopt an abstract level of thinking. Scientific American suggests that we can try to change the way we think about a problem by taking on the perspective as another person.
We can do this by thinking about the issue from various angles, such as questioning how different the problem will be if it occurs in the future instead of now, getting opinions and perspectives from somebody else, or travelling to some unfamiliar place to think about the problem. Essentially speaking, you need to move outside the box, before you can think outside the box.
1. Yankee Doodle
In some sense, doodling is a form of undertaking a new perspective – that of the visual-spatial aspect. When we just couldn’t come up with any fresh ideas, letting our mind wander by means of random drawings allow us to tap into that subconscious part of our mind which we usually don’t have direct access to. What this translates to is the generation of ideas that we can never consciously think of.
Studies have also shown that sketching and doodling helps us understand things better. Understanding the problem better allows us to come out with better and more creative solutions. In this aspect, doodling is found to improve concentration and memory by cognitive psychologists.
While we wouldn’t normally doodle during a lecture or a meeting, there are many prominent figures that doodle in such settings, including former presidents Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. For more on the perks of doodling, check out this insightful 5-minute TED talk by Sunni Brown, author of one GameStorming: A Playbook for Rules-breakers, Innovators and Changemakers.
2. meditate to empty your mind
How are you going to come up with innovative ideas if your mind is filled with thoughts about everything else but the task at hand? These thoughts eat up your creativity because they take up your mental stamina, rendering you distracted and fatigued. This is why you need to de-clutter your mind first before engaging in any task, especially when it involves some abstract level of thinking.
You can set your mind in the right state with meditation. It turns out that there are 2 primary forms of meditation:
focused-attention meditation – where you focus on a particular thought or object
open-monitoring meditation – enables one to be receptive to any thoughts or feelings experienced without focusing on one entity
Only open-monitoring meditation was found to enhance divergent thinking, or in other words, improve creativity. To engage in open-monitoring meditation, it’s as simple as being aware of your surroundings and noticing whatever random thoughts and sensations that come and go. It’s mindfulness at best, maintaining a non-judgmental stance to everything that occurs.
Of course, saying that it’s simple doesn’t makes it so. It takes some amount of practice to achieve the positive effect of meditation on creativity.
3. All Work and no Play
As adults, we often associate the act of playing as something "child-like" and "unproductive". We forget that when we play, we are actually opening ourselves to a world of possibilities and honing our creativity as we explore the realms of fantasy. There are increasing number of studies that implies that video gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception.
But of course, playing isn’t limited to video games. We can engage in our favorite sports and sweat it out, play a musical instrument, play catch with the dog, hang out at the beach, etc. We just have to do something fun that will take our mind off work momentarily.
By the time we head back to whatever it is we’re working on, we’ll be less restricted by rigid thinking and also more released from the stress that’s been bothering us. Our mind will be more inclined to explore new ideas that we’ve never thought of because it has adopted the ‘playful’ mindset. Plus, the fun and positive mood "play" gives us is great for creativity to set in.
4. A Positive Attitude shall Prevail
It is well-established in the field of positive psychology that positive emotions encourages one to be more adventurous, and it enhances one’s creative thinking. Psychologists based this effect on the broaden-and-build theory, which suggests that when we feel happy, joyful or interested, we become more willing to explore and try new things. Feeling good makes us become more flexible in our thinking, which translates to creativity.
After spending hours on a project without a single innovative idea, it will be hard to keep up a good mood. This is where a vicious cycle comes in. We get more unhappy when we couldn’t come up with something creative, this puts us in a negative mood which makes it even harder for us to be creative. The best way out is to take all our negativity and transform it to positivity.
Engage in playful activities, watch something funny on Youtube, visualize an ideal vacation where you are enjoying the gentle summer breeze at a beach in the middle of nowhere, away from the stress, and perhaps all that positivity will translate to a brand new idea.
5. 1, 2, 3 And Exercise!
Exercise improves creativity whether we’re in a good mood or not. The exact reasons are not certain, but here is a theory by Naturally Savvy which may help us understand it. Physical exercise, be it running, swimming or any sports, requires us to focus on the activity itself. We don’t have the capacity to think about anything else at hand, whether is it our project, daily chores or some personal issues.
Once we reach that level of vigor, we break apart from our regular thinking patterns. Now our mind has the availability to accept new ideas that would come from our mysterious subconscious. Exercise also gets the blood pumping throughout the body, including the brain. Half an hour of exercise would be enough for a quick boost, but in the long run, we benefit from improved sleep, a stronger immune system and reduction of stress.
6. Drink Up (Just A Little Bit)
Alcohol and physical exercises have more similarities than one might assume. Like exercise, alcohol also makes us forget the current worries and concerns that we have, albeit leaving us a little drunk. Mild intoxication makes us a little more creative as it allows us to adopt a more "divergent style of thinking" – although we’d suffer when it comes to memory and solving analytical problems.
Even if the problems are primarily creative in nature (e.g. writing a blog entry on a personal encounter), we still need to think about the outline of the essay and what kind of writing style to adopt. All these require some kind of complex mental processing that only a sober writer could perform. Hence, the trick is to find the optimal amount of alcohol to consume to be creative enough – yet still sober enough – to get the job done.
7. Blue Is Good
I bet most of us have never heard of this one: looking at the color blue enhances one’s creativity, while looking at the color red improves attention to details (which hinders creativity as a result).
A study on the effects of color on cognitive task performances revealed that blue, the color of the sky and the sea, is commonly associated with peace and tranquility, which signals to us that it is safe to explore and be creative.
Red is often associated with danger or alert, which makes us more focused on our surround but unwilling to venture out. Even this feng-shui master would probably agree! To apply this, you can always paint your room sky-blue or gaze at the blue skies (or grab a wintry blue wallpaper) to help you gain new, creative ideas.