If you have a career that involves creativity or you’ve ever needed a creative solution to a problem, you know how challenging it can be to fire up your creative skills on demand. Creativity seems to come and go with little rhyme or reason.
Like any other skill, the ability to tap into creativity gets better with practice and experience.
According to new research conducted at the University of Haifa, coming up with an original and creative idea requires the simultaneous activation of two completely different networks in the brain.
- the associative — “spontaneous” — network
- the more normative — “conservative” — network
It is possible that the most sublime creations of humanity were produced by people who had an especially strong connection between the two regions, the researchers noted.
This is not the popular notion of a right brain/left brain distinction, either.
So how can you nurture that type of connection?
Neuroscience is only just beginning to understand how the creative thinking process functions in the brain.
But here are a few ideas to encourage your creative skills to blossom:
1. Work in a New Environment
It’s amazing how much a change of scenery can help. Try working in the library or a coffee shop. Rearrange your office and change the view. When you do the same things in the same place, you’ll tend to think the same thoughts.
Turn off your autopilot and expose your senses to new stimuli.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that moderate ambient noise, around 70 decibels, like that in coffee shops or malls triggers the areas of the brain responsible for abstract and creative thinking.
“Moderate distraction, which induces processing difficulty, enhances creativity by prompting abstract thinking,”
the researchers wrote.
2. Pretend you’re Helping Someone Else Find Solutions
Many people find that they have more creative ideas when helping others solve their challenges.
Pretend you’re helping a friend and let the ideas flow. Depersonalizing the issue seems to free up a part of the mind that’s otherwise stifled.
3. Brainstorm in Pairs
Have you ever noticed that you and a friend or coworker find more creative ideas between the two of you rather than when brainstorming in a group? Break away from the group and pair up with just one other person. Bounce your creative skills off of each other.
When a large group brainstorms, most of the group members lack a sense of accountability. It’s too easy to be passive.
4. Try Creative Skills at a Different Time of the Day
If you normally write in the morning, try the evening. Try staying up extra late or getting up extra early for a change.
If you’ve been feeling stuck at 9 AM for a while, it’s time try a different hour of the day. Throw your circadian rhythms a curve ball.
Set your alarm clock for 3 AM and force yourself to work for 20 minutes.
5. Add Some Music
Few things can change your mood and get those creative juices flowing faster than a great song. A piece of music can act as a potent memory cue and a catalyst for sparking ideas.
Try different types of music and see what works. Try listening to music you have not heard in a long time, but also branch out and listen to something new.
When you are hearing a song you like, the brain releases dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters can make you feel good and enhance creative skills functioning, as one cross-cultural study found.
Meditation is useful tool for giving your mind a well-needed break. You’ll find your thoughts start to become re-energized. Simple and elegant solutions frequently reveal themselves after a short period of meditation.
A 2014 study from Leiden University found that in both experienced mediators and people who never meditated before, meditating had an enhancing influence on the creative skills of Divergent and Convergent thinking.
Meditation requires a little practice, but it’s easier to learn than you may think. Meditate on your challenges and be open to the thoughts that arise.
7. Stay Hydrated
Get a drink of water. Your body is mostly water.
Even a small degree of dehydration causes all sorts of biological processes to go haywire. If you’re feeling stuck, take a minute to drink a large glass of water. Remember to drink throughout the day and the evening.
8. Go Outside
Try getting outside for a little exercise.
In recent years, numerous experimental psychology studies have linked exposure to nature with increased energy and heightened sense of well-being. For example, research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health.
Other studies suggest that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90 percent of people report increased energy when placed in outdoor activities.
A 2010 study found that just five minutes of exercise in a park, working in a backyard garden, on a nature trail, or other green space will benefit mental health.
The researchers analyzed activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming. The greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally-ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited.
All natural environments were beneficial including parks in urban settings. Green areas with water added something extra. A blue and green environment seems even better for health.
And being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, finds a series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. That sense of increased vitality exists above and beyond the energizing effects of physical activity and social interaction that are often associated with our forays into the natural world, the studies show.
“Nature is fuel for the soul, ” says Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature,” he says.
You may lack a plan and feel low on creative skills, but you can still get outside and do something stimulating.
9. Surround Yourself with the Color Blue
A 2009 University of British Columbia study found that for creative skills such as brainstorming, blue environmental cues prompted study participants to produce twice as many creative outputs as when under the red color condition.
These variances are caused by different unconscious motivations that red and blue activate, says Zhu, noting that colour influences cognition and behavior through learned associations.
“Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers’ red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution,” says Zhu. “The avoidance motivation, or heightened state, that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required to produce a right or wrong answer.”
Conversely, blue encourages us to think outside the box and be creative, says Zhu.
“Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility,” says Zhu. “The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people’s favourite colour.”
Creativity doesn’t automatically happen on command. There are times when creativity is needed, but it’s nowhere to be found. With practice, you can learn to unleash your creativity on demand.