Not an artist? Not a problem. You can still set all your ideas free by leveraging the situational advantage. Check out this post to learn about nine ways you can jumpstart your creative thinking.
On some level, creativity is a natural inclination that varies from person to person. However, a large part of creativity is also situational. That means that although we may not have been born a Picasso or Hemingway, there are several things we can do to encourage our creative impulses and be our own muses.
Here are nine ways anyone can boost their creativity:
1. Spend time with Mother Nature
When you’re stuck on a problem, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away and explore some wildlife. A recent study concluded that spending time outdoors, without the distraction of any electronics or technology, significantly increases how creative a person can be.
If venturing outside isn’t possible at the moment (whether it be inclement weather, time of day or comfortable chair), try looking at something green. In terms of psychology, green is strongly associated with nature and growth, which is enough to both relax us and give our brainpower a boost.
2. Put your mind in ‘cruise control’
Why is it that genius tends to strike us midway through a shower? Turns out, our brains are in the best position to think creatively while we’re doing something mildly distracting. Not anything so engaging that it demands our full attention, but certainly something more exciting than watching paint dry.
You may think, “Facebook is more exciting than watching paint dry. Is that distracting enough?” You’re absolutely right, it is. Unfortunately, Facebook, and many other technological distractions are actually too distracting to induce that creative spark. Instead, try taking a walk, doing some gardening, gazing at clouds or other simpler activities.
3. Create mental distance
It makes a big difference to your eyes whether something is far away or pressed up against your nose. Likewise, our brains think of problems very differently depending on whether they seem immediate or distant. Immediate problems kick our brains into concrete thinking mode, whereas distant problems cause us to get very pensive and abstract.
By creating mental distance, like thinking about doing the same task but in a foreign country or several years from now, you can get your brain thinking more conceptually and will have an easier time thinking up new ideas.
4. Keep a journal on you
Our brains never stop working for us. Even while we’re asleep or zoned out, ideas are being formed and bounced off one another, with good ones eventually rising above the fray. However, great ideas often strike us when we’re least able to hold on to them (right after we’ve woken up, in the middle of a backpacking trip, and so on).
By keeping an idea notebook or journal handy, you get into the habit of catching those more elusive ideas. And even if your final solution doesn’t come from the pages of your notebook, you’ll at least have a library of inspiration to fall back on later.
5. Set limits on yourself
This tip may seem counterintuitive, but think about the opposite case. Imagine yourself walking into a grocery store to buy some cereal. You stroll down the breakfast aisle, and suddenly, you’re surrounded by the largest variety of cereal you have ever seen. How do you choose? Where do you start?
The fact is, too much choice can be paralyzing. It’s so overwhelming that it often blocks us from coming up with anything at all. By setting limits, like using only two colors or using only words that start with the letter R, you not only give yourself a starting point, but you get your brain working in unconventional ways as well.
6. Try non-optimal hours
We all know about the early birds and night owls, but did you know that early birds are more imaginative at night, and that night owls have better ideas in the morning? According to a study, both early birds and night owls are more creative during their non-optimal times of day than they are at their peak hours.
What’s going on? Although it’s not 100% clear, being tired certainly plays a part. When we’re tired, our focus and inhibitions are often diminished, which ends up allowing our minds to wander further and bump into the right ideas sooner.
7. Let there be noise
Who knew that the chatty kid sitting next to you in class was actually helping spark your imagination? Studies have shown that coffee shops, with all their noise and hustle and bustle, provide just enough ambient noise to encourage your brain to think more creatively.
Likewise, music has been shown to greatly increase the productivity in the workplace. So while silence may be better for intense focus, that’s not exactly what creativity calls for. Instead, you want to encourage the free association of ideas and abstractions, which ambient noise and music help you do.
8. Utilize negative emotions
As it turns out, there’s actually some scientific truth to the stereotype of the brooding artist. Studies have shown that feeling negative emotions tends to bring out our imaginative sides, and although positive feelings have also been known to help with creativity in some cases, the findings are not nearly as conclusive.
So don’t be discouraged if you’re having a bad day! You may be able to make use of these feelings to generate some grand ideas.
9. Never stop exposing yourself to new things
For your brain to create something new, it needs to have a vast amount of ideas and experiences to pull from. It needs a vast supply of ideas to combine in different ways, pull apart and mesh together until it creates what you’re looking for.
One way to do this is by actively, consistently and frequently learning new material. Even more, going places you’ve never been, meeting new people and doing unfamiliar things work just as well.
With these nine tips, not only will you increase your odds of running into a fabulous idea, but you’ll be ready for it the moment it strikes. Creativity is similar to most learned skills, in that with enough time and practice, you’ll find yourself getting better and better at it. And who knows? You may end up unearthing your inner van Gogh just yet.
-Gracelyn Tan, Volusion