Getting stuck in a creative rut can be extremely frustrating for anyone.
Whether you’re a logical, detail-oriented “left brainer,” or an intuitive, artistic “right brainer,” there are times when we all struggle to come up with creative solutions to problems, or to bring innovative new ideas to the table.
The thing is, that whole left brain right brain thing, at least the way we’ve come to know it, is a myth. Yup, not very accurate at all.
It is true that certain functions of our brains are carried out in either the left or right side, but our brains are made up of two complex hemispheres that work together to carry out tasks in a way that is far more complicated than just “left” or “right,” and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you convince yourself that you are either one or the other.
If you’re not typically creatively inclined, or if you are creative but have a difficult time roping your wild ideas into tangible outcomes, read on. We’ve created this list of ten ways that are scientifically-backed to help you unlock your creative potential to get the results you crave.
01. Take frequent breaks while working
You may have heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re trying to come up with some new ideas but just have a creative block, it’s time to take a walk. Walking increases blood flow to your brain and has been proven to open up the flow of ideas. It could be just the boost you need to finally have that “A-ha!” moment.
Letting your mind wander during breaks is also important. One study from the University of British Columbia found that daydreaming is actually an extremely important cognitive process in which we may not be focusing on the immediate task at hand, but rather making connections that help us solve bigger problems. Science Daily explains,
“The findings suggest that daydreaming – which can occupy as much as one third of our waking lives – is an important cognitive state where we may unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through important problems in our lives.”
So, when in doubt, take a break.
02. Keep a notebook with you at all times
Okay, so keeping a notebook physically with you isn’t somehow going to magically make you more creative. But everyone has had a moment when you had a great idea while doing something completely unrelated, and then you couldn’t for the life of you remember what it was later.
Don’t let those moments of genius slip away! Take a notebook everywhere (or use your phone’s notepad), like while running, in the shower (yes, they make waterproof note pads for this very reason), and even while driving (just record a quick audio note– no texting and driving!)
The reason we tend to have our best ideas at inconvenient times is because of what I explained in the first item. When our minds are wandering and unfocused, they are free to make the connections that aren’t easily recognized when we are in a focused state. When our brains are in a relaxed “flow” state, creative ideas jump out and don’t get lost amongst our other thoughts.
03. Look to nature for inspiration
This is an extremely useful idea for both people who consider themselves creative, and those who don’t. When trying to come up with innovative ideas, look to patterns and methods used in nature.
As Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute explains,
“…nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.”
Humans tend to over-complicate things. By turning to naturally occurring color schemes (camouflage patterns) or evolutionarily-tested structure designs (bee hives) we can draw inspiration and spark new creative ideas that we might have otherwise overlooked.
04. Seek new experiences
It is widely accepted that new ideas come from discovering relationships between existing bits of knowledge. We gain knowledge, whether consciously or not, by being open to new experiences. This can range from the obvious methods of taking a class or reading more, to traveling and learning about other cultures, which also forces us to work on problem solving and communication skills.
Having these new experiences and learning new things provide us with more elements of knowledge and different points of view. Having a larger pool of experiences to draw from, as well as a larger array of perspectives is conducive to creating new connections between different elements.
And by “new experiences,” I don’t mean that it has to be something life-altering. It can be as simple as taking a different route to work, trying a new jogging path or going to a new coffee shop to work in. Just these small changes in your daily routine could be enough to help you draw a connection you’d never seen before.
The benefits of meditation are well-documented, and it’s safe to say that it’s not just for Buddhist monks anymore. More and more people are incorporating meditation into their daily lives as a practice of mindfulness and relaxation due to its many benefits, and enhancing creativity could be one of them.
Researchers in a 2013 study delved into two types of meditation– focused-attention meditation (FA), where individuals focus on one thought and actively ignore distractions and sensations, and open-monitoring meditation (OM), where individuals are free to observe and perceive any thoughts or sensations in a flexible way.
Their goal was to see what impact the different styles of meditation had on the two main types of creative thinking – convergent thinking and divergent thinking. In convergent thinking, we try to come up with a creative solution to one specific problem. In divergent thinking, we aim to generate many possible ideas in a situation where more than one solution may work.
What researchers ultimately found is that, while FA meditation does not particularly help with convergent thinking as they had hypothesized, OM meditation does promote divergent thinking (idea generation) and can definitely enhance creativity. So, it’s definitely worth incorporating into your routine!
06. Impose restrictions to incite creativity
It might seem a little counter-intuitive, but it’s worth giving a try. In a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, researchers found that creativity is higher under structured conditions, and even more so when the restrictions are not externally imposed.
That means, if you give yourself certain restrictions, you could actually boost your creativity. The idea is that that with infinite options and directions to go on, we freeze up. Imposing a restriction gives you some structure and can spur on your momentum.
Restrictions could include things such as time restraints, like short deadlines, or single-tasking; that is, only doing one task at a time and resisting the urge to multi-task. You could even take it one step further and force yourself to generate a certain quantity of ideas generated or write within a specific word limit.
07. Brainstorm better
I’ve never liked traditional brainstorming sessions, and I think finally I’ve figured out why. Most people stay pretty quiet, and the bold people quickly spout their ideas. And since those are the only ideas heard, those are the ones that get acted on.
The downfall of this is that most obvious idea is typically the first one out of the gate, and isn’t usually particularly creative. This leads to “groupthink” and everyone rallying around that one idea, so unfortunately the more creative ideas that take a little more thought to verbalize never get heard.
A genius solution to this problem is “brainwriting,” a term coined by UT Arlington professor Paul Paulus. This is the idea that idea generation should happen before group discussion.
In a study he conducted, one group participants wrote their ideas for different uses of a paperclip on slips of paper in different colored pens and passed them around, each of the four participants adding an idea. This continued for 15 minutes. The other group wrote lists individually.
Paulus found that the greatest quantity of ideas were produced in group-writing conditions, and even more so if participants had been instructed to try and remember all of the ideas that were produced.
Brainwriting is definitely an effective tool and could be just the thing your team needs to get the creative juices flowing.
08. Consciously focus on being more creative
Contrary to popular belief, creativity can be learned and taught. However, in order to learn something we must treat it like a skill that we believe can be learned. This may involve tweaking the way we think about creativity — from something we are inherently born with or not, to something we can learn and get better at.
In one study, researchers sought to see if creativity could be fostered in engineering students. They gave a creativity test to 64 students after having them watch three lectures about creativity. The students were then split, and 37 students received additional counseling based on their test results, while the other 21 simply attended normal lectures.
After six weeks, they retested the students and found that the counseled students were more innovative than the non-counsele students, and that the counseled students’ machine designs were more elegant and creative than the students who only attended lectures.
Learning to do something that you thought you were genetically destined not to do can be intimidating. Check out this article to help you learn to be more creative.
09. Ask yourself new questions
When we come up with new ideas, we are essentially coming up with answers to questions that we’ve asked ourselves. The problem is, if we keep asking the same questions, there are only so many responses we can come up with.
Luckily, new questions can lead our brains to give us new answers and thus, more creative ideas. Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, was also extremely creative. He said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Look at concepts and circumstances from a different angle — that will force you to ask new questions That being said, it isn’t easy to come up with new questions. Make sure you’re asking yourself specific rather than vague questions. For example, someone who wants to paint can stare at a blank canvas and ask “what do I feel like painting?” or they could ask, “how can I visually represent the anxiety and excitement of starting a new life chapter?”
The latter is much more likely to spark ideas, so it’s important to practice asking yourself questions in this style to enhance your creative productivity.
10. Detach from reality
It might seem strange to hear that detaching from reality can actually increase our creativity, especially because the hurdles we need to overcome are very real, and detaching might sound a little like running away.
However, psychological distancing from problems can help increase our creativity in solving them according to Scientific American writers Oren Shapira and Nira Liberman.
We can create psychological distance in a variety of ways. We can imagine our problems from another person’s perspective, or by thinking about the situation as though it were something improbable. By doing so, we turn the question into something more abstract, and this allows us to make different connections than we would while thinking about more concrete concepts.
Creating temporal distance through imagining yourself in a year and visualizing how you would solve the problem then, or creating spatial distance by imagining the question coming from someplace far away are other methods used to create psychological distance that have also proven to successfully increase creative thinking.
So, are you feeling creative yet?
Whether you’re someone who doubts her creative potential or someone who has lost his creative groove, these methods are bound to grease your gears and get your brain back on the ball.
Take breaks to walk and let your mind wander and incorporate meditation into your morning ritual. Ask yourself new questions and consciously focus on increasing your creativity. Use better brainstorming methods or give yourself some restrictions to help spark your creative energy.
By incorporating these methods, we’re sure you’ll be feeling awash in creative potential in no time at all!