The Science of Creativity
Many people think of creativity as a zero-sum game—either you have it or you don’t. However, science has shown that not only are we all capable of being highly creative, but there are also many ways to improve our creative abilities. Best of all, it isn’t that hard to expand our creative mind.
What is creativity?
Creativity can be defined as the ability to link ideas, thoughts and concepts that seem to be entirely unrelated. It is taking existing ideas and connecting or combining them in such a way other people would not have considered.
What can prevent creativity?
According to apa.org, excessive stress is one of the best ways to kill creativity. Our minds work best when they are calm and relaxed.
Work creativity like a muscle
Just like with your body, when you exercise your creativity, you can only improve it. Make it into a routine so that it becomes a habit and you will see your productivity increase.
Research shows that the more you use your brain to do anything, connections between the involved cells only become stronger.
Give yourself more time to actively think. If you unplug yourself from social media, the internet and your phone, you will give yourself more time for ideas to flourish. Try to avoid taking gadgets like your phone to bed.
Set aside a time of day for creativity. It will get you in the frame of mind for a big brainstorming session.
How to start getting in the habit of creative thinking
Write down your new ideas
To create new ideas, you need to be able to connect existing ones into new combinations. The best way to do this is to get a notebook, an app on your computer or phone or even note cards to write your thoughts down.
The next step is to analyze your ideas. Try to see them from a fresh perspective and where there might be a relationship or connection between them.
Allow your subconscious to play with the ideas until you have a moment of insight. Once you do, you can flesh out your idea and build on it.
Broaden your knowledge
If you take classes or read about things that are outside of your expertise, you increase your ability to engage in the divergent thinking that leads to creativity. You can find plenty of free college courses online and classes in a variety of creative outlets like fabric and hardware stores.
It may not seem like what you have learned will be entirely useful at first, but new ideas come from connections with old ideas. Those new pieces of information you are learning may come in handy in a future brainstorming session or challenge in the future.
Surround yourself with interesting company
Research shows that collaborating and interacting with others who are also intelligent and creative can help your creativity grow as well.
Trying new things tends to make you more creative. You could brainstorm solutions to things that don’t necessarily have an answer (such as making a dog fly) or learn a new skill such as jewelry-making or taking on a new language. Brainstorming exercises the mind while mastering a new skill not only brings a sense of satisfaction, it can also relax you so that you get more of those “aha” moments.
Meditation and mindfulness are healthy exercises to reduce stress, but you may want to practice them later if you want to have a brainstorming session. Mindfulness is all about the here and now and stops the busy “thought traffic” we typically have.
That “thought traffic” is essential to creative thinking. You need random thoughts to engage with other random thoughts to inspire you. This is where you need to daydream or jump in the shower and let your mind wander.
It’s all in your head
An interesting study researched the placebo effect on creativity. Two groups were given a strong smell such as cinnamon to sniff before they performed on a typical test requiring creativity. One was told that it would improve their performance. The other group was not told that it would make any difference.
The group that was told that the smell would help them performed much better on their test. This means that the more you believe you are creative, the more likely you will have creative thoughts. You need a positive attitude to think of great ideas.
Change up your surroundings
Research supports that even the most minimal changes in your surroundings can promote creativity. They can be as small as different colors in your room or taking your coffee black if you usually mix something in.
Change your physical surroundings as well as your social ones. If you see the same things on your wall and desk and are talking to the same people, that may not really help inspiration to strike.
Take a nap
Sleeping flushes out a chemical in the brain called adenosine, which makes you feel tired. But having a power nap in the afternoon does more than give you more energy. Did you know that having coffee before your afternoon nap can improve your creativity?
Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to start working, so you drink that cup before your power nap and you will have sharpened memory performance. And for the creative process, memory is essential.
Other ways to increase creativity
- Make sure you get enough sleep and pay attention to your health.
- Get outside when you want to open your mind or at least let the sunshine in your house or office. Direct sunlight and natural wood are best.
- Collaborate with others on projects and brainstorming sessions.
- Maintain a lifestyle that keeps you in a happy mood. Studies show that sadness inhibits creativity.
- Get some solitude. Introspection can make creativity thrive when you can process information and make connections without interruption.
- When you collaborate, do it in writing. Group brainstorming sessions aren’t as successful as they could be because people often fear the rejection of their ideas. However, putting it in writing is less stressful and leads to the ability to build off other people’s ideas, leading to more innovative thinking.
As you can see, there are many ways to increase your creativity. Keeping a positive attitude, avoiding stress and keeping happy can all help. However, you will really want to believe in yourself and your creative abilities to succeed.
Use these researched tips to keep your creativity going and exercise it like you would your body. Try new things and keep yourself challenged and you will see great results!
Brenda Kimble is a writer and stay-at-home mother of two daughters and a son, plus their beagle named Duke! She loves blogging, crafting, and spending time with her family. She also enjoys strolling the streets of her quaint neighborhood in Austin, Texas and finding the trendiest hotspots for fashion, food, and live music.