You know the feeling: You’re sitting at your desk, trying to come up with new ideas for a story, a décor project, an advertising concept, or even a business plan. But your mind is blank. You stare into space, hoping that inspiration will hit. But it never does. You hope you’ll be struck with a sudden solution, or a new realisation. But it doesn’t happen.
Whether you work in a creative field such as writing, advertising, or interior decorating; or whether you work in a field where you require creative solutions to your problems, you most likely know what it feels like to run out of creative inspiration. When this happens, your tendency might be to focus even harder on trying to come up with new ideas, or on trying to find a solution to your problem. This isn’t always the best option, though.
Sometimes, the more intensely you focus on something, the less likely you are to think about it creatively.
So, instead of increasing your focus, here are 10 things you can do to boost your creativity (thereby increasing the likelihood that creative inspiration will strike):
And go for a walk. According to a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University, even a short walk can boost creativity, both while walking and for a short while afterwards.[i] Not only will this boost your creativity, but it will also improve your overall health and your ability to perform mental tasks.
Step out of your comfort zone.
While staying in your comfort zone might seem like the safest option, it doesn’t encourage you to develop or grow, or to explore new ways of thinking. By stepping out of your comfort zone, and trying new things, you will not only gain new experiences, but you will also gain new perspectives, which will help you to think differently and to approach problems differently. It will also help you to make new connections between concepts and ideas. Forcing yourself to step out of your comfort zone may also help you to find inspiration in places where you least expected to find it.
Create psychological distance
It’s something we’ve all experienced — when we step away from a problem, and come back to solve it later, we often find that we are able to come up with a solution straight away. We can attribute this phenomenon to the concept of “psychological distance.” Psychological distance, as multiple studies have shown, comes in various forms, and helps us to see things differently by changing our perspective in relation to a particular situation. The example mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph is an example of temporal distance (distance in time).
Another form of psychological distance is “spatial distance.” A study published in 2009 shows that spatial distance — being located further away from a situation — increases creative thinking in relation to that situation.[ii] From the findings of this study, it appears that you could increase your creative thinking by rephrasing a particular problem so that you are further removed from the situation. So, for example, if you need to figure out how to handle a dispute with a close friend, you could imagine that you and your friend are currently away on a trip together, and that the dispute is taking place in a foreign country. This will help you to think about the dispute from a different angle, and to come up with more creative ways to resolve it.
Reading introduces you to new topics, opens your mind to new ideas, and gives you the opportunity to explore unique connections between various topics and themes.
Reading widely is even more beneficial to your levels of creativity. Not only will it broaden your perspective, but, as Haruki Murakami said:
So, next time you are at the library or bookstore, look for something different to what you (and everyone else) would usually read.
Listen to music
According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, a “moderate … level of ambient noise” increases creativity.[iii] The reason for this is that a moderate level of noise causes the right level of disruption in our thought processes to inspire abstract thinking, without disrupting us completely. Therefore, when you are busy with creative work, it may be a good idea to listen to music at a moderate volume (around 70 decibels).
Listening to music, at any volume, also helps you to relax, which allows your mind to wander. When you are in a relaxed state, and your mind is allowed to wander freely, you are more likely to come up with creative solutions and ideas.
Write (or draw)
Research shows that the physical act of drawing or writing, which requires you to carry out sequential strokes by hand, actively engages your brain, which can improve your levels of concentration and creativity.
So next time you are stuck for ideas, grab some paper and a pen, and start writing (or drawing).
Make a healthy snack
Your brain needs fuel to function optimally (and creatively). If you’re struggling to come up with creative ideas, take a break from what you are doing, and make yourself a snack. Just make sure that it’s a healthy snack — sugary or empty-calorie snacks are likely to give you a short energy rush, but will quickly leave you feeling even more sluggish and uninspired than before. Rather go for healthy “brain foods,” such as nuts, berries, dark chocolate, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meat.
Break your routine
When you follow the same routine, day in, day out, you tend not to have to think very hard about what you are doing. You also tend to pay less attention to the details of your surroundings. So, to engage your brain, to draw inspiration from your surroundings, and to increase your capacity for creative thinking, try to break out of your established routine, and do something different — whether it’s something as simple as taking a new route to work, shopping at a new grocery store, or trying a new brand of coffee; or something major, such as taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill, or visiting a new country (or city).
Spend time with creative people.
Or simply chat to a friend, family member, or colleague. Social interaction enables you to think more creatively, not only by exposing you to other people’s thoughts, ideas, and worldviews, but also by giving you the opportunity to discuss your own thoughts and ideas, and to get external input and feedback on potential solutions to problems.
Embrace the possibility of failure.
One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the fear of failure. If you are constantly worried about failing, or if you are constantly judging and censoring your thought processes based on your fear of failure, you won’t be able to think creatively.
To overcome this obstacle, you need to allow yourself to let your thoughts flow freely, without evaluating them during the creative thinking phase. Remember that no one else is judging your thoughts, and that you shouldn’t be, either.
So there you have it — 10 easy ways to boost to boost your creativity. Which one(s) will you be trying out today?
[i] Oppezzo, M & Schwartz, D. 2014. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking.
[ii] Jia, L., Hirt, E. & Karpen, S. 2009. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Lessons from a Faraway land: The effect of spatial distance on creative cognition.
[iii] Mehta, R., Zhu, R. & Cheema, A. 2012. Journal of Consumer Research. Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition.