A cluttered desk, a quick run, or a cocktail could land you at your next aha moment.
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From cracking one-liners at happy hour to impressing your boss at your next pitch meeting, creativity “gets us there” in countless contexts, says Jonathan Schooler, Ph.D., professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Stumped? Keep these five tips in mind to shift your right-brain thinking into high gear.
The chances of an epiphany coming to you from the depths of a blank Word document? Not high, Schooler says. One of his recent studies found that when students had a period of time to think before completing a task that required creative thinking skills, they outperformed students who were asked to complete the task right away. Mind-wandering lets the brain disengage from the present and retrieve associations from the past, to better imagine how events could unfold in the future—to “play” with ideas, Schooler says.
But, “daydream” does not mean “sleep.” Think nondemanding activities that are easy and pleasant—like taking a walk or listening to music—that allow the mind to wander to get the most creative results.
Literally rev up your creativity. One study found that regular exercisers performed better on creative tasks during physical activity (cycling, in this case) than those who didn’t exercise regularly—and that performance improved the more intense the physical activity. The findings also showed that for nonexercisers, activity did not necessarily enhance creative thinking (the researchers suspect their energy instead was being depleted in the physical exertion).
The takeaway? If you do make working out routine, you're probably more likely to find the switch to that mental light bulb on a jog or by sweating it out at the gym than by chaining yourself to your desk.
Save the cleanup for later. A totally ordered office may actually squelch creativity. One study found that college students in a messy workspace came up with more creative new uses for ping-pong balls (when asked to do so by the study’s researchers) compared with another group of students in a neat office.
People tend to associate disorderly spaces with breaking free from conventions and norms, whereas orderly spaces are more likely associated with working within traditional boundaries, says Ryan Rahinel, a co-author of the study and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota.
It may not be the best way to approach every creative roadblock (especially if your boss isn’t onboard with Mad Men Mondays). But, there is evidence that a drink or two may help get you thinking outside the lines. One study found that people performed better on a creative memory task after drinking versus being completely sober. The alcohol helped individuals get past the normal, obvious answers to think farther outside the box, according to the researchers.
Give it a rest. Drudging along can be helpful in cranking out analytic tasks that require plenty of focus (think: number crunching), as your inhibition keeps you “on task.” But studies show that you may be more apt to think creatively during the time of day you’re least likely to be productive—or when you’re most likely to get distracted.Distractions may trigger thoughts or ideas that lead to a novel approach to solving the problem at hand, says Mareike Wieth, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychological science at Albion College.The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to sleep on it, hit the gym, or take that coffee break—all of which could lead to the answer you were looking for in the first place.10 Caffeine-Free Foods to Help You Focus>>>