We tend to think of highly creative people as brooding artists born with an innate ability to paint masterpieces or write novels. But creativity can be anything, from trying a new recipe to generating a business plan. Everyone is creative. It’s just that some people practice, cultivate and work at it more than others.
And research shows being creative can actually make you happier. Being in a “flow state”—when you are completely immersed in a creative activity (also known as “the zone”)—has been correlated with relaxation, enjoyment, and better overall life satisfaction.
The connection between creativity, thriving artists, and thriving communities is undeniable. By applying some of these principles, you too can get those creative juices flowing.
A study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed regular exercisers did better on creativity tests than their more sedentary peers. Specifically, exercise improved divergent and convergent thinking, two kinds of problem-solving that are considered the main components of creative thought. "Exercising on a regular basis may thus act as a cognitive enhancer promoting creativity in inexpensive and healthy ways," explained study researcher and cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato. Next time you’re feeling uninspired, get a sweat going. Better yet, take your jog or yoga routine outside to enjoy the added creative benefit of being out in nature.
Break up your routine
It’s all too easy to get stuck on autopilot, going through the same motions and thought processes every day. Over time, this can feel draining. Psychologists think creative people have a tendency to avoid habit and routine; the trick is to make room for those seeds of creativity to grow and flourish.
So go on a creative field trip. Check out a new art exhibit or take a walking tour in an area of the city you’re not familiar with. Maybe you get out of your comfort zone and swap out your usual yoga routine for a Saturday morning dance class. It can be as elaborate as travelling abroad or as simple as listening to a new genre of music. Having new experiences means you can take in more sensory information and combine it in unique ways — a cornerstone to creative thinking.
Keep a journal or idea book with you
Have you ever had such an incredible idea that you figured it must be unforgettable… until you forgot what it was? Carrying a notebook around is about more than just writing stuff down. It lets you physically see all your ideas and thoughts in one place, making it easy to build and expand on them. This doesn’t have to be “journaling” in any strict sense, either.
Lyrics, poetry, jokes, doodles, and drawings are all fair game. Try this exercise: Instead of mindlessly swiping through Instagram in a moment of boredom (on the bus, waiting for a friend, etc.) whip out your notepad and start scribbling whatever comes to mind.
Record your dreams
Struggling to reach a breakthrough? Sleep on it. Research has shown that remembering and making use of our dreams can result in creative innovation. “Dreams are just thinking in a different biochemical state,” explains Harvard University psychologist Deirdre Barrett, author of The Committee of Sleep. “In the sleep state, the brain thinks much more visually and intuitively.” Dreams can be valuable sources of ideas and intuition, linking memories and concepts together in unique, emotional, and non-logical ways. Unplug and get some much-needed Zs to get you thinking in unexpected directions. To better remember your dreams, keep a notebook or recording device beside your bed so you can record them as soon as you wake up. They may just lead to your next great idea.
Connect with a friend
Art and creativity often feel like a solitary experience. But behind every innovation, there’s usually a surprising degree of collaboration. Brainstorming, feedback, and editing are all essential parts of the creative process. Whether your friend is in a creative field or simply someone you trust and can connect with, make a date to meet for lunch or a walk. Bounce ideas off them, share your vision and listen to their insights.
How do you get into a creative zone? Share with us @commoncitizenry.