Don’t Break the Chain: How to Stay Creative

Creativity makes life more fulfilling. It allows you to look beyond the surface and see things in interesting ways. Creativity is useful in everyday life and it may even come about unexpectedly. But for many people, creativity is required to do a job, complete a project, or allow them to move forward in their life. If you’re one of those people — or if you would simply like to tap into your creativity as a way to enjoy life and try new things — you may need a boost from time to time. How can you get your creativity flowing (and make it continue to flow)? Let’s have a look at some effective ways to stay creative.

Use a mind map

Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher would ask you to brainstorm or create a web of ideas? Well, mind maps are basically the same thing. It is typically a diagram, centered around a single concept or word. You can use words, images, symbols, colors, and a hierarchical system (with branches) when creating a mind map.

Research on mind mapping suggests that it fosters creativity. One study showed that it improved students’ ability to generate, visualize, and organize ideas. This was especially true when it came to writing. So, next time you have writer’s block, you know what to do! Mind mapping helps in this area (and others) by allowing you to see new, deeper connections. On top of all this, mind mapping boosts memory, and helps you to plan and organize.

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Go outside

When you’re stuck in a creative rut, it may be best to just unplug and go outside. One study found that people who spent four days backpacking in the wilderness, without any electronics, performed 50% better on tasks involving creativity and problem-solving.

Researchers aren’t sure what exactly leads to these results. However, one hypothesis is that it restores attention. Think about it: when you have your laptop, smartphone, and tablet near you, you’re always going to be texting or checking your email, social media notifications, and Facebook news feed. There’s no room for creative thinking because your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in critical thinking and problem-solving, is already burdened with these small bits of information and tasks.

Another hypothesis is that being in nature often elicits feelings of awe, which has been shown to play a part in creativity. One study even found the same results after children were shown pictures of the galaxy. This is because experiencing something bigger than oneself fosters expansive thinking, allowing you to see different perspectives. Furthermore, nature often makes us feel at peace — a state which is ideal for activating your imagination.

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Try the Seinfeld Strategy

We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect. Well, comedian Jerry Seinfeld agrees. His method for creating better jokes was to write every single day. You can keep track of your writing by getting a calendar and crossing off each day in which you successfully complete the task. It doesn’t matter what you write or even how well you write it, as long as it is meaningful enough to make a difference.

Participating in the Seinfeld Strategy allows you to produce things, rather than use the excuse of not having enough time or motivation. In short, it is a way to prevent procrastination.

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Get messy

Is your desk perfectly organized? You might want to change that of you want to be more creative. One study put college students in either a messy room or a clean room, and gave them a creative task. Those in the messy room performed much better. Researchers suggest that this is because messy environments inspire “breaking free of tradition,” which produces new insights.

It may be that messiness (or allowing different categories to merge instead of separate) allows new combinations to result. For example, if the kitchen utensils are always in the kitchen and your art utensils are always in your art studio, you may never think to use your forks as part of your art project.

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Get rid of everything distracting or fun

It’s rather interesting that when we’re bored, we always seem to find a way to overcome the boredom. Many times, we use our imagination to do so, and imagination equals creativity. So, we can use this common experience as a way to increase creativity. That is, we can intentionally make ourselves bored. One study had participants copy down numbers from a phone book, and then complete a creative task. Compared to those who did not participate in a boring task, the participants were more creative. Why does being bored have this positive result? Well, it may be due to the daydreaming that boredom causes.

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Walk

Studies have found that walking in any condition — be indoor or outdoor — increases creativity by 60%. Though the mechanisms aren’t clear, it could have something to do with the fact that exercising improves your mood. It may also be that walking is boring and (as mentioned previously), this encourages daydreaming, which leads to creativity.

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Wait until you’re tired

You may have found that your “eureka” moments come after you’ve hit the sack and turned off the lights. There’s actually an explanation for that. Our ability to think about information in creative ways can be hindered when there’s too much going on in our brains (i.e. when we’re alert). In other words, it may make more sense to schedule your creative time for the parts of the day you’d least expect to function well.

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Turn up the noise

J.K. Rowling has revealed that she wrote much of the Harry Potter books in a café and she’s not the only one. Many people go to cafés to write or work on other projects. What is it about cafés that allow the creativity to flow? You may think that it’s the coffee, but it’s actually the noise. That’s right — researchers have found that modest, ambient noise (around 70 decibels) creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more creatively.

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Create psychological distance 

Psychological distance refers to anything that we experience as occurring in another place or time. This can be induced by imagining yourself in a different place or time, or by taking the perspective of another person. Psychological distance affects the way we represent things in our minds, such that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way. And when people think abstractly, they are able to form unique connections between concepts. So, next time you’re stuck on a creative project, envision yourself working on it in the city of Paris or on a ship sailing around the world. You’ll be surprised by the results!

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Dim the lights

Researchers have found that people are more creative in dim light, rather than normal or bright lights. This is true even when people simply describe being in the dark. The reason behind this effect isn’t clear, but it may have to do with feeling more comfortable in dim lighting, since mistakes are not as visible.

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Set restrictions

If you’d like to be more creative, try setting restrictions and guidelines.  This may seem counter-intuitive, as we’re often told to “think outside the box” and tend to associate creativity with being unrestricted. However, restrictions can force us to look for alternatives. Restrictions also limit our choices, which may have prevented us from getting started on something (due to the indecision we experience from having too many choices).

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Surround yourself with the color blue

It may be time to grab some paint! A study found that the color blue made people take more risks and produce more creative results (in comparison to the color red) when performing mental tasks. People associate blue with calmness and openness (since it’s the color of the ocean and sky), so it may make them feel safe about exploring and being creative.

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Think like a child

Children are so creative! They come up with the craziest stories, have imaginary friends, and find different uses for objects. It only makes sense, then, that thinking like a child can make us more creative. But, how can we do this exactly? Well, first of all, don’t take yourself so seriously. When you stop censoring yourself, you’ll start expressing yourself more. Secondly, try breaking the rules! If you look at the world as having to be the same way at all times, you’ll have difficulty being imaginative. Finally, don’t be afraid to talk about your bad ideas. Being creative is about having many ideas and sometimes, you need to face a bad one in order to discover a good one.

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