Have you ever noticed that giving advice to a friend is easier than solving your own problems?
This is because you are “psychologically distant” from your friend’s problem, meaning that the issue is not occurring in the present and does not affect you. Therefore, you are able to think in a less concrete yet creative way.
According to a study from Indiana University, increasing the psychological distance between you and a problem boosts your creativity. But what other ways are there to get through a creative block?
Famously, Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs & Ham after betting that he couldn’t produce a story using less than 50 words.
Avoid taking the path of “least resistance”, which leads most people to build off of older or existing concepts when brainstorming, which inevitably leads to less creative ideas. In order to put the brain in overdrive, you can mimic Dr. Seuss and place restrictions on yourself while creating, which will prevent you from falling back on past successes.
If you usually write 1000-word short stories, try to create a story in under 500 words. Only use a small handful of chords in your song or colours in your design. The limiting nature of the task can bring out your most creative side, by forcing you to think differently than you normally would.
Write it Down
Writing down your ideas as soon as they pop into your head is a great habit and is a training exercise for the brain to keep the ideas coming. Writing ideas down clears the mind to move on to other ideas, and you never worry about forgetting them. You can also bring a pen and small notebook wherever you go so you don’t forget the ideas that come to you when you’re riding a bus, having a lunch, reading a book or watching videos in the internet.
Sometimes the opposite of creative block happens – you just have too many ideas! While that should be a good thing, it can also confuse you. You can sort thoughts up by keeping a list. List down each idea that comes to mind and determine which one you think is the best.
Although negative moods can sometimes spur creativity, researchers have found that it is during strong positive moods that our best creative work is done. In fact, the feeling of love or even thinking about love was shown to best encourage creative thinking. Getting yourself to a “positive place” is not as trite as it may sound—any number of mood boosters (quick exercise, envisioning the future, recalling good memories) will do the trick to influence your mood, and your creative efforts will be at their best when your attitude is positive.
Positive emotions – such as gratitude, compassion, joy, and inspiration – have been found to help you broaden your thinking, and build your capacity to see more possibilities and think more creatively. You can cultivate more positive emotions at work by fostering high-quality connections with others, gratitude, kindness, hope, and finding ways to leverage off your strengths – those things you are good at and enjoy doing.
While research has shown that daydreaming can help with creativity, it is important to note that studies have revealed that daydreaming only works when you’ve already committed effort towards a project.
The reason? Daydreaming can be beneficial because it allows for the incubation of ideas. But incubation is only effective when we already have information to chew on. So be sure to get started on your project before drifting off. In several brain scan studies, researchers found that mind wandering tended to trigger brain activity in areas dealing with intricate and creative problem solving.
Mind wandering, researchers suggest, might allow the brain to focus its attention on more distant tasks and issues in a unique, highly creative way. This activity is most evident when people are unaware their minds are wandering, suggesting daydreaming’s problem solving capabilities might be greatest when we’re oblivious to our own mental drift. Of course, that creativity may come at a price: being oblivious to mind wandering also means less focus on the task at hand.
Letting the mind wander may thus promote creativity and allow the brain to address multiple questions at the same time. Daydreaming can often occur when participating in mindless activities but it can also happen at inconvenient times, like driving a car or reading information that needs to be used in a report.
And while some scientists theorize daydreaming could actually complement focused tasks by keeping the brain aroused, more research is needed to fully understand the sometimes-blurry line between daydreaming and focusing.
Look at Something Blue or Green
These colours tend to enhance performance on cognitive tasks. Researchers say that’s because we associate blue with the ocean, sky, and openness in general, while green signals growth.
Another study actually shows that seeing red or blue can have different effects on our cognitive performance: red helps us with detail-oriented tasks where we need to focus, whereas blue enhances creative performance.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to paint your office blue or green, but it’s a helpful tip to keep in mind when you’re working on a creative project or switching between different types of work.
Learn Through Collaboration
Even a great innovator needs people around her or him to discuss – or “bounce” – new creative ideas and innovations. What do the major innovative ideas of our time have in common, from Microsoft (well, when it was young) to Google? All of them were created by teams of people who stayed together to conceive the idea, plan their innovative projects, take them to investors and the public, and most importantly jointly brainstorm those innovations within the team.
Therefore, a final important asset to add to your innovation skillset is the ability to be a valuable team player, capable of bouncing ideas to the next level. For some people this is very natural, while for others it does not come so easily to be a team player. But it is never too late to train yourself in this mode of interacting.
Creative solutions often arise from a string of ideas. One thought leads to the next, which leads to the next and so on until the final solution is discovered. Talk through a problem. Brainstorm with each other. Build upon one another’s ideas.
Try Something New
Kids have a seemingly boundless sense of imagination, turning blankets and beds into spaceships and fortresses in a matter of seconds.
As we grow older, we lose this ability, thanks to a cognitive bias called functional fixedness which causes our perception to be boxed in by our limited experiences.
Doing things out of habit tends to undermine creative thought; on the other hand, novelty-seeking is associated with creativity (and overall well-being). Even something as simple as taking a new route to work or experimenting with a cool recipe counts.
Don’t limit yourself. You can be creative in other ways; you can use your creativity to pursue other interests. The best thing about expanding your creative bubble is that you have an opportunity to practice your creativity in novel ways, even within the same sphere. For example, if you play the piano, why not attempt the guitar, or sing? If you’re a writer, why not attempt photography, which may eventually be an asset to your writing? Problem-solving is also creative.
Create “Three Ifs”
Many good innovators take an existing object and ask clever questions to twist the very concept of it and make it new. Steve Jobs didn’t start with the idea of a smartphone. He just took an existing cell phone and asked a very simple question: how can we improve it to make it better – or the best?
That said, a good trick to find out how to do that is to use “ifs”:
What would happen if I change it (the object/ system/ social relationship, etc)? What would I change or improve about this object if I wanted to use it in 10 years? What would I do if I had a one-million-dollar investment to improve it?
These questions can become powerful tools that can help you to think differently. It is important to exercise these skills by repeatedly using the “three ifs” formula (or designing your own set of questions) about all sorts of things. And many new ideas will pop up.
By Catherina Arndt