10 Tips to Improve Creativity September 24 2014, 0 Comments

Remember that oft-used saying about right brained and left brained people? How left brained people are logical, objective, and scientific, and right brained people are artsy, emotional, and creative? If only we could harness our right brain, all of us could be the next Picasso, or Mozart! Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

It would, if it weren’t completely false.

Fortunately, modern neuroscience has evolved past such segmented thinking and has a few things to offer those of us who wish for more creativity:

1. Quit worrying about being smart

In 1921, Lewis M. Terman, the mastermind behind the IQ test, rounded up a sizeable group of young kids with an IQ over 135. These children, decidedly with a genius-level intellect, were followed up with at regular intervals throughout their lives. The surprising result of this study was “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”. A third of the group failed to graduate from college. In contrast, what researchers have found is that those who do invent and create worthwhile ideas, such as winners of Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, often come from low to mid-level careers.

2. Just Chill

Your brain is a delicate balance of chemicals which have a powerful impact on your mood, focus, and creativity. Serotonin, which is responsible for the calm, happy you, and dopamine, which controls your energy and alertness, are the main ingredients for maximizing creativity. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones which counteract these neurotransmitters. This is why people under duress are very unlikely to seek out novel, unfamiliar things. Our natural response is to “play it safe”, which is devastating for our creativity.

3. Get Some Shut-Eye

Not getting enough sleep can curtail our serotonin levels. Most people need at least 2 hours of deep, non-REM sleep, which is less than a third of our night’s rest. Be careful with caffeine though; not only will it interrupt sleep, but it also acts as an emotion enhancer. It can be good for your creative side if you’re feeling motivated and assured; but if you’re feeling anxious or stressed? Not so much.

4. Become a Morning Person

Good news for early risers: serotonin happens to be at its highest in the morning hours. For an extra boost, try including more protein rich foods for breakfast, such as milk, peanut butter, eggs, or greek yogurt. These protein-rich foods add another boost to serotonin levels.

5. Forget about Eureka

We think of ideas as being spontaneous, like finding a forgotten quarter along the path. Truth is, an idea is really nothing more than a new, innovative connection between already existing ideas. It seems new to us because we have been unaware of the mental bridges our minds have been building. So before getting concerned about whether or not you have a Eureka moment, remember that your brain has already done most of the work for you.

6. Think Divergently

One of the greatest obstacles to our creative selves is our tendency to think convergently, or our ability to come up with the one best solution to a well-defined problem. You were taught how to do this whenever you were given multiple-choice quizzes or standardized tests. To break out of this, practice thinking divergently. Try free-writing, where you remove your own mental filter and write out every thought that comes through your head. The more you practice exploring multiple solutions, the more divergent you’ll become.

7. Teach Yourself Something

As Cambridge was closed on account of the Plague in 1665, Isaac Newton spent the summer shut up in his room teaching himself the fundamentals of motion, gravitation, and light. In the same summer he effectively conceived the theory of calculus. While none of us are perhaps quite as gifted as Newton, it seems as though the most creative people are driven by curiosity to learn subjects on their own, rather than be fed information. Often, the modern classroom is viewed as a hindrance to creative learning, and many gifted people are college dropouts for that very reason. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Ted Turner, all inventive geniuses, left school to pursue their creativity.

8. Take an Interest in Different Fields

Becoming a “renaissance man” does more for you than help you at trivia. The most creative people often dabble in a wide variety of subjects; science, math, art, music, etc. As your brain tries to concoct ideas, it draws upon your knowledge base. Put simply, the wider your base, the more diverse (and creative) your ideas will be.

9. Daydream

Most writers and artists will tell you that creativity cannot be forced. A number of studies have found that most moments of enlightenment are preceded by periods of relaxed thought and contemplation. In one study, volunteers were asked to relax and encouraged to think about whatever they wished. A neuroimaging PET scan on their brains revealed increased activity in the association cortices of the brain, which are responsible for generating ideas. Free association and allowing your mind to wander are great ways to unlock your unconscious mind.

10. Put yourself out there

As the saying goes, “When you work at the cutting edge, you’re likely to bleed.” Creativity demands a mental resilience to rejection and skepticism from others. Historically, most breakthroughs were not recognized as such by the leading authorities of the time. The more you place yourself in ambitious situations, the more confident you’ll be in expressing your original thoughts in the public forum.

Terman, Lewis Madison; M. H. Oden (1947). Genetic Studies of Genius ...: The gifted child grows up; twenty-five years' follow-up of a superior group (4 ed.). Stanford University Press. p. 352. "Strategies of Divergent Thinking". University of Washington. Herper, Matthew. "Some Billionaires Choose School Of Hard Knocks." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 June 2000. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.v Morgan, Augustus De, and Philip E. B. Jourdain. Essays on the Life and Work of Newton. Chicago: Open Court, 1914. Print. Young, James Webb. A Technique for Producing Ideas. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print. Andreasen, Nancy C. "Secrets of the Creative Brain." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 June 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.