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How hard it can be to increase creativity? Not so much if you know the right ways to do that. This is the goal of this post, give you the last 6 proven ways, or tips, that will help you increase creativity. Some of them will be more comfortable doing than others. Also, some will work better. Keep your mind open and have the willingness to experiment. The only way to find what works for you is by trying it. Let’s begin.
Healthy body, healthy mind, and my final advice. One good and healthy way to increase creativity and productivity is through exercise. There are some studies suggesting that physical activity has positive impact not only on our health, but that it can also increase creativity. In short, it seems that people who exercise on the regular basis do better on tests of creativity than people who don’t and have more sedentary lives. To be more concrete, it seems that exercise has the ability to improve divergent and convergent thinking.
Exercise and divergent and convergent thinking
Divergent thinking is about thinking of multiple solutions for one problem. On the other hand, convergent thinking is about thinking about one solution for a problem. We can think about these concepts in the terms of a flashlight and laser. In case of divergent thinking, or the flashlight, the light spreads in multiple directions. In case of convergent thinking, or the laser, all light is focused on one point. As you can guess, both, divergent and convergent thinking, are important components of creative thinking.
As in the case of focused and diffused modes, it is not about which type of thinking is better. We use both. For example, when we want to generate a range of potential solutions, or ideas, without limiting ourselves, for a specific problem, we use divergent thinking. Brainstorming seemingly unrelated ideas a good example. On the other hand, when we do want to limit our options and then choose only from these, we use convergent thinking. For example, 2+2 is equal to 4. Or, you either like some food or you don’t.
Other benefits of exercise
This is the first reason why exercise can be a good way to increase creativity. It has positive impact on our ability to use divergent and convergent thinking. The second reason why exercise can increase creativity is that it can help us unplug and shut down. We discussed the importance of unplugging, shutting down everything and doing nothing in second part of this miniseries. Remember, our brain need some space to be creative. And, it also needs to take a rest to process everything and also recharge energy.
When we hit the gym to lift some weights, train calisthenics or do some cardio, we usually give our brain a chance to unplug, process the data and wander. In other words, exercise helps us switch to the diffused mode of thinking. Well, at least if we are not still thinking about our work as we quite often do. And, even if we are still mentally at work, or if we don’t really care about our ability to use divergent and convergent thinking, there is still at least one good reason to try some form of exercise.
Exercise helps us reduce stress and depression and boost our mood. This is achieved through the release of chemicals called endorphins. Simply put, endorphins has the ability to reduce pain and make us feel good, even euphoric. Have you heard about “runner’s high” or “yoga bliss”? Both are probably caused by endorphins, along with norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. These all act like drugs and even trigger the same receptors in our brain. This is also why some people can become almost addicted to exercise.
Sure, this may not help us directly increase creativity. However, getting into a better mood, or getting out of depression, can be helpful for it. In the end, if we can choose between trying to become more creative while being in a good mood or being in a bad mood, why choose the later? I think that it is better to “chase” creativity in a good mood. Also, good mood will help us keep going when we have to deal with struggles and obstacles on the way. The path creativity is often not smooth.
Go for a walk or take a shower
Is it necessary to hit the gym or park in order to use physical activity to increase creativity? No, it is not. Years of practice, and research done by Stanford University, showed that even light activities such as walking improves our ability to think creatively. Leonardo Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey, Pablo Picasso and other artists, inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and creative people like, or liked, to use walking as a way to increase creativity and generate novel ideas.
Since walking is not that demanding physical activity and doesn’t require any equipment, or even too much space, why not give it a shot? And, if it works for so many people in so different areas, it may work you as well. Just try it and see it for yourself. Another very popular way, or practice, to increase creativity is taking a shower. How many times did we hear that someone got his or her groundbreaking idea while that person was taking a shower? Probably many times, almost from every second creative person.
The power of taking a shower
According to science, there are at least three reasons why taking a shower is a good way to increase creativity and spark novel ideas. First, taking a warm shower contributes to increased level of dopamine. Do you remember exercising and getting into a better mood? Second, warm shower helps us get into relaxed state of mind. In this state, we are more likely to turn attention inwards and make insightful connections between the concepts we know. Finally, warm shower makes us distracted.
When our mind and senses are distracted by the sound and sensation of the falling water, our brains can take a break. Then, when our brain is in this relaxed state, our subconscious has space and can work on the problem we are trying to solve. In summary, the full recipe to increase creativity is 1) increasing the flow of dopamine, 2) getting into a relaxed state, 3) allowing our mind to be distracted. Taking a warm shower for a few minutes will achieve it. Or, you can try something a little bit more spicy.
What about cold?
Taking a warm shower is one thing. However, there are some more extreme, or insane, personalities, like myself, who may want to try something … more distracting. For those people, my suggestion is taking cold showers. No, this is not a joke. I am serious. There are some health benefits of cold showers, such as improved immunity and circulation, faster recovery, stress and depression relief, increased alertness and more. However, one interesting question is, what does cold shower do to creativity?
I have been practicing morning cold showers every day for last year and half. So far, I found that my ability to come up with creative ideas is as good as during warm shower. Warm or cold, it seems to me that shower still works very well as a catalyst for creative ideas. My mind still gets a healthy dose of dopamin and it still gets distracted. And, yes my mind is in a relaxed state (that is just matter of practice). I have to admit that it is a bit tricky to make any comparison because I don’t remember what a warm shower is. The reason is simple. When I started with cold showers, I stopped taking warm showers. So, will you give it a shot and try it?
Another good technique to increase creativity is something called 5 Whys. This is one of my favorite methods for generating creative ideas and uncovering root causes of problems. Fortunately, it is also a method that is very easy to do. You take some problem and then ask why five times. The example with vehicle described in Wikipedia article is a very good way to demonstrate how this technique works. There are also some rules that should be followed to use this method properly. So, take the time and check that article.
Some people may argue that the 5 Whys method is the best way to increase creativity. In the end, it is about finding the root cause of a problem, not a solution for it. I agree. However, there is a reason to include this method in this article is. Before we decide to work on any problem, we should first make sure that we know what the real problem is. We should start working on a problem only if it is a real, root, cause, not just one of the symptoms or a problem that is only consequence of the root problem.
Otherwise, we may only remove one symptom, but never solve the real problem, the real pain. There is a great quote by Stephen R. Covey: “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster”. In this sense, when we work on a wrong problem, we are wasting our time, energy, effort and other resources while the real problem is left untouched. And, many of these resources, time especially, are non-renewable. We should get to the root cause first, then deal with it.
Even if you don’t think that the 5 Whys method is useful for you, start asking questions anyway. Asking questions, challenging your own assumptions, status quo and dogmas is the only way to find new ways of doing things. We must remember that, sometimes, we must be willing to throw away what we think is true. To think differently and increase creativity, start asking different questions and looking for different answers.
Listen to music
Listening to favorite music is another way in which we get our minds into more relaxed and distracted state. As we discussed, creating a space for this state is important if we want to generate creative and novel ideas. It is in this state when our brains can process the information we learned during the day and form new connections between them and our prior knowledge. It is like training or working out. We have to first provide our muscles with stimulus. Then, we must give them time to rest and recover.
We should follow similar process with our brains. First, we must give it some stimulus, information and knowledge. Then, we must give our brains space to process, consolidate and connect this new knowledge and form new ideas. Music can help us do that. There are some theories about how different genres may increase creative thinking. The problem is, how plausible these theories really are, and if they even work. That being said, there is also some indication that genre may not actually matter.
One recent study showed that listening to happy, positive and high arousal music helped participants to engage in divergent thinking, thinking that focuses on many possible solutions. Music used in this study was from the genre of classical music, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, for example. According to this study, “People who listened to happy music scored higher on the tests for divergent thinking, but not on convergent thinking. People listening to other types of music didn’t show the same difference.”
So, it is possible that classical music with positive valence and high arousal can help us become more creative. It is at least worth trying. What is the worst thing that can happen? If you will not like classical music, you can always change the track. Keep in mind that current research on music is still in its infancy and all people are different. Some people are more creative when they listen to classical music, some rock or hip hop while others prefer silence. So, you will have to find what works for you.
We are almost in the end and my penultimate tip to increase creativity is about restricting and limiting your options. Let me give you an example. Did you know that German-American author Theodor Seuss Geisel (known as Dr. Seuss) wrote one of his books, Green Eggs & Ham, after he limited himself to use no more than 50 words? That book has sold 8 million copies. Not bad for a book using vocabulary of only 50 words. It seems that less can be in some situations actually more.
Being in a situation when we have to deal with limitations or restrictions, can force our brain to think differently. Think back to some moment when your resources were limited. Isn’t it true that you were able to come up some really creative ideas? And what about startups building innovative and groundbreaking products while counting every penny just to survive? Maybe we should try the same approach. The next time we will work on some problem, let’s reduce and limit our options, not increase.
For example, are you working on a new design? Restrict yourself and use only two or three colors, or only one. Do you want to write something? Limit the number of words you can use, or limit your vocabulary as Dr. Seuss. Are you working on a new software product? Focus on slower devices with less capabilities and resources. And, since you are working on something, why not to limit your tools? Experiment and remember that limitations and constraints can actually help you increase creativity.
Experiment and find what works for you
This will be my last advice for anyone who wants to increase creativity. Every person in the world is different. What works for someone may not work for someone else. Or, one practice that can do wonders for some one may barely do anything for someone else. Whatever the case is, my point is this. Although there are some ways to increase creativity that generally work, there is no silver bullet. You have to try different ways, tips, approaches and practices and find those that work best for you. This is the good news and also the bad news.
So, my final tip to increase creativity will be following. Be willing to experiment with different ways, practices, tips and ideas. Look for things that worked for other people. Then, try them on your own and see how they work for you. If it doesn’t work as you thought it would, or at all, move on and try something else. On the other hand, if it works well, adopt it and implement it right away. Then, iterate and go through this loop of trial and error again. In other words, find another tip or practice to try and test. Don’t stop, keep momentum.
Also, don’t limit yourself to trying just one way or idea to increase productivity at the time. You may find out that some things help you become more creative when you combine them. For example, let’s say that you like to give your mind some space to think by taking a shower. And, you also like to let your mind wander while you listen to some music. There is nothing that holds you back from taking both these ideas and combining them. So, the next you will want to take a shower, play your favorite music.
If there is one thing I want to encourage you to do, it is having the willingness to experiment. Experimenting, and going through trial and error, is I think inseparable part of creativity. One simply cannot exist without the other. So, have the willingness and courage to try the ideas you find on your own. In the end, this is the only way that will help you find out what really works for you.
Closing thoughts on how to increase creativity
Sometimes, creativity is full of joy and pleasure. It is about having fun. Other times, it is about going through moments of struggle, boredom or even pain. It is safe to say that creativity has many faces. And, we never know which face will we see. The same is true ways that will help us increase creativity. There are many of them, from which we can choose. And, some of them work better than others. Remember, there is no silver bullet, or way, to increase creativity. Have the courage to experiment. Find what works for you. And, have fun!
Thank you very much for your time. And, until next time, have a great day!
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