Do you ever secretly wish you were just a little more creative? Maybe inventing a life changing gadget is your unrealized childhood dream or perhaps you just want to hand in a more original essay for once. Whatever the case, the good news is that even if you don’t feel naturally creative; there are plenty of ways to get into the right frame of mind.
Taking a walk in the park or on a treadmill, for instance, could increase your creative output by 60%, and a quick nap can also be helpful, with one study showing that power naps boost activity in the right side of the brain, which is most associated with creativity.
But since these are fairly ordinary things that most of us do (or should be doing) on a regular basis, here are five slightly more unusual and generally frowned-upon things that actually have the potential to help you get into the creative zone.
Entitled people want what they want, when they want it, and they don’t care if they have to break a few rules to get it. Simply put, they’re not much fun to be around. But new research by psychological scientists from Cornell and Vanderbilt University shows that in small doses, a sense of entitlement can stimulate a person’s creative problem solving skills.
For the study, participants were made to feel either more or less entitled by writing out three reasons why they deserved more than others and should demand the best in life, or three reasons why they didn’t deserve more than others.
After this, they were asked to complete creative tasks like coming up with new uses for a paper clip and drawing an imaginary alien creature. Sure enough, the participants who felt more entitled at the time produced more interesting and novel ideas.
The takeaway is that when people feel entitled, they think and act differently than others, which means they are better able to think outside the box. Even if you don’t want to become an entitled jerk for the sake of creativity, it’s an easy enough experiment to recreate when it’s time to think innovatively.
Albert Einstein once posed the question that if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign?
It certainly seems he was onto something, as research led by psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota shows that while tidy environments have the benefit of promoting good behavior like healthy eating and generosity, messy ones encourage new ideas and creativity.
In one experiment, participants were placed in either a tidy or messy environment and asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls. Although they all came up with the same number of ideas, impartial judges rated the ones generated by participants in the messy room as more interesting and creative. So the next time you need to think creatively, do yourself a favor and don’t tidy up.
No one likes to be bored, and most of us will do anything to avoid it. But by filling our every waking moment with activities designed to stave off boredom, we might actually be missing out on some of our most innovative ideas.
In one study led by Dr Sandi Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Lancashire, participants were asked to display their creativity by coming up with new uses for polystyrene cups, but first, some of them were asked to complete the unquestionably boring task of copying down numbers from a telephone directory.
As you may have guessed, the ones who were already bored when they started the creative task came up with more original ideas. In another experiment the researchers asked an additional group of people to merely read the numbers, and this group turned out to be even more creative than the ones who had been asked to write the numbers out.
So what’s the takeaway? Don’t be afraid of boredom, but to get the most out of it, choose a more passive boring activity that doesn’t require too much mental energy and still allows for some daydreaming in-between.
Although being creative is probably the last thing on your mind after a long day, research shows that we’re most creative when we’re tired, whether it’s down to morning grogginess or evening fatigue.
In one study, Mareike Wieth, an associate professor of psychology at Albion University, had two groups of students, night owls and early birds, come in for a series of tests either at 8:30am, when night owls would still be feeling groggy, or at 4pm, when morning people would be starting to feel a dip in their energy levels.
When it came to analytical problems, the time of day had no noticeable impact, but for the problems that required some creativity to solve, the participants all did better at the time of day during which they were fatigued.
Why? Apparently, when you’re tired, your brain doesn’t filter out distractions as efficiently and connections between ideas or concepts are more easily forgotten. Although this may sound like a bad thing, creativity is all about making new connections and being open to new ways of thinking, so fatigue is actually the perfect tool for creative thinking.
When we want to get work done we usually seek out a quiet place without many distractions, but although silence is great for sharpening our focus for detail-oriented tasks, when it comes to creativity, a bit of noise is actually a positive thing.
One study by researchers from the University of Illinois had four groups of people complete a series of tests designed to measure creativity while being exposed to various levels of ambient noise; either 50 decibels, 70 decibels, 85 decibels or total silence. Participants who had completed the tests with a moderate level of background noise (70 decibels) did far better than those in any of the other groups.
So, just like fatigue, the right amount of noise creates some distraction, which helps you to move past your normal thought patterns and make new connections. So while you don’t want to be blaring music during a brainstorming session, a moderate level of background noise, like the hum of a busy coffee shop, could be just what you need.
Marianne Stenger is a writer with Open Colleges. She covers career development, workplace productivity and self-improvement. You can connect with her on Twitter and Google+, or find her latest articles here.