People often think that science and creativity are not related.
In this article, I want to highlight some of my favourite examples of scientific research which can help you enhance your creativity.
Here are 16 scientifically proven ways to enhance your creativity.
Put your phone away
We humans are so easy to distract. So much so that a recent study has shown that simply having your phone nearby, or especially on your desk, can make you perform worse. Do yourself a favour and put the phone in another room if you want to get creative work done.
Keep working at it even if you feel like you are reaching a creative cliff
People have a natural tendency to feel like their creativity is falling the longer they work on a problem. They expect that spending additional time will be worthless since their future ideas won’t be as good as those they already produced. This is the creative cliff illusion, and research shows that your best ideas are probably still to come if you push past your comfort barrier and keep working a little longer.
Surround yourself with green and nature
Research by Dr Mark Batey has shown that if you surround yourself with images of nature, or even a view of plants, your creativity will increase. So whether you manage to take a walk in the park or just a picture of a natural landscape on your desk, it can help you get that next big idea.
Reduce your inhibitions and improvise
One of the most advanced, highly-evolved parts of the human brain is the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, which helps assess risk and keep us safe by preventing us doing stupid things. However, this part of the brain also inhibits our behaviour, and even censors out ideas before you can become aware of them. Brain scans of people improvising jazz piano or freestyle rap shows that this part of the brain actually becomes less active when these performers become spontaneous, which teaches us that if you disinhibit yourself (allow yourself to be a bit more free) it will also make you more creative.
Let your mind wander
People nowadays don’t like to be bored. We are so used to constant distractions from our media and phones that it can even become a little uncomfortable to just let our mind wander. In fact, many men would rather electrocute themselves and be alone with their thoughts. But research shows that allowing yourself to be bored can result in improved creative performance afterwards, and there is a lot of research showing the positive connection between mind wandering and creativity.
Get into a flow state
A flow state is where the activity you are engaged in is a perfect match between your current skill level but enough challenge to keep it interesting. Throughout time, many of the world’s most creative people have noted that while they were in a state of flow, time seemed to disappear and they could produce their best creative work.
Expose yourself to new experiences
Our brain is so effective at spotting and developing patterns, that it becomes more effective to just run on autopilot for most of our lives. If you do a simple activity which is unexpected, or gives you a new experience, research shows that this can break you out of your routine and result in higher creative performance afterwards.
Understand your own biases and those of others
Since the brain wants to work with patterns, we have as a species evolved hundreds of biases and heuristics as shortcuts on how to make decisions. While these can sometimes help us in our everyday lives, there are dozens of biases which actually hurt our ability to create new ideas, since these are more likely to be risky compared to what already exists. This is even more true when assessing ideas from other people, where we have biases which specifically make creative ideas appear disgusting. By being aware of our biases, we can approach problems with a more open mind, and allow ourselves to think more creatively.
Make sure your basic needs are being met
The human body is just like any other animal: it wants to make sure its basic needs are met before investing energy and focus into curiosity and coming up with creative new ideas. Creativity is actually one of the highest forms of thinking, meaning that more basic needs like eating, shelter, safety and sleep need to be fulfilled before we can concentrate our efforts on producing creative work. This is not just true for humans. Animals have shown they are more curious if their basic needs are met.
Incubate and allow the natural creative process to work
Do you even feel like your best ideas come out of nowhere, like the famous Eureka moment? The scientific reason for this is that the brain is working on challenges in both the conscious and subconscious. Often, while you are not thinking about a problem, your subconscious is still trying new connections and forming new pathways in a process called incubation. This might then finally result in an idea coming into your consciousness as if out of nowhere. By learning how your creative process works, you can make it more likely to get those great new ideas.
If you get stuck, move on to a completely different task for a while
Sometimes if you are trying to force an idea, it just will not come to you. In this case, try moving away from the activity and do something completely different for a while. But make sure it is something that does not require 100% of your focus. If your mind can wander a little bit while you do a repetitive task, you are more likely to incubate new ideas in the background and come up with a creative solution afterwards.
Do new things every day, week and month
Sometimes it is not enough to just think about new ideas. You need to do something with them, and practice them. This is why every day you should challenge your own creativity and be creatively productive, every week you should shake off your routine and get new knowledge, and every month you should publish something to get over your fear of perfectionism.
Get sarcastic, as long as your team makes it safe
You understand sarcasm, right? Well research shows that speaking sarcastically in a team can actually make them more creative, as long as that team has Psychological Safety. Psychological Safety is also a prerequisite for teams to produce their most creative work and try new things along the way. Here is how you can foster Psychological Safety.
Take a walk or a shower
Why do people get their best ideas in the shower or when walking? It is because their brain can go into a lower-frequency alpha state, which is when it is best able to form the new connections required for divergent thinking. So if you want to be more creative, make sure you allow yourself the time to get away from screens and into an alpha state every day.
Brainstorm individually before discussing as a group
Brainstorming is meant to be the ultimate way for groups to be creative. But ironically, traditional brainstorming actually makes groups LESS creative. But by taking on board some scientifically backed methods for improving brainstorming sessions, like allowing each individual to write down their ideas first, the outcomes from the group can be significantly more creative.
Remind yourself that you are creative
You are creative. No matter whether you feel like are aren’t, like you are less creative than you used to be, or if you think you are not creative because you are not artistic, you were born with the ability to come up with creative new ideas. Just remind yourself that you have the permission to try new things, to fail and improve, and that you can continuously improve your creativity as well.