I think it’s safe to say that we all want to be considered creative. Some of us may want to come up with more ideas at work, others may want to tackle an artistic endeavor, while still others might just want to do better on the crossword puzzle. And yet we find ourselves hamstrung. Part of the reason is that many of us cling to the romanticized image of the “creative”—the lone figure toiling away to produce artistic works, fantastic ideas, or great inventions. But part of the reason is also our penchant for ignoring our “inner voice,” a critical component of creativity, as it would appear that being alone, being with our own thoughts,being bored, makes most of us very uncomfortable—in a University of Virginia and Harvard University study, researchers found that a group of college students could only be with their own thoughts for six minutes before resulting to administering themselves electric shocks to alleviate boredom.
So what can you do to cultivate your creativity? Well, first, you can jettison that romanticized image. Creativity isn’t just for one person or just one activity. We are all inherently creative. Second, you can practice at it. Although some people are naturally more creative than others, even they have to cultivate their talents. When you’ve done those two things, here are a few tips that can help boost your creative output:
- Create a “distraction free” zone—the main problem we have with being creative is that we are too easily distracted. From phones to computers, from text messages to Facebook, we always have something digital to do within arms reach. But did you know that being distracted interrupts a fundamental process in our brains called the Default Mode Network (DMN)? This process is active when we aren’t focused on anything externally (hint hint, with only our internal thoughts to keep us company). Research has shown that it’s a highly active state when our brain is busy sifting through all of the information it’s been collecting and doing what it does best: finding patterns. But to us, time spent in the DMN appears as if we are doing nothing at all (i.e., being bored) so we seek to exit it as quickly as possible. Creating a “distraction free zone” (getting away from your computer, turning off the music, putting the phone in a drawer) ensures that you can optimize this DMN time which, in turn, will provide you the most opportunity to foster creative thinking.
- Don’t write anything down—part of being creative is having a dialogue with yourself. That’s what the DMN promotes. When the DMN is active, it means you aren’t doing anything. It means you have nothing left in the world but your inner voice. The instant that you stop having that dialogue to write something down, you’ve exited out of the DMN and into conscious thought. So what can you do to capture all those creative ideas that are going to flow out of this time spent doing nothing? Memorize them. That’s right, part of a healthy creative process is a good memory. Learning to take ideas that bubble up during your brain’s time in the DMN and file them away for future use is a great way to improve your memory while promoting creativity at the same time.
- Talk out loud—just because you are having an internal monologue with yourself during the brain’s DMN time doesn’t mean you can’t be noisy about it! Talking out loud can actually help cognitive processes. Instead of working out an interesting problem or challenge with your internal voice, give it an actual voice and talk through it.
- Get some “alone” time—creativity and solitude are not unfamiliar bedfellows. There is a lot of research (and famous quotes) about the necessity of solitude or isolation for creative activity. Although I believe that creativity can happen at any time, the propensity for creative thought is directly related to the number of distractions. So finding alone time removes a lot of distractions from the mix and provides a much better chance of creating a “distraction free zone” which, in turn, lets the DMN take over and creativity to happen.
These aren’t the only ways to boost your creativity but they will help. As long as you don’t fight against your brain’s desire to return to the Default Mode Network, as long as you are willing to have a conversation with that internal voice, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to increase your creative output.
Do you have different ways to boost your creativity? I’d love to hear about them.