Have you ever noticed how creativity seems to come very naturally to some and not so much to others? It’s like some people are just born with it; like they just flip a switch and the eclectic, exciting, and unexpected ideas just start flowing. As a self-proclaimed left-side-of-brain-er, the creative types have always intrigued me.
I distinctly remember this from my undergraduate advertising classes. I would spend hours coming up with a mediocre campaign meanwhile my classmate would devote 30 minutes and somehow create a sheer masterpiece.
How does one just be creative like that? I thought, I thought, I thought some more and I was not any more creative than when I started thinking. In the words of the New York Times best-selling author Eric Jerome Dickey, “it’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.“ Was I unknowingly inhibiting myself?
An article by the Stanford Medicine News Center explains that “sometimes a deliberate attempt to be creative may not be the best way to optimize your creativity.” In other words, “the more you think about it, the more you mess it up.”
For those of us who do aspire to be more creative, is there something we can do besides think about wanting to be more creative? USAToday explains that while creativity is, in fact, more inherent for some, the brain can be exercised or taught to be more creative for others. They go on to say that “the brain is a creativity machine [and that we] just need to know how to manipulate [the] software to make it work.”
Here are some of their tips to do just that:
1 – Expand the imagination by dabbling in the “what if” scenarios
Counterfactual thinking, as this is called, is defined as the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred. By asking yourself those counterfactual “what if” questions, you start a process of ideation that can bring about new possibilities and perspectives you had not previously considered. What if I changed one thing, what would the outcome have been? Maybe it would even prompt the curiosity to try that one thing, just one more time.
2 – Allow yourself the time to think and daydream
Although it may seem like letting your mind wander is unproductive, studies show it’s the opposite. According to the Huffington Post, brains that are wandering are actually in a highly engaged state. They go on to explain that, “daydreaming is a way to ‘dip into [your] inner stream of consciousness,’ and personally reflect on the world and visualize the future [and that] this sort of impromptu introspection can even help us to find the answers to life’s big questions.”
3 – Practice relaxing your inner self-critic
The story of the great American inventor Thomas Edison is one of (dare I say it?) failures. Many know his famous quote,
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Imagine if he didn’t have that attitude and gave into self-criticism around his failed attempts at innovation. Our lives certainly would not be as bright as they are today.
4 – Get some sleep
It’s no secret that some companies are starting to embrace the idea that more sleep = healthier and more productive employees. Some of them, including the up and coming Uber, are even starting to provide onsite-napping facilities for employees to recharge. Did you also know that more sleep promotes a more creative workforce? According to Fast Company, REM sleep improves the creative process more than any other state—asleep or awake. Close your eyes to boost your creativity.
Awfully simple, isn’t it?
Case and point: the next time you think you want to unleash your creativity, don’t think about it too much. Challenge the mindset behind Descartes’ philosophy “I think, therefore I am.” After all, in the words of the later German psychologist Erich Fromm, “creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
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I Think, Therefore I Am – Creative. Or Am I?