1.) Restrict yourself
The research shows that an insidious problem that many people have is that they will often take the path of “least mental resistance,” building on ideas they already have or trying to use every resource at hand.
The thing is, the research also suggests the placing self-imposed limitations can boost creativity because it forces even creative people to work outside of their comfort zone (which they still have, even if they are a bit “weirder” than most).
2.) Re-conceptualize the problem
One thing that researchers have noticed with especially creative people is that they tend to re-conceptualize the problem more often than their less creative counterparts.
That means, instead of thinking of a cut-and-dry end goal to certain situations, they sit back and examine the problem in different ways before beginning to work.
3.) Create psychological distance
While it’s long been known that abstaining from a task is useful for breaking through a creative block, it also seems that creating “psychological” distance may also be useful.
Subjects in this study were able to solve twice as many insight problems when asked to think about the source of the task as distant, rather than it being close in proximity.
Try to imagine your creative task as being disconnected and distant from your current position/location. According to this research, this may make the problem more accessible and can encourage higher level thinking.
4.) Daydream… and then get back to work!
Although study after study confirms that daydreaming and napping can help with the creative thought process, there is one piece of research that everybody seems to leave out…
One study in particular shows that the less work you’ve done on a problem, the less daydreaming will help you.
That is, daydreaming and incubation are most effective on a project you’ve already invested a lot of creative effort into.
So before you try to use naps and daydreams as an excuse for not working, be honest with yourself and don’t forget to hustle first!
5.) Embrace something absurd
Research suggests that reading/experiencing something absurd or surreal can help boost pattern recognition and creative thinking.
(Subjects in the study read Franz Kafka, but even stories like Alice in Wonderland have been suggested by psychologists)
The conclusion was that the mind is always seeking to make sense of the things that it sees, and surreal/absurd art puts the mind in “overdrive” for a short period while it tries to work out just exactly what it is looking at or reading.
I like reading interesting short stories like The Last Question or browsing absurdist art at places like r/HeavyMind when I’m looking for some inspiration.
6.) Separate work from consumption
Also known as the “absorb state,” this technique has been shown to help with the incubation process and is far more effective than trying to combine work with creative thinking.
It makes sense too — we are often in two very different states of mind when absorbing an activity and when we are trying to create something.
I’ve found that my writing breaks down when I try to handle research + writing at the same time, and I’m much better off when I just turn off my “work mode” and consume more inspiration in the form of reading, watching, and observing.
7.) Create during a powerful mood
For a long time, the research has pointed to happiness as being the ideal state to create in.
Recently though, a relatively new study (2007) on creativity in the workplace made this bold conclusion:
Creativity increased when both positive and negative emotions were running high…
The implication seems to be that while certain negative moods can be creativity killers, they aren’t as universal as positive moods (joy, being excited, love, etc) in that sometimes they may spur creative thinking rather than hinder it.
Try to sit down and focus that energy on creating something, the end result could be worthwhile.
8.) Get moving
Is there any wonder that ‘Exercising more” is one of the most desiredgood habits in the entire world?
Some research even suggests that exercise can actually boost creative thinking as well, due to it’s ability to get the heart pumping and put people in a positive mood. It’s similar to how other research shows that thinking about love can produce more creative thoughts; it’s not necessarily the act, it’s the change in mood.
If you’re stuck in a creative rut and want to take a break, try including exercise while your brain is subconsciously at work, it may help to speed up your “Aha!” moment.