At one time or another, you may have found yourself staring at a blank page, struggling to find a solution or simply longing for a burst of inspiration.
Surely you could grasp that great idea you were searching for, if only you could spark a creative thought. But you can’t simply generate creativity, can you?
To some degree, you can.
Scientists have found numerous ways to boost creativity, so if you really want to get those ideas flowing, read on for a little inspiration.
1. Spend time in nature.
A University of Kansas study found that unplugging and heading outdoors increased creativity by 50 percent.
Psychologist Ruth Ann Atchley led the study and found that creativity peaked among 56 backpackers after three days in the wilderness.
"It's when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works,” she said in a news release.
2. Don’t work in silence.
A little ambient noise — the patter of rain, some coffeehouse chatter — can help you think more creatively, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.
When participants brainstormed ideas for new products while exposed to varying levels of background noise, researchers found that people performed best when the sounds were at about 70 decibels.
Luckily, you don’t have to go to a coffee shop or track down a rainstorm to reap the benefits of ambient noise. Websites like ASoftMurmur can bring the noise right to your headphones.
Never underestimate the power of a new experience to free your mind. (Photo: LoloStock/Shutterstock)
Our neural pathways are influenced by our environment and how we interact with it, so when we enter a new environment — with new languages, sights, scents and sounds — it has an effect on the brain. However, simply traveling to a new location — no matter how exotic — won’t get those creative juices flowing.
“The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation,” writes Adam Galinsky, who has conducted numerous studies on the connection between international travel and creativity. “Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”
In other words, taking a vacation to an all-exclusive Jamaican resort where you don’t venture outside the hotel walls isn’t going to be as effective as exploring the island and interacting with locals.
4. Get the blues.
Surrounding yourself with the color blue may help you think outside the box.
A University of British Columbia study of 600 people found that when participants performed cognitive tasks on a computer with a blue screen (instead of a red one), they produced twice as many creative outputs.
Juliet Zhu, who conducted the study, says that colors cause different unconscious motivations because of learned associations.
"Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility,” she writes. “The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people's favorite color."5. Daydream.
While you may want to focus on the task at hand, letting your mind wander can also be beneficial.
University of California researchers found an association between daydreaming and creative problem solving. When study participants completed an undemanding task that allowed their minds to wander, they performed better on creative tasks afterward.
So the next time you’re stumped, do the dishes, shower or engage in another unchallenging task and let your thoughts take you where they want.
6. Take a walk.
Stanford University students who walked instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking, such as suggesting alternate uses for common objects and creating analogies for complex ideas.
The study of 176 students found that creativity increased in both those participants who took a walk outside and those who walked around a building.
Don't diss the doodler in your office. (Photo: Volt Collection/Shutterstock)
You may think of doodling as something that simply helps pass the time during dull classes or meetings, but Sunni Brown says doodling stimulates visual thinking and creativity.
She even teaches “applied visual thinking,” or doodling, to professionals to help them gain “neurological access that you don’t have when you’re in linguistic mode.”
Brown recommends certain doodling exercises to help think outside the box and make unexpected connections, such as creating visual displays of a sequence of events or taking two unrelated items and sketching them fused together.
8. Take a power nap.
Research shows that a 20-minute nap can increase activity in the right side of the brain, an area associated with problem-solving and creative thinking.
The key is to slip into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, according to a University of California study. REM sleep stimulates associative networks, enabling the brain to make new associations among unrelated ideas.
9. Think like a child.
Researchers at North Dakota State University took a group of undergraduates and divided them into two groups. One group was given the following instructions: “You are 7 years old, and school is canceled. You have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?”
Students in the other group were given the same instructions except they weren’t told they were 7-year-olds.
Both groups were then given creativity tests, and the students who imagined themselves as kids scored higher on all the tasks, coming up with twice as many ideas as the other group.