January is International Creativity Month, an opportunity to increase and explore your creativity and innovative spark. You can also celebrate the creativity of your colleagues, family and friends. I recently stumbled across this fun fact myself, while researching ways to ramp up creativity in the brain. Incidentally, that’s one of the cool things about creativity — when you seek, you find. As with gratitude or courage, when you open your mind to it, it spurs you to discover more of it in yourself, others, and the world around you.
You may think of creativity as something you have to be born with, or as a strength attributed to certain individuals. You may think creativity is domain of geniuses: famous artists, inventors, musicians, writers, philosophers — people at the top of the creativity ladder who deliver entertainment, art, and innovative breakthroughs to consumers in the general population. But everyone is creative to a certain degree.The truth is you can build your creativity in everyday life, and use it to maintain enthusiasm and emotional resiliency.
When you’re facing change, problems or stressors, try viewing them as opportunities to become more creative. When you envision opportunities, it opens your mind to possibilities and positive outcomes. And because you’re shifting your focus away from problems alone, and onto solutions, you might even have some fun during the process.
Here are a few simple ways to increase your creativity:
Immerse Yourself in Nature. Life in our modern world is filled with distractions like TV, cellphones, computers…not to mention leaf blowers, car alarms, and traffic noise, including the wail of police, fire and ambulance sirens. All of this takes a toll on what scientists call attentional resources. According to a research article in Public Library of Science (PLOS), the brain’s prefrontal cortex-mediated executive attentional system, the part that engages with technology, multitasking and staying focused on the goal at hand, can become depleted from dealing with all those incoming status updates, emails and calls. The good news is: interactions with nature are very effective at restoring the executive attentional system of the brain.
Research suggests that another benefit of exposure to nature engages what is called “default mode” networks of the brain— so your mind can be open to introspection, contemplation, and soft fascination. Modern society is loaded with sudden, sharp interruptions and distractions, even when you’re giving all your energy to completing a project or task. If you’ve been sitting at your desk for hours, and are starting to feel burnt out, you’ll benefit from a trip to a park, hiking trail, botanical garden or anywhere you can feast your eyes, ears and other senses on nature. And while you’re there, stay off your phone! In a natural setting, you can recharge and get in touch with your creative, contemplative center.
The PLOS research article reports that in the study sample of 56 adults involved in Outward Bound expeditions, “…four days immersed in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity problem-solving task in a full 50% of hikers…”
Fifty percent! That’s an excellent payoff for a walk in the park or a picnic under a shade tree — as long as there’s a corresponding disconnection from media and tech. Of course, the study did focus on four days of immersion in nature, but even a five percent increase would be vital to your performance. And if you make a practice of spending time in a natural setting every day, or three days a week, on a regular basis over a year, you’ll definitely see results. So drop that phone and go hug a tree.
Get Some Distance: Think About Distant Things. Creativity means thinking outside the box, especially if the box is far away in time or space. Social psychologists have discovered that creativity may change depending on situation and context. Psychological distance helps you to get better at innovation and problem solving. Scientific American, in an article entitled, An Easy Way to Increase Creativity states:
According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance: “Anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the ‘psychologically distant category. It’s also possible to induce a state of ‘psychological distance’ simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely.”
You can establish psychological distance by thinking about another time or place. For instance, what if you won a hundred million dollars in the lottery ten years ago — where would you be today? Think: New Year’s Eve, Antartica, 2025, then put together a story around it. Let your mind wander. Have fun. Or you can create a scenario from the distant past. Try a few different ways, and see what works for you. You can also travel to distant places, plan a trip, or learn about events in history or prehistory that stimulate your creative flow. Imagine the distant future. Make it fun.
Meditate. Mindfulness is a wonderful and relaxing way to strengthen your creative spark. Meditation promotes divergent thinking, the state of mind where creativity happens.
Writing — The Old-Fashioned Way. Carrie Barron, M.D., and Alton Barron, M.D., authors of The Creativity Cure, recommend jotting things down by hand, with a pen and paper, to stimulate creativity. Next time you find yourself stalled at the keyboard, grab your notepad and give it a try.
Look at the Sky on a Clear Day. Research has shown that looking at the color blue boosts creativity, while red stimulates attention to detail.
There you go! Now you’ve got a few more days left to observe International Creativity Month. But you can exercise your creativity muscles any day of the year. And while you’re creating, remember to have fun!