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How to Encourage Creative Thinking Using Science

23 November 2017
Freelance Survival

How to Encourage Creative Thinking Using Science

Who knew that you can actually teach yourself to be more creative? That’s right! By the power of science, you can train your brain to think creatively just like you can learn all sorts of skills.

As a designer, you’re clearly a creative person already. However, these regular habits could help you unlock another level of creative thinking and prevent you from getting creative block so often.

Some of these are activities for you to do daily, or actually while you’re working. Others require a little more effort and you should just attempt to do them as often as you can. Even if you can only manage a couple of these ideas, your creative thinking is set to surge.

1.    Exercise More

As if you needed another reason to get off the sofa! As well as benefitting you in so many other ways, exercising can also boost your creativity.

Here’s the science. In your brain, you have an area called the hippocampus. This area is largely involved in forming long term memories but it is also involved in imagination.

Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, stimulates the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is responsible for encouraging new brain cell growth in the hippocampus. So, by exercising, you are basically encouraging your imagination facility to grow.

2.    Read More

Unlike watching films and TV, reading forces you to engage in your imagination. With a book, you have to create your own visuals and sound effects within your own mind. You can see the results of this in neurological studies.

Reading has been found to improve connectivity within the brain and therefore improve functioning for all sorts of skills. Specifically, improved connectivity is found in an area of the brain related to our ability to imagine ourselves in another’s shoes.

It would seem that, when we read, we imagine ourselves as the protagonist and our mind finds solutions to fictional problems. So, reading can train your mind to find creative solutions to your own, real-life, problems.

3.    Stay Positive

According to Ruby Nadler from the University of Western Ontario, “positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking.” She conducted a study in which participants were put into positive or negative moods and then asked to complete a problem solving task. Those who were in a positive mood performed better.

So, when you’re sitting down to come up with creative solutions, make sure you’re feeling happy! Put on some music you love, watch funny videos on YouTube, or take some time out to meditate if that’s your thing.

4.    Daydream

Here’s something that will make you feel better next time you realise you’ve spent the last 10 minutes in a daze, not working. It turns out, daydreaming does not necessarily mean you’re being unproductive.

Kalina Christoff, lead researcher and professor of psychology at University of British Columbia, thinks that daydreaming is underrated. She says that. “Mind-wandering is typically characterised as thoughts that stray from what you’re doing…but we believe this definition is limited in that it doesn’t capture the dynamics of thought.”

Basically, she’s saying that leaving your mind free to explore your more unusual thoughts is good for you. In moderation, of course, you do actually have to get your head down and do some work at some point!

5.    Start Asking “What If…”

Ever find yourself wondering how your life might be different if one little moment had gone differently? No? Well, you should.

Counterfactual thinking, or ‘imagining alternative scenarios to events that have already happened’, has been found to enhance performance on creative tasks. Specifically, additive counter factual thinking, where you imagine what could have been added to a past situation, is thought to give our creative thinking a quick boost.

6.    Have Some Background Noise

Some people say that they cannot work without music while others say that they cannot work with it. But what if it wasn’t a question of listening to music exactly, just the general ambient noise of life going on around you?

One study has found that there’s a sweet spot for noise volume that can encourage creative cognition. A moderate level of ambient noise (approximately 70dB) can slightly increase processing difficulty which forces you to process information in a more abstract manner. However, ambient noise at a high volume (approximately 85dB) increases difficulty too far and this impairs creativity.

So, why not head to a café or simple open the window (if it’s not too cold) and let the sounds of the world wash over you?

7.    Engage in another Culture

 So far, a lot of these techniques have involved imagining yourself in strange situations – think how effective it would be to actually be in a strange situation. Travelling to foreign countries, interacting with people who speak a different language and practice a different culture is not an everyday situation.

In one study, students who went abroad returned home with significantly improved scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking in comparison to students who stayed at home. It is thought that the number of novel experiences they faced while away encouraged them to respond creatively and unlocked their innovative thinking.

It’s worth noting, however, that just going abroad won’t necessarily do you any good. You need to go somewhere they speak a different language to you and have a different culture. Plus, you need to really get in and engage with these people, not just observe them.

These methods are all activities that you can practice in your day to day life to encourage creative thinking. If you’ve hit a wall on a particular project, take a look at our blog all about the different kinds of creative block and how you can work past them.


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