Learning how to be more creative

Whether you’re writing, making an artistic project, or in a Men's Shed crafting items from wood, the creativity required for these activities can be learned.

Creativity is making an original association between unrelated ideas, and there are a number of ways to help your brain achieve that.

Instead of looking for patterns within a specific field of study (which is what linear thinkers are really good at), creative thinkers are able to find patterns between seemingly disparate fields to make these original associations.

One exercise you can enjoy is being open to new experiences. Partly because you’ll have a larger mental library of disparate information that could be brought together in some way, but you’ll also be more psychologically open to the concept of actually making these new associations in your mind.

Have you ever felt or heard of this scenario? ‘I was doing (or witnessing) A, and it occurred to me that this could be applied to B’.

That is an original association, and these are more likely to occur when you keep having new experiences.

These can be as involved as learning a language or instrument, or as simple as meeting (and interacting with) new people. New places, new foods, new music, new puzzles, a new sport, discovering about new topics and many other things all count as new experiences.

Other research shows that you’ll come up with creative ideas faster when you’re relaxed (and not really trying), so don’t forget to take breaks. It’s also been suggested this is why some good ideas come to people in the shower. Whatever the source of relaxation, this ties in with linear versus creative thinking. Richard Fisher wrote in New Scientist “If a person’s mind is wandering, they outperform their peers in a range of tasks where flashes of insight are important, from imaginative word games to exercises in original thinking and invention.”

Along similar lines, going for a walk is good for creativity. A 2014 Stanford study said “walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity on the GAU [Guilford Alternate Uses, a test of creativity that looks at divergent thinking]”.

You also need to see green more often. Literally. A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin during 2012 showed that “A brief glimpse of green prior to a creativity task enhances creative performance.” By contrast, blue and yellow can have a mellowing effect and may lower creativity.

So do people living adjacent to national parks become more creative as a byproduct of their environment, or have I just made an original association?

Can you get the creative triple boost of a relaxing walk among greenery? Probably. A round of golf or time in the garden could help too.

Elsewhere, having sense and order in your working space can be good for productivity (not wasting time looking for things), but a disorderly environment is better for creative thinking.

Partly this is from breaking the mindset of convention (having everything in its place), but it may also be partly due to the workspace looking a bit different each time you approach it, as well as having to go through the process of finding things, during which time you come across other items and make new associations as a result. Can you relate to this? ‘I was looking for A, came across B which I’d long forgotten about, and thought of C’.

Also on the topic of mindset, not caring about fitting in, even a desire to stand out, is also a helpful trait for creativity. With writing for instance, it has been said there’s no such thing as writer’s block, only the fear of thinking you’re not good enough. Like an alternate version of stage fright, overcoming that fear of what others will think of your work helps creativity.

Meanwhile, if you need to do some creative design thinking – making a child’s toy for instance – going through a four-step process of clarify, ideate, develop and implement can be useful, and you may find yourself already doing so even without us having named them.

Clarify what solution you require (eg. safe, durable and fun child’s toy). Ideate means listing as many solutions as you can (what toys could you make?). Develop means thinking through the practicalities of each potential solution (are they good ideas or does the idea create a problem that can’t easily be solved?). Finally, implement means making the design which you deem to be best.

Ideas: Green is a useful colour to see just before, or during, a creative task. Relaxation, new experiences and a desire to stand out all help with creativity as well.

Ideas: Green is a useful colour to see just before, or during, a creative task. Relaxation, new experiences and a desire to stand out all help with creativity as well.

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