Wouldn’t it be great if creativity had an “on” and “off” switch?
In the mornings, we could groggily make our way towards the coffee pot, enjoy our breakfast, pack ourselves a well-balanced lunch. Then, in our own time, we could fire up our creative flow. It would probably prove so effective that an eight hour work day would no longer be a necessity. Two to four short hours of rapidly flowing, and uninterrupted, creative juices would surely satisfy our to-do list on any given day.
But alas, this switch does not (yet) exist, and creativity may be the ficklest of all fickle friends. Luckily though, science does have our backs with a handful of tried-and-true tricks proven to stimulate that ever-elusive creative genius inside each of us.
So whether you’re writing the next great American novel, or executing on a masterful, Nike-rivaling marketing pitch, read up on these tips to give your creativity a much needed push in the right direction.
Write three ‘morning pages’
I adopted Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages ritual this year, and this technique has quickly become a much-loved morning ritual. The idea is to write three, stream of consciousness pages directly after opening your eyes in the morning. Why so early? According to Cameron, “You’re trying to catch yourself before your ego’s defences are in place.”
Various studies have found that people are most creative when they are groggy. Personally, I’ve found that writing first thing in the morning allows me to pen all of my fears and emotions into my notebook. That way, they’re in plain sight, right in front of me — rather than running around in circles (screaming) in my mind.
Get out and sweat
Looking for yet another reason to exercise? Here it is — sweating it out before work may actually help stimulate your creativity. According to New York University neuroscientist, Wendy Suzuki, exercise can stimulate the hippocampus — our imagination powerhouse.
In addition, exercise has been consistently linked with better sleep and mood, and reduced stress and anxiety. This super-charged combination creates a clear path for whatever creative endeavor we have next up on our docket. So next time your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and you consider hitting snooze instead of hitting the gym, let the promise of a creative boost roust you out of bed.
While there’s yet to be thorough scientific research behind dream journaling, many great artists have gleaned their best ideas while sleeping. Here are a few examples:
• The idea for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, originated from Nolan’s own lucid dreams.
• The melody for the Beatles song “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney in a dream.
Stephanie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” series, first envisioned the much loved meadow scene in a particularly “dazzling” dream (twilight jokes, anyone?).
• Dmitry Mendeleyev dreamt of an “arrangement of elements” that would become the Periodic Table of Elements.
Just think of all the brilliant ideas that you may have forgotten in the transition from sleeping to waking. By jotting your dreams down first thing in the a.m., you will more easily remember all the details and emotions behind them. Who knows what may be lingering in your dreams? The next “Harry Potter”? A viral YouTube dance trend? Technology that will finally allow you to put your fitted sheet on your bed without struggle?
The possibilities are endless. Plus, this whole “dreaming creativity” thing gives you a legitimate excuse to spend more time unconscious.
Try ‘open-monitoring meditation’
This particular meditation practice invites you to watch your thoughts attentively, not engaging with them, but not dismissing them either. Multiple studies using Alternate Use Task (AUT) — a technique used “to objectively measure the generation of new ideas” — found this form of meditation to boost creativity exponentially.
So if you’re prepping for a creatively demanding day ahead, tune into this four-minute meditation before settling into your desk and powering on your laptop.
Read a chapter of fiction while sipping your morning coffee
For many book lovers, the sacred reading ritual is usually reserved for winding down at night before you doze off. But science says it might be time to integrate a novel or two into our morning routine as well.
A recent study conducted by the University of Toronto concluded that habitual readers felt less desire for cognitive closure — the “human desire to eliminate ambiguity and arrive at definite conclusions.” So people who read often are more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, allowing them to stimulate their creativity.
Take a shower
Okay, so we all know we’re in an environmental crisis here. But we’ll just have to swallow our guilt in the name of creativity. Taking a hot shower not only provides an energetic boost for your day, it also releases dopamine — a neurotransmitter responsible for stimulating your creativity.
Don’t forget your notebook as you head in for a nice steam, or better yet, invest in this “Aqua Notes” Notepad that conveniently sticks to the inside of your shower. We’re so sorry for what’s about to happen to your water bill, but hey — throw in a workout session pre-shower and perhaps you won’t feel so guilty about letting your ideas marinate during this indulgent, morning ritual.
Spend time with nature
Those of us who inhabit green climates, rather than the concrete jungle, have a leg up on creativity. According to David Strayer of the University of Utah, “People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years — from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers. Now, we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”
Indeed, the studies are unanimous: Spending time in nature is linked with lower stress levels, increased happiness, and spikes in generosity. Research has also shown some similar benefits to experiencing nature in other capacities. So if your fifth floor walk-up isn’t blessed with a backyard (or even near a park), consider investing in some house plants or even pictures or artwork depicting natural scenery.