Is it possible to be more creative? | Day 328

My creativity has hit rock bottom. I did assemble an IKEA bookshelf today, but there was nothing creative about that – just strictly following rules, lest I end up with a teetering construction of upside-down drawers.1

Writing a daily blog is a creative endeavour, so naturally I’ve been struggling a bit. However, I did read this article on the neuroscience of creativity and what’s called the ‘eureka factor’ or ‘aha moment’. It has nothing to do with how to be a more consistent writer, but there was science involved, so I’m sharing it here.

Sometimes, when you look at a problem, the solution comes in a flash. Try this classic remote associates word problem, where you have to figure out which one word links these three: sense/courtesy/place.2 To simplify, you can come to the solution in two ways – either by a flash of insight, or piece-by-piece analytical word matching and discarding, until one fits all three.

According to neuroscientists Mark Beeman and John Kounios, this corresponds to two ‘cognitive styles’, if you will – an analytical and an insightful one. Depending on the kind of problem you have, one approach has benefits over the other. But while analytical thinking is built upon incremental logical steps, insight is more “like a cat” because you can’t order it around. It either comes, or it doesn’t – but, just like with cats, you can make the environment more inviting.

According to the researchers, there are (at least) eight things you can do to put your mind in a more creative state:

  1. Foster a positive mood to let unconscious ideas flow more freely
  2. Be in wide, open spaces to encourage your attention to widen
  3. Avoid sharp objects to decrease the amount of perceived threat
  4. Surround yourself with colours that don’t concentrate the attention
  5. Take breaks in order to give your brain a chance to sift through other information
  6. Get enough sleep
  7. Do nothing so that your unconscious can unravel a bit
  8. Take a shower

This list comes from an interview on the Washington Post, and you can find a lot of the science behind it on Kounios’ website.

Personally I don’t think any of this is groundbreaking stuff – creative types are known to like walking outdoors and taking breaks in order to shake loose the tight analytical focus on a particular problem. But the neuroscience that strives to explain why these ‘creativity hacks’ work is quite interesting.

Bonus: If you want to do some more remote associates problems, here you go.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. The bookshelf is fine.
  2. Yup, it’s ‘common’.

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