Sep 8, 2014

Your Creativity Toolbox

If you’re struggling to come up with new and creative ideas at work or around the home, these tips can help you think outside the square.

Use ‘psychological distance’

study by researchers at Indiana University found that taking someone else’s perspective or thinking of the problem as if it were unreal or unlikely—called ‘psychological distance’—allowed participants to come up with more creative solutions. It followed a previous study that suggested the further away in time or distance the problem was, the more creative the solution was likely to be.

If you can’t travel to an exotic destination to brainstorm, you can still use psychological distance to enhance your creativity. Imagine the problem came from a faraway place, a distant future or an alternate reality. Consider how someone very different to you, or even someone from a different time, would respond.

Seek out noise and distraction

It may seem counterintuitive, but research shows that a moderate level of background noise distracts our flow of thought, which can lead to more abstract and creative thinking. According to the study, around 70 decibels is ideal—the equivalent to a radio or TV in the background or the chatter in a café. If the noise is too low or too high, it can hinder the creative process. If you’re stuck for ideas, try going to your local park or café for some stimulating noise.

Brainstorm when you’re tired

While challenging tasks that require attention to detail are best done at our peak time of day, creativity requires a wandering mind and so is best done outside these hours. One study found that we are more likely to be creative when we’re tired, as our minds are better at connecting random and unrelated thoughts. During this time, the brain struggles to filter out distractions and focus on one thing, which is not great for analytical tasks but wonderful for creativity. So if you’re a morning person, you’re more likely to get creative at night, while night owls are more likely to be creative first thing in the morning.

Stay positive

Researchers have found that a positive and supportive attitude can stimulate creativity. In onestudy, the feeling of love or even thinking about love was shown to encourage creative thinking. Try to boost your mood with exercise, thinking about a loved one or doing an activity you enjoy and you’ll likely benefit from a creative outlook too.

Surround yourself with music and colour

It’s no surprise that colour and music can influence our creativity. One study found that the colour red enhanced participants’ ability to complete detail-orientated tasks, while blue was best at enhancing their ability to think creatively. If you enjoy the outdoors, here’s good news: apparently even a glimpse of green can improve your creative performance.

The parts of our brain associated with emotions and creativity are activated when we listen tomusic, stimulating the mind-wandering mode of thinking that is important for unlocking creativity.Research shows that even people in technical roles, such as computer programmers, can use music to increase productivity, positivity and creativity.

How do you stimulate your creativity when you’re stuck on a problem? Do you have any tips to share?