Allow your creativity to “flow” without judgment.
Do you ever wonder how some people are able to tap into creative “flow” almost at will, producing works of art, written masterpieces and new ideas, at the drop of a hat? Are they wired differently than the rest of us? They very well could be.
A study out of Harvard University published some interesting findings about the brain and the creative process. Researchers studying the brain scans of people who were asked to come up with inventive uses for everyday objects, discovered a specific pattern of brain connectivity that matched the most creative responses. The scientists were then able to use that connectivity pattern to reliably predict how creative responses would be, based on the connections in this network. “What this shows is that the creative brain is wired differently,” said Roger Beaty, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Psychology and the first author of the study. “People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.”
Any way you look at it, the creative process is complex. Creativity comes in all shapes and forms, and is a necessary part of the problem-solving process. Yet everyone has the capacity to be creative — we are all born creators.
But how can we flex our creative muscle? One way is to try new things or consider new ways around a project or a problem. And, don’t be afraid of failure. The ‘ah-ha’ moments are often born out of navigating unfamiliar territory. When you are open, and in the creativity “zone,” remarkable things can happen. The mind is an incredibly powerful force. The trick is learning how to get into your own “flow state” on a regular and reliable basis.
If you are feeling stuck, try the following to ignite your creative fires, once again:
1. Ask questions.
Allow your mind to wander when you feel stuck, and engage in the spirit of playful curiosity. When you are inquisitive about something, the mind anticipates the creation of new ideas. Curiosity serves to feed the imagination for the further elaboration of a fundamental idea. Ask yourself questions such as, “How can I make this better? How can I make this a success?” “Who — or what — can help me?” When you ask yourself open-ended questions your unconscious mind tends to deliberate various answers, silently and stealthily. Then one day, it is possible that you may “wake up” and have the answer. The key is to allow your creativity to flow without judgment. Appreciative Inquiry is a tried and tested process that can help you get unstuck.
2. Give yourself a “prompt.”
Let’s say you’re a tea drinker, and every morning you make yourself a pot of English Breakfast. Once that pot of tea appears on the counter, or the cup of tea is on your desk, you make that your “prompt” to start writing, problem-solving, or creating. They key is, it has to be something you enjoy in order to ignite the dopamine pathways — or reward system — in the brain. When the prompt appears, your brain begins to recognize it has to act and it becomes routine. Your prompt can be anything beneficial; a cup of tea, a latte, particular music, a smoothie — what ever acts as a healthy reward to incite action.
3. Mix it up.
Challenge your brain by consciously changing your daily habits. For example, if you walk daily — change your route. Mix it up with short spurts of running — or try walking backward for short bursts — to unblock creativity. Toss judgment and worry aside and introduce a sense of newness into your usual routines.
Try journaling and creating a daily gratitude list. Another tried and true method of boosting creativity is through “morning pages,” wherein you take the time in the early hours to write stream of consciousness thoughts, on a regular basis. Strive for an average of three pages per day and see what happens. Many creative types swear by this practice to keep them in “flow.”
Problem solving begins by quieting the mind. Close your eyes. Tune into the breath. Notice your thoughts, without halting them — and bring your focus to the rhythm of your breath. Mindfulness meditation can help you stay in the moment and become more keenly aware of distractions. Creativity lives in the present moment.
Maya Angelo summed it up best, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
*Original version of this post on Inc.com