It happens at the worst times.
Most notably: when you’ve thought up or been handed an unfathomable project with a fast-approaching due date and your mind goes blank. Your creativity vanishes and you panic. What if you can’t get out of your slump? What if you can’t break through the brick wall holding your imagination and productivity hostage? We can’t all be the creative genius that is Don Draper.
Facing my own bit of writers’ block, I scoured the internet this week to find ways in which I could spark my creativity. NPR’s Sarah Zielinski explains in 5 Ways to Spark your Creativity that neurologists and psychologists haven’t been able figure out the exact science behind the creative spark, but they have learned that its triggers are often quite simple. My favorite are below:
1. Many admit that their best ideas (and vocal renditions*) occur in the shower. Why? Completing a seemingly mindless activity – like showering or driving – allows the brain to reset. Zielinski cites an upcoming study in Psychological Science in which study participants given a demanding task during a break period had a far more difficult time solving creativity problems than those who were given a simpler task or no task at all. I’d like to think of it as building up creativity juices; Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creative Works, more eloquently states that we come up with our best ideas only when we stop searching for them.
The Psychological Science study also hypothesizes that completing mindless tasks may “allow two different brain networks that aren’t usually turned on at the same time to be active.” Whatever the psychological reasoning, it might be worth investing in some Crayola Bathtub Markers or Aquanotes to capture awesome ideas.
2. If taking a long shower doesn’t spur you creativity, dry off, put some clothes on, and work in a blue room. That’s right – working in a blue room is proven to boost creativity due to its calming and peaceful presence. A 2009 study determined whether cognitive performance varied when participants performed tasks with words or images displayed on a red, blue, or neutral background. The NYT reported that “Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention to detail, like remembering words or checking spelling and punctuation. Blue groups did better on tests requiring imagination, like inventing creative uses for a brick or creating toys from shapes.” Where red makes us anxious and focused, blue relaxes us and allows our imaginations to get to work.
3. What’s better than working in a blue room? Working in a blue room with a positive atmosphere. From listening to mood-boosting music to watching funny videos, a “positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem-solving and flexible yet careful thinking” according to Ruby Nadler of the University of Western Ontario. Why? Mark Beeman of Northwestern University says that the anterior cingulate cortex – the part of the brain linked to decision-making and emotion – is activated by these positive vibes. This activation may prompt new ways of looking at things.
How do you get your creative juices flowing? What methods would you recommend to those of us in a slump?
(*The answer to why your shower rendition of Call Me Maybe sounds so good in the shower can be found here.)