As a creative, you’ll know just how frustrating it can be when you’re struggling to have good ideas. Whether you’re trying to solve a problem, overcome a challenge, or simply brainstorm some fresh new concepts, sometimes that lightbulb moment can feel annoyingly elusive.
If you’ve experienced this and want to know how to overcome it, you’re in luck. Scientists have described four surprising ways you can help to boost your creativity, and the secret lies in your neurobiology.
In the early 2000s, neuroscientist Mark Beeman and cognitive psychologist John Kounios studied how research participants approached a variety of word puzzles. They used an electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see what was happening in the participants’ brains as they solved the challenges.
This showed them that a very specific area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) tended to become very active when the participants first viewed the problems that they later solved using creative thinking and insight.
We now know that when your ACC is active, your brain is much more receptive to new and innovative ideas. It’s this openness to the unusual that puts you in the right frame of mind to come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems.
So how can you help your ACC to kick in when you’re experiencing a creative block? Here are four activities that can help to boost your creativity when you need it most.
Practising gratitude on a daily basis has many benefits for your mental health and wellbeing. The reason it’s so good for you is because it helps you to tune in to the positives in your life.
Humans tend to be wired to seek out negatives; your brain is always on the lookout for threats or danger so that it can keep you safe. It was a great survival mechanism back when we lived in caves and had to hunt for our food. But nowadays, it mostly leaves us feeling anxious and grumpy if left unchecked.
When you take time every day to reflect on the good things that have happened and the things that bring you joy, you can reduce feelings of overwhelm or anxiety. This naturally leads to more optimism and a better mood, which incidentally helps that valuable ACC to shine.
When you’re in a good mood, your brain is better able to process new information, helping you to solve problems and, by extension, be more creative.
You can start getting into this habit by keeping a daily gratitude journal. It doesn’t need to be extensive, and you don’t even need to use full sentences, but try to write down three things you are grateful for each evening. Review your list when you wake up in the morning to set the tone for the day and carry that happy feeling with you into your work.
Mindfulness is the process of slowing down and being more present. It’s about enjoying life in the moment, rather than constantly thinking about the next task, deadline, or challenge. Mindfulness has become a popular movement in the UK in recent years because of all the benefits it can bring to your physical and mental health.
So how do you stop your mind from racing ahead, and instead focus on the present moment?
One way to do this is with food. Next time you sit down to enjoy a meal or a snack, rather than tucking in without thinking, take a moment before you begin eating to consider the aroma and the look of the food on your plate. When you take your first bite, focus on the flavours you can taste and the texture of the food you are eating.
Another task that might help is one that you can do while exercising. Next time you take yourself for a walk around the block, instead of letting your mind wander, focus on all the things you can sense. What can you hear, what colours can you see, and how do your legs and feet feel as you take each step?
When you take the time to notice these sensations and bring yourself into the present moment, you start to put space between your thoughts and your reactions to them. In turn, this helps your brain to take more time to consider new possibilities rather than dismissing them immediately.
Exercise is a bit of a “miracle drug” when it comes to giving your brain everything it needs to thrive.
When you exercise, you allow your body to flush cortisol – the stress hormone – out of your system. This will quickly lower your stress levels and allow you to feel more relaxed as you turn your attention to your work.
As well as flushing out the cortisol that is likely holding back those good ideas, exercise also helps your body release feel-good hormones. Things like endorphins and dopamine are known to instantly lift your mood, which in turn will help your ACC to work more effectively.
In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, taking time and space away from your desk also helps you to mull ideas over, giving you a fresh perspective when you return.
You’re probably already aware of just how detrimental a bad night’s sleep can be for your creativity. When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep is of poor quality, it’s much more difficult to think clearly because you have less energy. When energy levels are low, your brain is more concerned with conserving energy than having great ideas.
On the other hand, when you’ve had a good night’s sleep, your energy levels will be high enough to lift your mood, instantly activating your ACC.
Sleep is also the time when the brain processes and consolidates your memories and takes time to make sense of your experiences from the previous day. This process is vital for giving your brain the extensive bank of resources it needs to find solutions to problems.
So, while it may not be the most exciting task, getting into a healthy sleep routine is one of the best things you can do to keep the creative juices flowing. You can achieve this by going to bed early, taking a bath or shower in the evening, and keeping your bedroom dark and cool, ideally leaving any devices like your phone or laptop in a different room so that the blue light doesn’t keep you awake.
With these techniques, a creative block need never hinder your work, but sometimes there are things outside of your control that do. If you’d like to make sure your business is protected from the financial cost of unforeseen circumstances, we can help you to find the right insurance for you.