Boost Your Creativity: 9 Surprising Ways to Generate New Ideas
Whether you're solving a problem at work, figuring out how to remodel your home, or trying to come up with something new to fix for dinner, you'd probably have an easier time if you had access to better ideas. Creativity is the art and science of generating these sorts of ideas, and nearly everyone wants to be more creative. (See also: 20+ Ways to Boost Creativity)
Improving creativity often involves knowing how your brain works best and utilizing techniques in your thinking that will allow access to your rich, most creative mindspace. While some aspects of creative thinking are different for everyone, many depend on how the brain itself works. If you're not sure how to jumpstart your creativity, try applying some of the brain hacks below.
Creativity requires dopamine. The more dopamine we have in our systems, the more creative we will be, and the better the ideas we will have. Dopamine is associated with activities that make us feel happy, full, and rested, like showering, exercising, sleeping, etc. That's why we often find that we have our best ideas in unexpected places — because those are the places where our brains are relaxing. (See also: Free Videos That Help You Relax)
2. Get Distracted
Along with relaxation, distraction often produces some of our best ideas. We often stew on the problems we're trying to find solutions for. When we don't come up with an answer, we walk away to do something else. And that is when we find the solution. New ideas often need an incubation period, where the connections being made in your subconscious can leap into your conscious brain. If you've been working on a problem for a while, try doing something else for a bit.
3. Let Your Brain Get Tired
When your brain is tired, it doesn't filter things as well. One result is that in this less focused, less sharp state, our brains are free to room and make new connections. Since a huge part of having new ideas is simply letting your old ideas connect in new ways, this gives them the chance to do just that. So, if you're an early bird, try looking for new ideas at night. If you're a night owl, get up early to generate new ideas. (See also: 5 Things to Do in the Morning)
3. Create a Safe Place to Think
Your creativity, according to comedian John Cleese, is something like a tortoise. Before it really comes out to play, it pokes out its nose to see if the environment is safe. We talked about relaxing above, but it also helps to give yourself a certain time slot in the day where you try to think creatively, so your tortoise brain knows it's safe to come out. You can also make your workspace a friendly, inviting place where you feel happy to lure the tortoise into the open. (See also: 10 Ways to Be Happier)
4. Deprive Your Senses
Some people find that sensory deprivation helps them think more creatively. When you deprive yourself of all the sensory input you're normally getting and processing, your brain can use that energy to generate new ideas. While a sensory deprivation chamber is the best way to do this, simply dimming the lights and working at a time and place where noise won't distract you can help you generate more ideas. Since vision is your dominant sense, shutting that off can be the most effective in generating more brain power for fresh ideas.
5. Get Warm
If sensory deprivation isn't your thing, or isn't possible for you, then at least make sure you're warm enough. Being warm makes us happy, which produces dopamine. As mentioned above, more dopamine means more creativity, which means more great ideas. What's warm for one person may be cold for another, though, so you may have to compromise on this to optimize creativity for everyone in your workspace. (See also: How to Be Happier and More Likeable at Work)
7. Don't Fear Bad Ideas
Being afraid of bad ideas can paralyze us and keep us from thinking up new ideas in general. When we fear bad ideas, and there's no way to tell if our next idea will be great or terrible, we tend to stop thinking up new ideas in general. Instead, we can let our new ideas come as they may, knowing that we can discard the bad ones and keep the good ones. This way, we'll generate more great ideas than we will when we fear the bad ones.
8. Let It Sit
Sometimes, we wonder how to tell the difference between a good idea and a bad one. We don't just fear having bad ideas, but not realizing that one is bad and investing ourselves in it before realizing our mistake. One sure way to determine which of our ideas is great is to simply let them sit. Take a vacation. Walk away. Go do something else. When you come back to the problem, you'll often find that your brain has sorted your ideas and determined which ones are more likely to be worth following up on.
These days, I sometimes feel like meditation is supposed to be the cure for everything. However, a recent study out of the Netherlands shows that people who meditate and then are given creative tasks perform better than those who are given the tasks without the meditation time before. Meditation seems to predispose the brain to generating ideas, possibly by helping it relax, or by inducing mental states where ideas can connect.
When it comes to generating great ideas, what works for you?