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How to be creative – 3 easy tricks that work!

Seeing we're in the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, today's post is about how to be creative!

Creativity is a bit of a fuzzy concept and I like to think about it in practical terms:  how do you get new ideas? How can you train your brain to look at something in a different way? To allow connections outside the 'trodden paths'?

How to be creative
CC image courtesy of eliztesch on Flickr

Scientifically speaking, what we need to do is get our frontal lobes to loosen up. The prefrontal cortex is a bit like a parent or teacher - monitoring our behaviours and controlling our responses to keep us in check. It stops us blurting out stupid things at inappropriate moments! Ha!!

While this is useful in being accepted in a society, the downside is that the same control mechanism prevents us from seeing things differently.

The answer to How to be creative, according to science, is this: facilitating cognition without control, or, seeing something without looking for it.

In plain English, here's what you have to do: engage in activities that allow the mind to wander - i.e. those that are not focused on a specific goal or problem.

Here are my 3 tried and tested tricks on how to be creative:

(1) Walking

Charles Darwin
CC image courtesy of L2F1 on Flickr

Pretty much a no-brainer on all fronts. Charles Darwin is well known for reaching his greatest insight while walking - he took laps each day on his 'Thinking Path' especially created for this purpose. I do this on a daily basis, for about an hour.

Why it works

It works because it's generally non-goal orientated. I.e. you walk to walk and, since there tends to be no immediate problem or goal associated with it, you can just let your mind do its thing. And just be lenient and let it run its natural course, avoiding anything requiring rigid or focused effort.

Darwin set up a number of small stones on his Thinking Path so that he could kick a stone each time he passed. This meant he  did not have to interrupt his thoughts by consciously counting the number of circuits he had made that day.

(2) Household chores

Again something you can do every day 🙂 - repetitive, muscle-memory type stuff is best here such as vacuuming, dusting, washing up etc.

Why it works

Household chores are a low-level activity in that they do require some form of cognition but nothing too strenuous. It gives your brain something to do that is not challenging, not a new problem, say. Thus you engage it in some low-level activity - just enough to keep it ticking over but not enough to actually have to think about what you're doing. Hence: washing the dishes is fine, but e.g. cooking wouldn't be as effective (unless it's something that you know by heart - i.e. without engaging the brain in a new problem)

(3) The wildcard: 4 Pics 1 Word (Game)

How to be creative the geek way! 4 Pics 1 Word is a simple puzzle game based around finding the word that connects 4 seemingly disparate pictures. It starts off very easy but gets harder as you go on. It's free, and on Google Play you can download 4 Pics 1 Word for Android.

4 Pics 1 Word
CC image courtesy of David Guo on Flickr


Why it works

It works because it encourages new connections, and it trains the brain to approach a 'problem' (here: finding the connection) in a less controlled or constrained manner.

The reason I love 4 Pics 1 Word is that you can even see your 'loosened lobes' in action - focus too hard on what the connection might be, and you won't get it. If I can't solve an especially tricky one, the more I think about it the less likely the solution will come to me.

If I get stuck on a puzzle, I leave it alone and go back to it when I'm tired (e.g. just before going to bed). That tired, fuzzy state of mind - ironically - where I'm not 'at my sharpest' - usually gives the insight to actually find the word!


These, then, are my three top tips on how to be creative. What are yours?



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