tYou’ve been staring at the computer screen for a half-hour and nothing is happening. Your Web browser calls to you and your Twitter account just can’t wait any longer. Everything seems more interesting than the task at hand.
tWe’ve all been here. It’s called a creative block and sometimes it feels like there’s no escape.
tWe often think of creativity as an innate trait — something that you either have or you don’t have. And if you’re been staring at a blank screen, you’re feeling like you don’t have it. Want to get unstuck? Here are four ways to get the juices flowing and start thinking creatively.
t1. Limits are your friend. It may seem counterintuitive, but setting limits on yourself can actually help you be more creative. Take Dr. Seuss, for example. Green Eggs and Ham came to be after his publisher, Bennett Cerf, bet him $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. Seuss took up the creative challenge and created a classic (and netted some pocket change in the process). Psychological research indicates people often default to older ways of thinking when they initially start to brainstorm. Placing limits on yourself forces your brain into a creative “overdrive” and gets you thinking about things in a different way.
t2. Move more. One of the biggest mistakes we make when trying to force ourselves to be creative is to hunker down and work through it. Research has shown that creativity is improved by physical activity. No, you don’t need to run a 5K (although some people who do long distance physical activities, like hiking or biking, report feeling more alert and mentally productive), just stroll around the office or the block. Getting up and active takes you away from the physical location where you’re “stuck” and gets your body doing something different. Breaking your body’s routine can be all it takes for creativity to break through.
t3. Give yourself time. Breaking up the time you work on a creative task into smaller chunks over a period of days allows for what is known as “incubation.” Incubation describes the act of non-conscious thinking, and it’s been shown that when you let an idea incubate while performing divergent tasks, you’re more likely to come up with a creative solution. The research also shows that “low cognitive tasks,” like showering or driving home, have the best effect on incubation. You don’t have to take 17 showers a day, but this starts to explain why breaking up the creative task over a couple of days is often effective.
t4. Get outside yourself. Sometimes, you’re just too close to the answer to see it. Psychologists have found that when we’re absorbed in the task at hand, we can have a hard time thinking past our immediate environment. The work you’re doing is too “psychologically near” for you to think about it in the abstract way that enables creativity. On the other hand, “psychologically distant” concepts allow people to think much more creatively about them. Thinking about an idea more abstractly can help you consider a much wider range of possibilities than when you’re up close to the subject.
tGaining psychological distance from a concept can be as easy as thinking about how you would solve a problem a year into the future, rather than how you solve it tomorrow. Thinking about how another person who is dissimilar to you might solve the problem is another way to distance yourself. Whatever technique you use, the key is to make the issue at hand seem farther away than it is. Doing so will give you the mental space your brain needs to process things in a new light.
tTaking proactive steps to get creative can sometimes seem like the last thing we have time for when a tight deadline is looming. But taking the time to turn your creative processors into high gear is far more beneficial in the long run than forcing out a stale idea. So what are you waiting for? Get up, get out there and out of yourself, and start getting creative!
tMegan Torrance is the president and CEO of TorranceLearning, an elearning design and development firm in Chelsea.