I’ve always been fascinated by a simple fact – Humans are the only animals that can create art.
No other animal can make paintings, songs, dances, sculptures, or in general manipulate their environment like we can.
Only humans have the ability to dream up something in their mind, put it down onto paper, and then go build it and create the future right in front of our eyes.
It’s a reason why I’ve always admired architects. They can envision a building, map it out on paper, and then in a few short years what was previously only an image in their mind now exists in the physical world around us.
Isn’t that beautiful?!
And at the center of this phenomenon what do we see? Creativity. Imagination. Vision.
Creativity touches every area of our lives. It requires creativity to search google and find information you’re looking for. Takes creativity to write up a project proposal. Takes creativity to find insights in data or restructure data to see it differently.
In all areas of life and work we see creativity as a needed and desired skill.
Turns out, creativity is also one of the most valued traits in today’s workforce as well.
For example, a global survey conducted by IBM of 1,500 top executives across 60 countries found that the most desirable trait in a CEO was…? Creativity.
Or another study by the Partnership for 21st century skills – a collection of 250 researchers at 60 institutions – who found that creativity is the skill most needed to thrive in the future.
So as a baseline we know that creativity is very important to being able to thrive in today’s world, but how does someone BECOME more creative? How can we learn to flex those creativity muscles more frequently?
Well the funny part is, you don’t have to do all that much!
The brain is naturally creative – the brain is designed to find solutions for us, but we get in the way of it.
You see, creativity is less about doing and more about learning how to do less.
As you’ll notice throughout the next few examples, the creative mind is the calm mind. The mind can’t get creative when it’s stressed, frustrated, or overworked.
Much of the ways in which we must learn to become creative revolve more around getting out of our own way. Learning to stop habits that prevent creativity from arising naturally on it’s own.
That’s why the best ideas always come to us in the shower – because we’re calm, relaxed – not trying.
If we want to get creative it’s about learning how to let the supercomputer that is your mind go to work FOR you, rather than against you.
So now, long winded rant aside, HOW THE HELL DO I BECOME MORE CREATIVE?!
Step 1 – Understand Neuroscience of Creativity
To begin we want to understand what creativity looks like in the brain.
When we see creativity arise in people, what do their minds look like?
In order to do this, first we want to take a look at brain wave patterns.
In the realm of brain wave frequencies, in order of fastest to slowest, we have Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta, and Gamma.
For the vast majority of us, we spend our day to day working lives in Beta frequencies. These are the shortest and fastest brain waves we see.
Why is this important? The brain can’t get creative in Beta waves.
The signature of creativity turns out to be low alpha, high theta waves. This is also correlated with relaxation.
This means that if you want to get creative, you have to get your mind into Alpha/Theta wave frequencies, and that can only happen if you’re relaxed and calm.
Stress, anxiety, frustration, anger – these are all Beta wave frequencies aka creativity blockers.
So if you want to be more creative what do you have to do? Calm down, give your mind a break, and try to slow your thought patterns a bit. If you’re stressed, anxious, and overthinking you’re literally blocking creativity from happening.
Now, this is much easier said than done – monkey mind is a common problem for many of us. Trying to simply “calm down the mind” is a fruitless activity for many. So here’s how you do it 🙂
Step 2 – Calm down the mind
While many people will suggest meditation or breathing exercises, I don’t find that those calm the mind quickly. They take more time and patience. They are gradual practices that will make you a calmer person over time, but if you need to calm down the mind quickly what’s the best way to do it?
You see – exercise has the potential to induce something called Transient Hypofrontality – a fancy word for temporarily calming down the part of your brain that controls your inner dialogue.
When we exercise the brain shifts resources to other parts of the brain. Because you don’t need to think as much (analytically or decision making wise), your brain will down regulate this area of the brain so that it can focus on other areas more effectively.
I always say “there’s not much space to think about the problems of the day when your heart is beating out of your chest and your muscles are on fire.”
When we exercise we get out of our heads and into our bodies – and this process calms down the parts of the brain that help the creative parts step in instead.
For example – in studies run by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Sharon Thompson-Schill, when transient hypofrontality was artificially induced and subjects were presented with creative problems to solve, the hypofrontal subjects came up with more novel insights in far shorter time frames than control subjects!!!
Again – notice how you’re not focusing specifically on any exercise to become more creative – you’re getting out of the way of your brain and creating conditions for creativity to arise naturally on it’s own.
Now – building on this methodology of creating the right environment in the mind for the mind to be creative on it’s own, there’s some other things we can do to enhance this effect.
Step 3 – Get Happy!!!
One of the most effective ways to be more creative? Put yourself in a good mood! Get happy, get silly, get weird.
Similar to our previous example, we want to find ways to hijack the brain to get it to do the heavy lifting for us.
One of the most powerful chemicals in the body for getting shit done?
Dopamine is the “reward” chemical of the brain – in many ways also the pleasure or happiness chemical of the brain.
Dopamine feels great. It’s what drives a lot of our motivations, ambitions, and behaviors on a day to day basis.
Every time you get a push notification of a like on your FB post or a reply to your message? Dopamine.
The “high” you feel when you accomplished something? Dopamine.
General feel good happy vibe that makes you warm and fuzzy? Dopamine.
Dopamine is also a very potent performance enhancer. Dopamine tightens focus and improves pattern recognition in the brain. Creativity requires focus and the ability to connect separate ideas and bring them together into novel insights. Dopamine drives this process.
The best part? Dopamine is very easy to hack. All you have to do is try and put yourself in a good mood.
How can you do this?
Watch funny videos. Practice gratitude. Laugh. Dance. Think back on positive memories. Eat something delicious.
You know what’s best for you at putting yourself in a good mood 🙂
But there’s science to back this as well. Turns out that happy people are better problem solvers, more creative, and perform better across a variety of measurements.
The people over at Soul Pancake ran a great experiment to replicate this, where they wanted to measure the effects of “positive affectivity” – meaning they tried to positively influence the moods of participants before the study to see if it has an affect of how well they perform.
In one group they gave the participants food and candy, then had them watch funny videos, then gave them a gift card – to the other group they gave nothing. Then, they had both groups solve a problem.
The groups that received candy, videos and gift cards, on average, were able to solve the problem faster and had more people positively solve the puzzle.
In action – putting yourself in a good mood provides a spike of dopamine which helps focus attention and lateral thinking, which then positively impacts creativity.
…plus it feels really good while doing it!
So calm yourself down, put yourself in a good mood, and get creative. It’s actually a super simple recipe and doesn’t take any training at all. You can do it right now with the tools you already have at your disposal.
But last – I have some more techniques that can also help….
Step 4 – PRACTICE Creativity
Creativity is a muscle, a muscle that needs to be trained and flexed in order to properly grow.
While much of creativity lies in tapping into dormant powers, you can also train the muscle to get stronger in its own right.
The brain loves repetition and habit building. It loves to create patterns and anticipate and predict how we can react.
The more you practice creativity, the more your brain begins to understand your unique process, the more you begin to normalize it.
Here are some simple exercises you can use to train the creativity muscle and teach your brain how to go into that zone on command.
- Data Intake/Learning! – Much of creativity is the ability to make new connections to previously unrelated materials. One of the best ways to feed this pattern recognition system, is to learn. Read, watch, study, practice. As you take in new information, your brain tries to relate it back to new experiences, and in turn help you to find novel insights. Learning helps us to become more creative. Dedicate time in your day to learning.
- Categories Games – Try to take a topic like “breakfast cereals” and list out as many as you can as fast as you can. You can do the same with beers, brands, sports teams, players, movies, etc. The key is to do anything that has you think quickly. Why is this effective? You’re digging into your brain to relate previous information you’ve already taken in, to a new task at hand – aka creativity
- Write 5 Ideas down every day – Try to come up with a new product idea, or 5, every day. It doesn’t have to be realistic either. In fact, many people dismiss many of their most creative ideas because they are not “realistic”. Here we want to stretch the imagination muscle. Create any type of product, fictional or not. Some examples as I write this include a fitness tracker to measure how many times a day I smile, a journal that can sense my mood, a computer that only works if you’re happy, dopamine juice, and a pill that allows me to never have to eat again!
- Improv – Try an improv class. It’s the best way to get the creativity muscles firing all at once, on command. At first you’ll probably be shit, but as you practice and normalize it, you will be able to improv more freely. This is a powerful muscle that can only be tested on command, so it’s a valuable but challenging practice to undertake.
- Rhyming – I personally find that rhyming is one of the best ways to flex creativity. Again, you search through your mind for words you already knew, with the intention of connecting them in a new way. Rhyming teaches us how to navigate these pathways and move freely. How to build connections. All things that are important in developing creativity.
Those are just a few, but anything “Creative” such as painting, drawing, poetry, dance, singing or playing a musical instrument are all also great ways to build the creativity muscle.
In summary –
To bring things home, lets review.
1st things first, your brain is naturally creative, you just need to get it into the right state. Create the right environment.
You need to learn how to get out of your own way, to stop blocking your creativity to happen, and allow it to happen on its own.
How can we do this? By calming down the mind.
The best way to calm down the mind? Exercise.
Then, a happy mind is a creative mind too. Practice putting yourself in a good mood. Watch funny videos, smile, dance, eat something tasty. Dopamine helps creativity.
Last, practice being creative. It’s a muscle that is weak and needs to be trained. Give yourself exercises to be more creative, and stay disciplined.
My last suggestion? Create a schedule that allows you to put this into work. Develop a sequence of calming the mind, getting happy, and then going into creative work. Block out time for this.
And then the most important part? Stick to this schedule for 90 days.
Some people will say it takes 21 days to build a habit. I don’t think that’s enough. I personally believe that in order to see real results, in order to see real momentum, you must follow this routine for 90 days minimum.
I GUARANTEE that if you follow this formula and practice these things, you will see yourself solving more problems in faster time and having more fun doing it along the way.
So that’s it! I can give you the recipe but you have to put in the work. Get out there and get creative 🙂