I come up with some of my best ideas when I’m driving or doing the dishes.
While part of my brain is on autopilot, allowing me to get from Point A to Point B safely, or to scrub my way through the stack of pans from last night’s dinner without even looking at my hands, another part of my brain wanders freely. That kind of unfocused focusing helps me break through my writer’s block or find the solution to a problem that’s been bugging me all day.
There a lot of ways to describe the mental state I’m talking about: in the zone, in the groove, on fire, wired. Call it whatever you like. All I know is that whenever I hit a mental roadblock, I hit the road or grab the dishwashing liquid. If that doesn’t sound appealing, not to worry. I just got back from a long drive and I’ve got eight suggestions on how you can find your own creative groove.
1. Watch a fun video or listen to some music. I’ve been pitching the idea of watching online videos—which I call no-calorie comfort food for the brain—because I think they help distract you and shift your mood when you need a mental break. Turns out science supports that view, with researchers finding that watching a fun video (even a short video of a laughing baby) or listening to some uplifting music activates the part of your brain linked to decision-making, empathy and emotion. It allows you to make new connections or to hit upon new ideas that you might not have discovered otherwise.
2. Work in a room that’s painted blue or filled with blue objects. Many of us are conditioned from a very early age to associate colors with moods or a state of being: red means danger, green means go and blue, thanks to the sky and water, is usually associated with peace and tranquility. In a 2009 study in the journal Science, people working on a red computer screen performed better on detailed-oriented tasks while blue screens (the blue screen of death aside) boosted creative tasks. Mark Beeman, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University who studies the neuroscience of creativity, told NPR that red makes us anxious and that anxiousness ups our focus. Blue, meanwhile, encourages us to relax and let our imaginations loose.
3. Play around with the amount of time you sleep. There seems to be some disagreement on whether you should get more sleep (the just-sleep-on-it-and-the-answer-will-come approach) or less sleep (you’re sleeping too much and therefore not as focused). I don’t know which one works best for you—you’ll have to experiment and see. But either way, sleep plays a role in how creative you can be.
4. Stay hungry, be smarter. A 2006 Yale Medical School study found that being hungry made mice smarter—they were able to take in information more quickly and remember it. Being slightly hungry makes you slightly edgy—and more focused. So instead of powering through the snacks when you’re feeling stuck or down, skip the food. And when you do eat, go for the so-called brain foods: walnuts and almonds, blueberries and blackberries, salmon, green tea, broccoli, dark chocolate and red wine.
5. Random brainstorming. Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, comes at creative thinking with a simple idea. He recommends putting together things in new ways, combining concepts from one field (say architecture) with those from another unrelated field (banking) to see what you can come up with. He also recommends collaborating with people from different backgrounds/skill sets to see what kinds of solutions you can dream up. So instead of seeking out expert opinion, maybe it’s better to collect a diversity of opinion.
6. Play some games. Sudoku much? Thanks to the web, it’s easy to find all kinds of brainteasers, puzzles, quizzes and games to unleash your creative spirit. But if you don’t want to stare at the screen, try this one (courtesy of the folks at Moo): How many uses does a paperclip have? The idea is to take a common object—like a paperclip—and write down, in five minutes, all the things you might be able to do with it. Then try making a new list, but before you do it, spend 30 seconds staring straight ahead and then hold still as you move your eyes left to right. This is supposed to increase communication between the right side and left side of your brain. Hopefully, your second list will be even longer.
7. Take a shower, take a bath, go for a walk, wash the car. If driving or doing the dishes doesn’t spark your creativity, find another repetitive, seemingly mindless task and see if that gets you in the groove you need.
8. Try something different to shake things up. If you spend all day writing, pick up a pack of crayons and draw a picture. Or take a five-minute break and write a haiku, a three-line Japanese poem made up of five, seven and five syllable phrases. The essence of haiku is “cutting” (kiru). This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related,” according to Wikipedia. Here’s one of the most famous ones I can think of:
Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense
There you go. I know it might be challenging to find time in your crazy, busy life to try these out. But I encourage you to go for it. As for me, the dishes await.
This post was originally published on OneThingNew.