Hit a dead-end or mental block? 🚫 Even the best of us can whack our way into them, and there really is nothing quite as frustrating. Thankfully though, there are some smart ways to reverse and reroute that direction of thought. With this mind, it is important to acknowledge how the brain and body play an active role in aiding the discovery of more exciting psychological terrain, since they are so cleverly interwoven.
The brain, like the body, is a muscle. Whilst you can’t take the former to the gym, there are effective ways to flex those mental pecs. As for how this relates to the body, looking after your mental wellbeing and stimulating your brain has a positive impact on our lifestyle choices – we tend to look after our bodies better. Good physical care will also, in turn, continually reinforce looking after our minds, allowing us to engage with our creative side more easily. Hence the phrase, mental health = mental wealth.
With a sprinkle of scientific know-how, below are 10 top tips known to help get creative juices flowing once again.
- Release Your Inner Child: Escape to the world of make-believe! Honestly, it does the mind the world of good, and here’s why. The wildest part of our imagination can be accessed when we’re not focused on the world around us, such as when we’re daydreaming. These bits fire rapidly within our brain’s default mode network (DMN) and they’re responsible for our eagerness to put all of our curiosities to the test. Sure, what we come up with initially may not be our best work, but we need it for initial engagement. And so, when it comes to finally refining those crazy ideas (using our brain’s matured, executive functions) what we create is not only good quality, but niche, too. A lot of entrepreneurs are notorious for this way of thinking – why else do you think they rollerblade to work? However silly it may seem, let your mind roam free. Then use your logic to make something brilliant out of it.
- Create Without Expectation: As adults, we want to believe that the first thing we think up will be perfect. We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to do this, but it often doesn’t work out that way. Creating without expectation is a bit like the wild imagination notion – simply remove the adult pressure and let your youthful curiosities roam free. Even if it seems random, explore and intermingle those passions of yours. What might begin as a disjointed set of musical notes, for example, could eventually become the next big song. Or, maybe it’ll simply end up as the backing track to a comical limerick. Nevertheless, just go with it!
- Play a Brain Game: A group of surrealists in the 1920s created a parlour game called, The Exquisite Corpse – a fantastical combination of mysterious sketches, passed to each person on folded paper. Only a small amount of lines could be seen and used to join the next drawing together, and once everyone had drawn something, the unveiled piece would be a rather wild artistic collaboration. Hence, the name. Translate this notion into subjects, thoughts and recommendations, and see what results. Also, whilst working in a team is preferential, occasionally, getting things created is a solitary process. Other games, such as The Sims, Minecraft and even Animal Crossing have been shown to harness creative thinking, due to their ability to engage with the DMN through design and escape.
- Praise vs Criticism: Most people will concede that praising is the best approach to getting someone to perfect their craft, but the opposite has actually been shown to be true. Whilst having faith in our creations and abilities is vital, being challenged on them is actually when we perform our best. Learning from others and debating why each person considers alternative directions is important in creating something worth noticing. Don’t let any judgement put you off your self-evolution. Instead, take the critique and work on refining the product of your imagination.
- Be Open-Minded: Famous naturalist, Charles Darwin can teach us all a thing or two about beating the creative block. Most notorised for his work on the “Origin of Species” (1859), he also undertook several other projects in-between. Although, seemingly random in isolation (such as composing music for earthworms…) each project had its own benefit to the next. The main benefit of this “slow-motion multitasking” being that it ultimately improved creativity. Some may believe this attitude is merely procrastination, but it actually permits the mind to freely try out new things and consider alternative angles. Flexible thinkers allow their mind to make new connections and pave the way to new thoughts and ideas, undeniably proving that being more open-minded about the world around us is vital in creation.
- Do Something Random: Even the most discerning of us need a break. Staring at a screen, hoping that the perfect words will spring to mind for a novel, for example, is a rookie’s game. According to research, our attention span ebbs and flows, with 90 minutes being our most favoured window of focus. So if the ideas are no longer coming naturally, it’s time to switch things up a notch. Free your mind and go wherever the feeling takes you. Maybe you want to do something totally off-course and focus your attention on something more trivial? As odd as it seems, lightening the mental load (even for short periods) really aids your creativity. So go outside, see your friends, gain a new experience and strike a conversation that accelerates your way to finding the flow again. A lot of our thoughts are buried deep (incubated) and sometimes, the best way to access them is to do something different.
- Eat Nutritious Foods: The fact that walnuts look like a brain is quite ironic, considering its levels of DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) has such a significant impact on our bodies. This fatty acid is well-renowned for improving our cognitive performance as well as reducing cognitive decline in our latter years. Antioxidant-rich foods are also a must. Our brains have high metabolic activity, meaning that they use up a huge amount of oxygen in the process. Inevitably, this makes the brain incredibly susceptible to being attacked by free radicals, which can have a truly huge impact on our coginitive abilities. Therefore, eating a diet high in antioxidants, such as berries, dark chocolate and leafy greens, is important, as they neutralise free radicals and can even reverse some of the symptoms linked to ageing (such as memory loss). So grab a bowl and mix up some blueberries and walnuts – both have the power to feed your body and brain, resulting in an even speedier creative drive!
- Get Hands-On: There are a lot of distractions in this world, and whilst there are many hacks out there that will tell you ways to ignore your phone and silly TV shows, there isn’t much that can stop the relentless witterings of the mind. Nevertheless, crafting with our hands has shown most effective at improving our ability to focus. Having a clear objective to work with (such as painting the vase of flowers on your desk or even building a set of drawers for your bedroom) renders our attention solely absorbed in the task at hand (literally). Perfecting the craft and completing the goal keeps our brains focused. As a result, this also allows for incubation of thoughts, making the accessibility for the creative, “EUREKA!” moment far easier to reach.
- Learn to Relax: Listen to your body, it’ll tell you when it needs some time-out. Sometimes a good night’s sleep will be enough to refresh the system, but when life gets heavy, mindfulness techniques (such as meditation) have demonstrated an extra benefit. According to studies, these activities can thicken the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. This is the part responsible for managing higher order brain function, such as concentration and increased awareness, as well as decision making. Our general intelligence is positively associated with cortical thickness, so it’s important to learn ways to improve this and gain the most access to our creative side. Grounding yourself has never been more liberating!
- Benefits of Exercise: Keeping your mind performing well involves a few hormonal tricks, some of which can be achieved by exercise. For example, the happy hormones (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins) alongside norepinephrine (also known as noradrenalin) all naturally released by exercise, are a great combination. They provide a feel-good sensation as well as an energised one, and can also be therapeutic, too. So as much as setting an early morning alarm with the intent of making a run your first job of the day sounds horrendous, that hormonal rush will work wonders for your mind. Who knows where your brain (and feet) will wander off to?
As much as all of these tips will help release the initial flow of those creative juices, when it comes to the final creation itself, ask yourself, “Does this have a reason to exist?” Like a piece of music, will it help someone relax and escape the world? If it’s an invention, does it tackle a modern-day lifestyle challenge? Or, is it simply to entertain people, whilst providing a new sense of perspective, like a good book does? However, the one thing you shouldn’t worry about is the timeline it takes for your creative juices to flow with the answer. As the Lao Tzu quote goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Fear not of potential hiatuses or distractions. Until then, just take each day like those steps – one at a time.