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Everywhere you look these days, people are talking about how creative they are. Your best friend has a new art exhibition opening, your cousin has written a book, and your work colleague is self-publishing a zine about their favourite band.
If you want to jump aboard the creative bandwagon but just don’t know how, the good news is that the field of psychology has some tips for you.
People often think that creativity is innate – that is, that we’re born with it and that it doesn’t change very much across our lives. But that’s not true, and it is self-limiting beliefs like this that stop us from becoming more creative.
So how can you improve your creativity if you feel like you just aren’t that creative, or you feel that you would like to be better at doing certain creative things? There are a few things that might help:
Train your brain to be more creative
Researchers describe teaching university students to be more creative by training them in cognitive techniques designed to enhance creativity. Some of the techniques they used include brainstorming in silence (this is because if you are in a group, you can be afraid of saying the wrong thing. You have fewer restrictions if you think creatively alone), and looking for random connections between seemingly unconnected items, to flex your creative muscles.
They found that creative solutions to problems were more likely to be found after using their cognitive techniques – more proof that you can develop creativity over time.
Get out of your comfort zone and don’t box yourself in
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has spent some of his life studying creative people, notes that one of the traits he has found in people who are creative is that they tend not to fall into extremes on any spectrum. For example, creative people can be both introverted and extroverted or behave in ‘typically’ masculine and feminine ways.
This is not confusion, rather, this is an ability to respond in a useful way to the situation they find themselves in. By not allowing themselves to get boxed in to any one trait, they open up their chances of behaving in novel ways and being more creative.
Do some daydreaming
Daydreaming can be good for us. It can allow us to relax and, again, get out of our comfort zones in terms of both our everyday thoughts and our responses to certain situations. Spending a few minutes every day ‘lost in thought’ can be a good way of increasing our creativity. Remember to write down any particularly good ideas you have, or you might forget them!
Go for a walk
One study found that going for a walk can boost creativity, both in the moment and afterwards. There are lots of benefits to getting up and about, and now it seems like creativity is one of them as well. Try to walk in novel settings for an extra boost.
Most importantly, whatever you decide to do, make sure you take time to do it every day. Developing creativity is like training any muscle, and to do it well you have to do it regularly.
Dr Sarah Blackshaw is a clinical psychologist working in Manchester, UK, in the field of chronic physical health. She is interested in psychological approaches to health and well-being.