Creativity - The Science Behind Your Secret Weapon

 "Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” — Albert Einstein

Our ability to overcome obstacles and find solutions is the key to reaching our goals. One of the most effective ways to do this is by using our own creativity. 

Research has shown that companies that prioritize creativity and innovation outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth, market share, and profitability.

Similarly, individuals who are able to think creatively and find new solutions to challenges are more likely to achieve success and reach their goals.

In addition, creativity and problem-solving have been linked to improved mental health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that engaging in creative activities can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance overall quality of life. So not only is creativity a powerful tool for problem-solving, but it can also have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing.


Feeling Stuck in Your Creative Process?

You're not alone! Especially when faced with a difficult challenge or problem, it's not uncommon to struggle to find innovative solutions. However, it's important to remember that creativity is not a finite resource, and there are many strategies we can use to break through creative blocks and unleash our problem-solving potential. We have listed our top eight here:


1. Welcome distraction and take a break

Most of us have not evolved to endlessly come up with new ideas. Inevitably the ideas run out or become stale. One of the best things is to shift to another task, or better yet, a different environment.

Move away from the screens, put down your devices and just look out the window. You could close your eyes to shut out your environment, or the simple act of going to the wash room and holding your hands under running water for a few seconds can be a welcome distraction when creative juices are zapped. 


2. Go outside, be somewhere where there are plants.  

A compelling body of research also demonstrates that compared to individuals whose exposure to nature was low, those with greater exposure had better physical health (i.e. healthier base-level blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lower cortisol levels and better sleep). Even if it's just simply the green grass on the nature strip, or a humble pot plant, exposure to nature, particularly green spaces, has been shown in studies to improve people's short-term memory and ability to concentrate. 



3. Move around

Time to stretch! Studies have shown that physical activity can stimulate creativity and enhance cognitive function. Movement increases blood flow to the brain, providing it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function optimally. This can enhance cognitive function, including creativity and problem-solving.

Exercise (even light exercise) triggers the release of endorphins, natural feel-good chemicals that can boost mood and reduce stress. This can clear the mind and make it easier to think creatively.

Regular exercise has also been shown to improve cognitive function, which can enhance creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Going back to suggestion 1 above, exercise can provide a mental break from a task or problem, allowing the brain to rest and recharge. This can make it easier to approach the problem from a fresh perspective and generate new ideas.



 4. Train that brain - exercise mindfulness

No 'om' here, and no 'emptying your mind'. Simply pausing and realising what you're really thinking and how it makes you feel enables you to address those thoughts and emotions that are getting in your way and allows new ideas to flow more freely. Studies have shown that regular meditation practice can boost creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility.

Plus, research has demonstrated that mindfulness can improve your ability to concentrate, decrease your fear of judgment, and enhance your open-minded thinking while reducing negative self-talk. This means that just being aware of your thoughts, how you feel them through your body, and potentially instilling more productive thinking (altogether mindfulness) can support the skills associated with creativity.

This type of practice can help you train your brain to be more agile and creative, enabling you to switch between different modes of thinking and generate new ideas.



5. Seek Diverse Perspectives and Experiences

Sometimes looking at the same task or problem through the same set of eyes will only bring you the same set of solutions. Seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences exposes you to new ideas and ways of thinking.

That is, ask your work mate, team member(s), specialist(s), or any other person you feel is appropriate, for their opinion, without stating yours first. Hear them out. They may not see things the way you do, and could spark fresh insights and provide new solutions to the same problems. Hence why diversity and inclusion are so important in the workplace and in society as a whole.



6. Bottoms up!

One of the most basic human needs is water and food (in that order).

Current findings suggest that particular cognitive abilities and mood states are positively influenced by water consumption. Yet, research also suggests that most individuals are routinely at a risk of mild dehydration day to day.

Despite water constituting 60 - 80% of the human body, it is often overlooked as a significant nutrient that can affect not only physical performance, but also mental performance. 

Studies show a clear link between adequate hydration and improved: visual sustained attention, short term memory, simple reaction time, and mood. Individuals in some studies reported feeling more ‘calm’ and ‘alert’ immediately after water consumption.

And the reasoning behind this, by researchers, is that when dehydrated (even mildly) our entire physiology gears towards getting us to hydrate, as this is an essential factor to continue functioning, and in fact living, daily. And your body doesn't mind if getting adequate hydration means getting you distracted, tired, or grouchy. Whatever it takes to keep you alive. Drink more water and get those creative juices flowing freely again.

Read more about hydration here.


6. Eat something

Listen to Nona - she's onto something.

Growing evidence suggests that the food and drink that we consume affect mental and physical performance. There is a large body of research on how particular nutrients modify brain chemistry and function  (e.g., amino acids that are the precursors of brain neurotransmitters, essential fatty acids that are the precursors of important structural lipids and signaling molecules in brain, vitamins that are cofactors in key metabolic pathways in brain), how nutrients alter the secretion of hormones that directly influence brain function, and how diet, by modifying aspects of body metabolism, alters brain function.

Mind-blowing, right? Or brain overload...?

It is also recognized that the brain perceives nutritional changes as signals to make nutritional and metabolic changes (e.g., to modify food selection). There is research that also suggests that nutrients and diet may be useful in treating or preventing diseases not previously associated with food intake, such as epilepsy, or loss of cognitive function and memory that accompanies ageing.

Food is (can be) medicine.

Berries, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are known to be rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can protect our brain cells from damage and improve overall brain health.

Proper nutrition can help increase cognitive function, improve mental clarity, and enhance our overall energy levels, enabling us to be more productive and creative.

7. Eat something stimulating

If you still feel like you need a little extra or are particularly off balance, even after trying other alternatives already listed, you could try having some mild stimulants such as coffee or tea, which can improve cognitive function attention and alertness. Just avoid having too much as it can cause jitters!

Otherwise, if you're open to something different, food and food components that exhibit physiological and mental effects have been dubbed ‘functional foods’ or ‘nutraceuticals’ and are suggested as ways to help sustain good health and protect against illness, disease and pathological ageing. Adaptogenic plants such as cacao, maca, ashwagandha, and an endless list of others can also be beneficial to creativity by reducing stress, improving mood, and increasing energy levels.

These plants are known for their ability to help the body adapt to stress and maintain balance. Research suggests that adaptogens work by affecting the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA axis) in response to stimulation by external stress. As the name suggests, adaptogens adapt (or make less sensitive) your body to stress, which frees your energy to be channeled towards creativity. 




8. Sleep on it

Getting enough quality sleep can help refresh the mind and allow for new ideas to emerge. Studies have shown that sleep plays a critical role in memory processing and consolidation, regulating emotional brain reactivity, and enhancing creative problem-solving and that there is a positive relationship between sleep quality and creativity.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, in particular, increases the creative process more than any other sleep phase, helping the formation of new associative networks in the brain and useful connections between ideas, working as an enabler for creativity. Studies relating sleep to cognitive skills, such as memory and motivation, suggested that sleep may directly influence learning and the formation of new concepts, ideas, or solutions, in other words it leads to the development of creativity.

Do you get enough quality sleep? Most of us don't! But, if you'd like to improve your sleep quality, you may wish to monitor your habits before/after/during sleep, as well as your sleep environment. This comes under the umbrella of 'sleep hygiene' and you can find out more about it here.  

However if you feel the dreaded 'afternoon slump' is setting in, and there are no meetings scheduled, you may want to consider a nap. Studies suggest that napping has been scientifically proven to boost alertness and creativity. Even a 20-30 minute nap during the afternoon has been shown to improve productivity.




Reading this, you could be thinking that the above sounds mostly like a list of suggestions for overall better health.

And you'd be correct!

Our brain, to which the creative process is attributed, is not separate from our body, but rather, together as one physiology that works symbiotically. If you're out of balance (physically, emotionally, etc.) then it's unlikely you'll have that stroke of creativity until you address those basic needs.

Work with your own physiology, and open yourself up to more creative ideas and solutions, which just may get you that much closer to what you really want. 

What helps you get creative?

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