7 suggestions to enhance creativity
Creativity is a sought-after commodity among employers and those seeking personal or professional fulfillment. It comes in handy not only while concocting works of art and literature but also in planning a corporate event or devising a new business strategy. Some people seem more naturally open to new ideas and able to put them to innovative uses. Many of these individuals also tend to be a little…well…different, as Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson wrote in the May/June 2011 Scientific American MIND. But you don’t have to be eccentric to be creative. You don’t even have to be born with a knack for innovation.
1. Absorb Brainset: In this state of mind you are taking in reams of information from your surroundings uncritically. Paying attention to disparate sights, sounds and smells is useful while you are incubating an idea and gathering data. An open mind and an interest in novelty are helpful here. In one famous example of the use of this brainset, Alexander Fleming noticed the absence of bacteria in a section of a lab dish that had been contaminated with a mold. That observation led to the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin.
2.A Certain Slant of Light: To become more aware of your environment and enhance your ability to perceive the world around you, try this exercise. First find a stopwatch or a timer of some kind, and set it for five minutes. Wherever you are, try to take in the sights, sounds and other sensations around you. Observe your surroundings with curiosity but without judgment. Look for patterns of color and light. View edges and angles of objects or walls. Notice movement by people, objects, insects and shadows. Listen to sounds. Pay attention to the tonal qualities of voices, the variations in any music you can detect, the rhythms of incidental noises such as dogs barking, rain hitting the roof or pavement, splashes in a bathtub or the hum of traffic. Also note tactile sensations: the contours or texture of the surface on which you are sitting, the temperature and humidity of the ambient air. Finally, take in any faint odors—say from food, flowers or fuel—again without rating their quality. Continue this process until the timer sounds. If performed frequently, this exercise will condition you to become attracted to what is new around you. You may soon inhabit a sensory world that, as William Blake wrote, is “clos’d” to others.
3. Connect Brainset: Here, you relax your focus so that you can see the connections between very different types of objects or concepts. This process of so-called divergent thinking helps you generate multiple solutions to a problem rather than just one. The more ideas you can come up with for a difficult conundrum, the more likely one of them will work. This brainset enables you to “think outside the box” and generate flashes of insight.
4.Novel Solutions: To improve your ability to mentally connect the dots, try this activity. Get a stopwatch or timer, three pieces of paper and a pencil or pen. Set the timer for three minutes and then write down all the uses for a soup can that you can imagine. Use the whole three minutes. For the next three minutes, jot down all the white edible things you can think of. Lastly, on your third sheet of paper, spend three minutes noting what might happen if humans had three arms instead of two. On other days, practice thinking of new uses for household objects such as a paper clip or chair, and considering the consequences of other weird changes to the human body! Now consider a social scenario that bothers you. Perhaps one of your co-workers talks to you so much that you can’t get your work done, or your neighbor complains about your dog’s barking. Or perhaps your child throws tantrums whenever you do homework together. Set the timer for three minutes and write down as many ways to solve this problem as you can think of, without judging the quality of the solutions. Look over your list. Are there surprises? Sift out the silly ideas, holding on to the gems. Spend at least 15 minutes daily, or whenever you can, thinking in this “divergent” way about a practical problem in your life.
5. Reason Brainset: You can also solve a problem by manipulating information in your working memory, a type of short-term memory that functions as a mental sketch pad. People perform this conscious mental gymnastic whenever they are setting a goal, devising a plan, making a decision or just thinking about something. To grease your reasoning machinery, bone up on this eight-step problem solving process: 1. Recognize that you have a problem. One clear sign is the presence of negative emotions: stress, anxiety, shame and depression are often signs of something that needs to be addressed. 2. Define the problem. Decide exactly what it is and what caused it. 3. Set a goal for solving it. Make sure this goal is realistic for you to accomplish. 4. Brainstorm solutions, using your connect brainset. 5. Evaluate those solutions by making a list of pros and cons for each one. 6. Choose the best solution, ranking the one with the least cons higher than the one with the most pros. 7. Make a plan to implement your solution. 8. Assess success: Did your solution work? If not, try another.
6. Thought-Stoppers: To be able to think logically, you may also need to train your brain to block out thoughts that are upsetting or distracting. You can do this by writing “thought-stopping” commands on a three-by-five index card. Choose four of the following to write on your card: “I need to stop thinking these thoughts.” “Don’t buy into these thoughts.” “Don’t go there.” “Stop this thought now!” “Mentally walk away.” “These thoughts won’t help the situation.” Add two more directives of your own to the card. Now, whenever unwanted notions enter your mind imagine a mental stop sign or take out your card and recite these instructions to yourself.
7. Envision Brainset: Think visually. Imagine objects and manipulate them in your mind’s eye to see new patterns and similarities between disparate concepts. To enhance your ability to imagine things, try this exercise: Stand a few feet away from an object in your surroundings. Hold a pencil far out from your body and trace the outlines of the object in the air, starting with its outer edge and then proceeding to its interior contours. After two minutes close your eyes and try to envision the object. Try to do this exercise daily with increasingly complex objects. You can also try visualizing a familiar object from different angles each day.
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