Scientifically-Proven Ways to Improve Creativity

Four­teen acts or mind­sets that have been shown–using science!–to increase cre­ativ­ity, from a two-art­icle series on sci­en­tific­ally-proven meth­ods to increase your cre­ativ­ity:

  1. Psy­cho­lo­gic­al dis­tance: Ima­gine your cre­at­ive task as dis­tant and dis­con­nec­ted from your cur­rent loc­a­tion.
  2. Chro­no­lo­gic­al dis­tance: Pro­ject your­self or the task for­ward in time.
  3. Absurd­ist stim­u­la­tion: Read some Kafka: absurdity is a ‘mean­ing threat’, mak­ing our mind work harder to find mean­ing and enhan­cing pat­tern recog­ni­tion abil­it­ies.
  4. Use highly emo­tion­al states: Highly-charged emo­tion­al states increase prob­lem solv­ing and flex­ible think­ing.
  5. Com­bine oppos­ites: ‘Janus­i­an think­ing’ helps integ­rat­ive ideas emerge.
  6. Take res­ist­ive paths: The path of least res­ist­ance typ­ic­ally leads to ideas lack­ing in cre­ativ­ity (as they’re inher­ently built on exist­ing ideas).
  7. Re-con­cep­tu­al­isa­tion: Re-con­ceive the prob­lem in dif­fer­ent ways before try­ing to solve it, focus­ing on dis­cov­ery at the prob­lem-for­mu­la­tion stage.
  8. Coun­ter­fac­tu­al mind­set: Two types of ‘what could have been’ think­ing:
    • Sub­tract­ive for ana­lyt­ic­al prob­lems (what could have been removed?).
    • Addit­ive for expans­ive prob­lems (what could have been added?).
  9. Two sim­ul­tan­eous prob­lems: Mul­tiple con­cur­rent prob­lems help the recall of pre­vi­ous cre­at­ive solu­tions that may be related.
  10. Gen­er­ic verbs: Focus on abstract rather than spe­cif­ic details of the prob­lem (by think­ing of prob­lem-spe­cif­ic verbs in more gen­er­ic terms).
  11. Syn­onyms and cat­egory tax­onom­ies: Look at the prob­lem cat­egory or type and dis­cov­er hid­den struc­tures (by think­ing of prob­lem-spe­cif­ic details as syn­onyms and cat­egory tax­onom­ies).
  12. Engage con­flict: Social con­flicts give us intense motiv­ated focus.
  13. Think love not sex: Thoughts of love shift our minds to a long-term view­point while sexu­al thoughts shift them to the imme­di­ate, which is more ana­lyt­ic­al.
  14. Stop day­dream­ing: Some­what again­st Csikszent­mi­halyi’s advice, incub­a­tion has shows min­im­al cre­at­ive improve­ments. How­ever its advant­age may be in that it helps us for­get pre­vi­ous bad ideas.

Altern­at­ively you could take advice from Grayson Perry:

Being cre­at­ive is all about being unself-con­scious; being pre­pared to make a bit of a fool of myself. In my exper­i­ence, embar­rass­ment is not fatal. […] I’d like to make a plea for dif­fi­culty over cool. In the end, being dif­fi­cult is the coolest thing you can be.

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