By Shannon Argentina McDonald
How often have you heard people dismiss their lack of creativity with, “I’m just not the artsy type”?
Whether we’re deciding where to eat for dinner or cooking a new dish (spaghetti with meatballs and Thai style sauce, anyone?) Or maybe we’re starting a morning routine that invigorates and motivates a great day, writing a resume that stands out from the rest or finding a new adventure to embark on, creativity comes into play in so many aspects of our lives.
But what can you do, in this moment, to bring out your creative side? Here are four actionable (and research-backed) lifestyle strategies that can not only boost creativity but leave you feeling great.
1. KEEP IT MOVING
According to research conducted by Oppezzo and Schwartz (2014), a short walk at a natural pace can boost our overall ability to process information and think clearly as well as boost our creativity. In his book, The Little Book of Lykke, Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, says that after he places his coffee order at the café in his office building, he walks up five floors in the building and then back down, and when he gets back his coffee is waiting for him. “It doesn’t take any more time and, as I drink four cups a day, it means I climb the stairs of a hundred-story building every week,” he says. “Similarly, every two hours in front of the computer “costs” twenty-five push-ups!”
If you would like to generate more creative ideas, whether for work, school, or everyday life, a 20-30 minute walk might be just what you need. No matter the time of the day, a walk always wakes my body up and seems to bring clarity to my thoughts. Breaking up your creative project with body movement allows your mind to take a rest and makes room for more ideas to come through!
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Meditation is one of those beneficial practices we hear about repeatedly with seemingly endless benefits. According to a study done by Greenberg, Reiner & Meiran in 2012, mindfulness allows us to “adopt a beginners mind” and to see things in a fresh, new light, which is very helpful when trying to encourage creativity. It also decreases cognitive rigidity, AKA mental blocks that prevent us from seeing beyond solutions that have already been discovered. Some methods of practicing mindfulness include breathing techniques, body scan meditation, open awareness, compassion meditation, and walking meditation, to name a few.
While it takes discipline to build a practice that you are comfortable with and that works for you (trust me, I am still working on it), the benefits that can be reaped from 5-10 minutes added to your daily morning routine are so worth the time and energy!
One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness in the morning is to pour myself some warm water with lemon, set a timer for 10 minutes and sit down comfortably on my bed or on a pillow on the floor. I like to light a candle or diffuse some oils and appreciate the warmth of the glass in my hand as I sip it. I open the window and listen to the birds, the rain, and whatever other sounds are around me while bringing my attention to my breath — in for a slow count of four, pause for a count of four — followed by a breath out for another slow count of four. When my mind wanders, I am patient with myself and come back into the moment. I never thought meditation was something I could get into, and now it is a part of my morning that I appreciate and look forward to so much!
Try this guided meditation video from Yoga with Adriene or the app Headspace to get started.
3. PRIORITIZE YOUR ZZZ’S
Beauty sleep! The National Sleep Foundation tells us that being awake for 24 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of .10 (.08 being drunk). So, pulling all-nighters is not the best idea when it comes to boosting your creativity or your driving abilities. Also, brain scans have made it clear that the areas of the brain most associated with creativity require quality sleep in order to function and to be activated at their highest potential. In his 2014 study, Timothy Vartanian, M.D., PhD found that when these areas of the brain are not activated, it is harder to block out distractions, to have an open outlook and to produce unique ideas. The participants who were sleep deprived suffered a big loss in creative abilities.
One way to get great sleep is to create a night time routine that we look forward to – whether that involves a warm cup of calming tea, reading a good book, curling up with your pet, diffusing some lavender, whatever makes you feel most relaxed before jumping into bed. Aim for 7-9 hours, as suggested by this article.
4. EAT MORE PLANTS
These days, it is common knowledge that the foods we put into our mouths have an impact on how we feel, look and think, but did you ever think that carrots just might be the premium fuel for your creativity?
In her 2014 study, researcher Tamlin S. Conner found that participants who consumed more fruits and vegetables (which are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) reported higher feelings of well-being, curiosity, creativity and positive mood than those who had diets higher in fast and processed foods. So, try adding more colorful foods (from nature, I’m not talking about Skittles!) to your plate for a creative mental boost.
So next time you find yourself in a creative rut, get yourself a rejuvenating night’s sleep, rise with the sun for some mindfulness and body movement, and swap out the fruit loops for some fresh fruit salad. You will be amazed at what you can create!