The following is a guest article by Mark Tyrrell. You can find more information and links to his website at the end of the article
My job drives me to be creative. As a hypnotherapist, I’m compelled to devise on-the-spot metaphors, paint pictures in my clients’ minds with the brush of my words, and bring out the best in people in a way accepted by even the most negatively biased.
Whatever you do – from captivating people with your conversation to playing tennis or writing an attention-grasping strap line for your genius product – upping your creative power will make life more fun, exciting, and rewarding. Because creativity isn’t just the jealous preserve of “arty types” meaningfully smoking cigarettes (e cigaretter med nikotin) in Parisian sky-lit studios, reciting Baudelaire whilst painting naked women as cubes. Anything and everything can be done more artfully, from pitching a ball to pitching an idea.
But to be creative on demand – to be reliable in your artfulness and idea production - that is a challenge. For example I call creative the people behind http://www.sproutwatches.com/.
Fortunately, science (which has more than its share of creative geniuses) has something to tell us about how we can reach out, grab, and pull inspiration up close rather than waiting endlessly for it to arrive in its own sweet time. So here are tried-and-tested ways to get you thinking, feeling, and being so far outside of the box you’ll forget ever being in one.
1) Go do something else
Have you ever struggled long and hard to recall someone’s name only to remember it hours later when you weren’t thinking about it? That desperately sought name pops into your mind whilst admiring the view or thinking about your tax return. Why? Because once you’ve primed yourself to work on a problem consciously, your subconscious will be working on it for you even when you’re not consciously thinking about it at all. In fact, that’s when creativity works best; when it springs directly from your subconscious without too much conscious interference.
Research found that when people are given an unrelated task to do after being asked to create a new idea, the ones who give their unconscious minds a chance to work (because they are focusing on something else) show remarkably more creativity than people who just focus on trying to be creative (1). So work on your problem for a while, and then go watch a movie or take a swim and forget about it…consciously.
2) Be spontaneous
Fear of having our ideas rejected or saying something “silly” melts creativity quicker than an ice cube left out to dry in Death Valley. So think about what the opposite of what you “should” do would be. What would be the dumbest idea? This frees you up to shake off the shackles of restrictive thought, have fun and joke around, and maybe just “by accident” make an enormous creative leap.
3) Prime yourself with absurdity
To get more creative, you need to be freed up to make connections and to see patterns – seeing the forest and the tress, not just nose down to the path.
In another study, participants read an absurd short story by Franz Kafka before completing a pattern recognition task (2). Compared with control participants, those who had read the short story showed an enhanced subconscious ability to recognize hidden patterns. So read Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, or the mind-altering fantasy of Terry Pratchett before getting to work on your own creative masterpiece.
4) Fast-forward in your mental time machine
Actually, this is a favourite technique of hypnotherapists: “age progression”, in which we hypnotically encourage people to go into the future and then describe how they overcame a particular current difficulty or creative dilemma. I’ve had people describe the most incredible creative solutions, which I’ve then encouraged them to try with amazing results; pure productive creativity.
Researchers (3) asked participants to think about what their lives would be like one year from now. These participants were more insightful and generated more creative solutions to problems than those who were thinking about what their lives would be like tomorrow. You don’t have to delve deeply into hypnosis to get creative; just really focus on imagining that you’re looking back from the future with “hindsight”.
5) Let plants grow fertile thoughts
Having a view of nature from a hospital window promotes more rapid healing; but for our purposes, Japanese psychologists also found that, in study after study, people displayed more creativity in office environments if potted plants were in view – as opposed to, say, just computer monitors.
In another study carried out over eight months, it was found that simply adding plants and flowers to an office increased male employees’ creative ideas by 15% and also encouraged more flexible creative solutions from their female colleagues (4). In yet more research, it’s been found that children behave more creatively when they play in nature.
So either get yourself a great natural view or invest in some potted plants and flowers.
6) Let abstract paintings prime your creative brain
Okay, “modern art” might not be your thing. Maybe you like to know exactly what you’re looking at and be assured that it’s something you couldn’t have done yourself. But it’s also been found that creativity at work goes up with the subliminal effect of abstract art hanging around.
Researchers found that the effect of having “modern paintings” on the walls is to make people more creative – whether they profess an interest in or liking for art or not, and whether or not they even consciously notice those paintings (5). So a bit of Rothko, Picasso, or Pollock may go a long way.
7) Let your bad moods be useful
Next time (heaven forbid) you find yourself in a bad mood, instead of wallowing in a resentful swirl of discontented grumpiness, use the intensity of your mood to generate creative connections. Good moods increase both problem solving and flexible thinking, and are generally seen as more conducive to creativity. But negative emotions also have the power to boost creativity. It seems that an intense emotional state (literally “within reason”) can jolt us off the rails of habitual one-track routine thinking. One study (6) of 161 employees found that creativity increased when both positive and negative emotions were running high.
So, calm contemplation of a problem might not be the best way to get creative. “Clearing the mind” may not be as good as distracting the conscious brain so that the subconscious mind can do its thing, feeling creatively grumpy, or hypnotically time travelling.
And remember, creativity doesn’t spring from tidy-mindedness or trying too hard; sometimes we have to learn to stand aside and let it happen.
This article was written by Mark Tyrrell, who creates all sorts of things on a regular basis, including 5 new hypnosis downloads per month on his main website.
(1) Dijksterhuis, A. and Meurs, T. (2006) Where Creativity Resides: The Generative Power of Unconscious Thought. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, pages 135-46.=
(2) Proulx (2009)
(3) Forster et al. (2004)
(4) This research was conducted by Robert Ulrich from Texas A and M University.
(5) Forster, J., Friedman, R., Butterbach, E.M., and Sassenbach, K. (2005) Automatic Effects of Deviancy Cues on Creative Cognition. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, pages 345-59.
(6) George & Zhou (2007)
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