Our best ideas rarely come when we try to force inspiration from the pen, the brush, or the screen, and stress out about our lack of creative thought.
The solution, it turns out, is to do less. To try less. To relax.
Here’s some of the proof:
Research by Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that daydreaming and letting the mind wander caused people to experience higher levels of creativity.
Multiple studies show that our brains restructure information while we sleep; helping us form new mental connections and improve our ability to learn and remember.
Science suggests that high levels of both serotonin (which can contribute to invoking a sense of calm) and dopamine (which causes you to feel happy) can help spur creative thought, while cortisol, the stress hormone, can cause levels of both serotonin and dopamine to drop.
Translation: our brains are better equipped to come up with creative ideas and solutions when we’re content, relaxed, and well-rested.
That doesn’t mean creatives should settle in for a marathon Netflix session. To maximize the positive effects of relaxation on the creative process, you have to chill the right way. Here are five creative-approved suggestions.
Make time for naps
No one needs reminding that getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours) is crucial to our health. But when a lack of sleep leads to a lack of ideas, sleep becomes that much more crucial for creatives. When seven to nine hours of shuteye just isn’t possible or when you come down with a case of the yawns in the afternoon, give yourself permission to nap. A quick 10- to 30-minute snooze can have powerful effects on our energy levels, motivation, and mood.
Buy a colouring book
Scientists and art therapists alike praise the power of the adult colouring book to reduce anxiety, promote calmness and help the brain stop working and start wandering—all crucial for unleashing creative energy.
There is some research that suggests that casual doodling doesn’t have the same effect as colouring. Set your sketchpad aside in favour of a proper colouring book: adult-friendly versions often feature complex geometric shapes, detailed flowers, and landscapes.
Try restorative yoga
We’ve all heard of yoga’s many benefits: it prevents injuries, improves your flexibility, and reduces stress. But few have tapped into the rewards of restorative yoga for creatives. With the use of several props, such as bolsters, blankets, and eye pillows, restorative yoga is designed to help you reach a deeper state of relaxation.
Even for those who find it hard to nap, a restorative yoga class is so soothing you’ll likely fall asleep. But whether it’s during your deep meditation mid-class or post-nap after class, that creative spark you’ve been looking for is sure to ignite here.
Listen to music (the right way)
In adulthood, we often treat our music as background noise while we cook, clean, or work. To unwind and let yourself float into creativity-enhancing daydreams, listen to music the way you might have as a teenager: laying on your bed with your stereo turned up and nothing to distract you. No phone, no book, no chores. Just listen.
Walk the block
Or the trail system near your house, or the beach, or wherever you can get fresh air and your heart rate up. The positive mental effects of walking are well-documented: it helps brain cells form new connections, reduces stress, and can improve memory. A 2014 study at Stanford University even found a direction correlation between walking and improvements to creative thinking. So let your feet and mind wander.
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