If you’ve ever stared at a blank page with little to no inspiration, then you know how angst-ridden the experience can be. No matter how hard you will for an idea to pop into your head, it won’t. Until, perhaps, you hop into the shower or go for your morning walk. Why? Creative ideas come to us by way of daydreams and moments of relaxation, and that’s backed by research. If you work nonstop, you may be killing your creativity.
If you’re a skeptic, consider this: Nikola Tesla had an “aha” moment about rotating magnetic fields while walking with his college friend. That leading to the development of AC current, the basis for nearly all of today’s electric power. Similarly, Albert Einstein listened to Mozart when he needed inspiration. “Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music,” The New York Times quoted his older son, Hans Albert, as saying. “That would usually resolve all his difficulties.”
In her book The Happiness Track, Stanford University’s Emma Seppälä introduces research by University of California Santa Barbara, which found that people are more creative after letting their mind wander. Among the research the paper cited is a 2012 report in the journal for the Association for Psychological Science, which found that engaging in an undemanding activity that encouraged mind-wandering led to better performance on the “Unusual Uses Task,” a test of creative thinking. Hear that, daydreamers? We’ve got the creative process down.
In addition to interjecting periods of relaxation (like a long walk) into your busy week, Seppälä points to research that suggests creativity could benefit from diversifying your experiences (like traveling abroad) and boosting your positivity by allowing for some play time. Can you say ping pong?
Doing nothing now and then is required to replenish motivation and attention, and to form stable memories, science shows. It’s also required for maximum creativity, according to new research. A study that comes out of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where researchers Shira Baror and Moshe Bar asked a group of volunteers to complete a creativity-gauging word association task. For instance, if the researchers said “white,” the participants were asked to name whatever related word first popped into their heads.
Now here’s the twist. The participants had to do this while carrying various mental “loads.” Some were simultaneously asked to remember a string of seven digits, while others had to commit only two to memory. How did their performance differ? That was true no matter how long the participants took to respond, so it wasn’t the case that those with a lot on their minds were simply slower to come up with answers.
You can simply organize your day with relaxation in mind. Try infusing some simple tasks into your focused work. Research says people perform better at a challenging task when they precede it with something easy. Let that mind wander! It pays to relax.
Check out my related post: Are you being too negative to be creative?