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How to unleash your creativity: a step-by-step guide

Creativity is not a gift reserved for artists, advertisers or writers. Brain research shows that no matter your education background or profession, if you follow certain techniques, you can also come up with ground-breaking ideas. A recent article published in a special edition of the Scientific American: Mind, ‘The Aha! Moment’ by Nessa Bryce, reveals the cognitive process that you can follow to achieve that ‘magical spark of insight’ experienced by highly innovative people. Creative people have a certain style of thinking and understanding their approach can be an ‘aha! moment’ in itself. Read on to discover the five steps that can get you that creative breakthrough.

1. Explore

People come up with solutions either through moments of insight (“abrupt epiphany”) or through analytical approaches (“methodical trial and error”). Though both methods works, insight is in general the catalyst of highly innovative ideas. Research shows that people who use insight typically rely on the parts of the brain associated with exploration, gathering information and keeping an open mind. So next time you want to come up with an out-of-the-box idea, get engaged in a variety of activities and let your mind roam. Or simply ask yourself ‘How can I do this differently?’ and step outside your comfort zone.

2. Focus

Have you found your passion? Then it’s time to master your topic of choice if you want to experience that moment of insight. Studies show that the more knowledge and skills you gain, the more likely you are to come up with a creative idea. But also keep in mind that innovative solutions arise when you apply your expertise to new domains.

3. Incubate

When you’re in the process of solving a problem and are seeking a creative solution, it is recommended that you take some distance from it and ‘stop consciously thinking about it’. According to research, people in insight mode tend to ‘shift their outward attention to inward focus’ before the ‘aha! moment’. So it’s not surprising that many times people have flashes of insight while thinking of something else during their morning run or as a result of meditation. The article explains that sleeping on a problem and then taking on a different activity ‘can help you unconsciously cultivate creative solutions’.

4. Insight

Using fMRI and EEG, researchers showed that the moment of insight comes with higher activity in that part of the right hemisphere associated with ‘recognising distant connections between words’. The right hemisphere allows us to construe concepts more freely as it interprets information in less strictly defined terms. This is why this side of the brain is associated with creativity. In order to foster this way of thinking, start describing things in novel and out of the ordinary ways. As the article suggests, ‘prime your brain to forge connections between distant concepts’. Moreover, consider closing your eyes to trigger your brain into insight. It seems that breakthroughs come with a decrease in the processing of visual information.

5. Follow-through

It is scientifically proven that creative ideas generate a positive mood and it’s of course recommended to take this opportunity to assess the feasibility of your ideas. When you get into evaluation phase, the parts of the brain associated with critical thinking and decision making are activated. This is the ideal time to ask for feedback and be realistic. Be ready to accept that some ideas might not be as innovative as you’d thought and don’t be afraid to keep trying until inspiration hits. Failure is part of the process. Ultimately, creativity brings about happiness for both the creators as well as the people who get to experience their creations. Research showed that people who see the hidden meaning of a creation tend to like the creation more than people who don’t. That’s why psychologist Claudia Muth hypothesized that ‘insight is rewarding for evolutionary reasons’. Being curious and creative gives you the chance to discover new things and explore new worlds, consequently enhancing your life.

How do you experience flashes of insight? Have you tried the steps explained above or any other approaches? Share your experiences by commenting below and also let us know when inspiration hits.

To gain an in-depth insight into this topic and the research mentioned, you can purchase the article from Scientific American.

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