Friday, November 7, 2008

Boost your Creativity

Want to Boost Your Creativity?
Here's the Secret You Should Know

Creativity is the ability to use your imagination to develop new and original ideas and things. This skill is valued by employers, teachers, mothers, lovers and just about everyone in between.

In fact, one in five workers said they would leave their job to join a workplace where they could be more creative, even if it meant earning less money, according to a survey by Ipsos Public Affairs, commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. Meanwhile, 29 percent of the survey respondents said they would move their place of residence to be part of a creative community.

A bit of creativity is often also all it takes to come up with solutions to your personal problems, better ways to manage your time, and even start up that business of your own you've been dreaming about.

Indeed, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort."

Yet, as productive and beneficial as creativity can be, it is often an elusive skill, one that seems to disappear just when you need it most. Fortunately, you can actually boost your creativity by doing something very simple: sleeping.

Sleeping Your Way to Creativity

There's a reason why innovative companies like Google, Cisco Systems and Procter & Gamble have installed EnergyPods -- leather recliners with hoods that block noise and light -- to give their employees a bit of shuteye during the workday. Sleep has been found to increase creativity by 33 percent, according to Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Sleep not only enhances performance, learning and memory, but it also assists your brain in making connections between unrelated ideas, which increases the chances that a new insight will come to light.

It turns out that thoughts need a type of "incubation period" during which your brain can process the problem. After sleeping on a problem, people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas, according to Dr. Ellenbogen.

"It's more that sleep brings a change of approach," Mark Holmes, an art director at Pixar Animation Studios who worked on the film "Wall-E" told the New York Times. "You can get tunnel vision when you're hammering away at a problem. You keep going down this same path, again and again, just tweaking, making incremental changes at best. Sleep erases that. It resets you. You wake up and realize -- wait a minute! -- there is another way to do this."

For those of you who fall peacefully into a slumber the second your head hits the pillow, this is great news. But for the rest of us, getting the sleep we need to be creative can be more of a challenge. According to The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) you should sleep at least seven to nine hours each night.

But NSF's 2008 Sleep in America poll found that the average time spent in bed is just 6 hours and 55 minutes -- with 6 hours and 40 minutes spent actually sleeping. If you need some help getting your shuteye, try:

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
Keeping your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.
Drinking a cup of relaxing tea, like chamomile.
Massaging your feet.
Stretching a bit before you lie down.

Once you are in bed, listening to relaxing music or a relaxation or sleep CD, such as the highly recommended Sleep Easy: Guided Meditations for Deep Rest to help you "shift gears" and relax into sleep.

What Else Can You do to Become More Creative?

If you need to get those creative juices flowing so you can solve a major headache at work, get started on your masterpiece novel, come up with a new way to make a living or any number of other potential reasons, the following tips will help.

1. Don't leave home without a notebook. This way you can jot ideas down whenever they hit you.

2. Change your atmosphere. Taking a walk outside, switching rooms, going to the gym or ... taking a quick nap can all help your mind to get thinking in different ways.

3. Learn to love reading. The more you read -- magazines, books, newspapers, Web pages -- the more ideas you'll be exposed to, and the greater your chances are of reading something that will spark an idea in your mind.

4. Brainstorm. Take five minutes and write down everything that comes to your mind, even if it doesn't seem like a good idea at a time. Later, look over your list and see if any ideas are triggered. For even better results, try brainstorming with one or two other people.

5. Get into a positive frame of mind. Being happy may "free your mind" and increase your creative thinking abilities, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. So make an effort to curb negative thoughts or self-criticism as often as you can.

6. Put on some music. Music is known to elevate your mood and positively influence your brain function.

7. Try the "Six Hats" method. This technique can help you to get thinking about a problem from different points of view, which may inspire creative ideas. For any given problem, examine it from the perspective of the:

Red Hat: Look at the situation emotionally. What do your feelings tell you?

White Hat: Look at the situation objectively. What are the facts?

Yellow Hat: Use a positive perspective. Which elements of the solution will work?

Black Hat: Use a negative perspective. Which elements of the solution won't work?

Green Hat: Think creatively. What are some alternative ideas?

Blue Hat: Think broadly. What is the best overall solution?

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