The Science Of Creativity And How To Fight A Creative Block

Can you become more creative? How does your brain create things? What is a creative block and how do you fight it? If you use creativity in any aspect of your life, then these are questions you might want to have the answer to.

Creativity is not only about art. We use creativity almost everyday in our life. And probably in every business out there, creativity is one of the main requirements. In order to be successful in any field you have got to be creative.

But what is creativity and how can you be creative?

Let’s find out.


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What is creativity?

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.

And in the words of a great creator:

Creativity is just connecting things.
When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs

What is the science behind creativity?

Did you ever wonder about what happens in your brain when you come up with an idea or manage to solve a problem? How does your brain create things?

It has been suggested in one study that creativity is a twofold process, in which an initial improvisatory phase, characterized by spontaneous generation of new material, is followed by a period of focused re-evaluation and revision.

And apparently, contrary to general belief that there is a specific part of your brain (the right side) that is responsible for creativity, creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.

The creative process however involves both sides of the brain. This process is divided into four parts: Preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

Graham Wallis, a researcher, explained the four-stage process that goes through the person’s brain when they try to come up with a creative solution to a problem as follows:

1. In the preparation stage, we define the problem or desire, and gather any information the solution needs.

2. In the incubation stage, we step back from the problem and let our minds contemplate and work it through. Like preparation, incubation can last minutes, weeks, even years.

3. In the illumination stage, ideas arise from the mind to provide the basis of a creative response. These ideas can be the entire solution or just pieces. Unlike the other stages, illumination is often very brief, involving a tremendous rush of insights within a few minutes or hours.

4. In verification, the final stage, one carries out activities to demonstrate whether or not what emerged in illumination satisfies the need and the criteria defined in the preparation stage.

The first and last stages are left brain activities, while the second and third stages belong to the right brain.

How can one become creative?

I didn’t know that you can “become” creative. I thought creativity was mainly a gift. Some people are born creative and others are not, and that’s it.

But it turns out there is a lot more to creativity than that. While there is a genetics part to it, creativity is mostly developed through experience.

Creativity is a muscle you develop.

Mark Rober

It all depends on the experiences you have been through and how you train your brain to use the information it has.

Creativity is your ability to bring the most unrelated things and create a connection between them.

If you know hip hop music, then you probably know what freestyle is. Freestyle is a style of improvisation in which unrehearsed lyrics are recited with no particular subject or structure; where rappers use random words that has nothing to do with each other and create a rhyming lyrical content. This is one great example of how creativity works.

A study was made on a number of freestyle rappers in 2012. The scientists asked a number of rappers to freestyle lyrics and scanned their brains while they were rapping those random words, to find a way to figure how creativity works and what happens in the brain during the creative process. You can read more about this study here.

I’ve read a number of articles and watched a few videos on this subject of being creative and one of those that stood out for me was a TEDx talk by Balder Onarheim.

He gave three ways you can practice creativity and I found them quite interesting.

  1. Think of 3 unrelated words while brushing your teeth
  2. Use your dreams to solve a problem
  3. Use Wikipedia’s “Random Article”

Tooth Brush

He asks you to challenge yourself while brushing your teeth, before you go to bed every night, to come up with three words that are completely unrelated to each other. And then try to create some form of connection. This is something similar to being able to freestyle.

This is a way for you to train your brain to find connections between things that wouldn’t normally have a connection, and that on the long run strengthens your creative abilities.

Dreams

First of all, there are four stages of sleep, the fourth and last one of them is the rapid eye movement (REM) stage which is when we are dreaming and this stage takes place every 90-110 minutes, this is how long it takes for a complete sleep cycle.

And if you wake up right after this stage, you will be able to remember clearly what your dream was about.

And, in the video, Onarheim suggests that before you go to sleep, think of all the information you have on a certain problem or block that is stopping you, but don’t try to solve it, only recite the details as if giving raw information to someone else.

Because in dreams there are no rules and no constraints on what can and can’t happen. There is no logic; your mind wanders freely, and so you would most likely be able to find a connection that you weren’t able to see or figure something that you weren’t able to think of while awake.

You may want to read this article about how to use your dreams to solve a problem as it also suggests some ways to help you remember your dreams better.

And here is a number of famous examples where people got their best and most famous ideas from their dreams.

Wikipedia

The third suggestion is if you are stuck right now and need to come up with a solution, you may use something like Wikipedia’s Random Article option and regardless of what this article is about, you must read and find some form of solution out of this article.

I tried this one myself when I was stuck and while it didn’t direct me to the exact idea I was looking for, it did help in the brainstorming process.

There are many more things you can do to work on your creativity, read those other 9 ways to become more creative.

image from mission.org

What is a creative block?

So when you have worked on your creativity and practiced all the ways, and you’ve successfully become a creative person now!

Then all of a sudden your mind surprises you with creative blocks. It is when your mind refuses to let loose and create more. It is the inability to access your internal creativity.

And it often seems to happen when you’re in a desperate need of being creative. Because that’s how life works apparently.

My experience with a creative block this week

This past week, among a few other things, a block was in the way of me writing something new and caused me to be late for the first time to publish my blog post.

I received a call from my father a few days ago and I told him I feel bad because it seems like I will miss this week’s post and when he asked me why, I didn’t know what to say, because when I tried to find a reason, I couldn’t come up with one. And I felt so stupid.

The initial thought I had of the reason I couldn’t create something was because I wasn’t feeling it. I simply thought I lacked the motivation to do it.

But when I put more thought into it, I realized it was because I felt too much pressure. I felt like I had to put something out there that was so well-thought-out, perfectly researched and executed.

I needed to put a perfect article, but I wasn’t in the state of mind to create something this good and I didn’t have enough time, which added even more pressure.

And even though, deep down, I know that done is always better than perfect, I couldn’t make myself publish something that I wasn’t 100% satisfied with.

I have spent four days in a row in a mental fight with myself. And it was something like this:

I need to create something, but I don’t have the energy because there is too much pressure and too little time, and it needs to be perfect, but I can’t create perfect. I suck.

When I finally missed the deadline and couldn’t manage to publish anything in time, feelings of pressure were replaced with feelings of guilt. I was still facing the mental block but I was no longer anxious, I was simply sad.

However, when I was no longer anxious, I was able to think more clearly. And what I learned through this process is to identify what the voices in my head are saying.

I simply lost the purpose of my blog and this is why I felt the pressure and felt that I had to have a perfect article published.

The purpose of this blog was for me to learn something new every week, it is a way for me to document what I learn, this is why I started it.

However, recently this perspective started to shift and I started to think of it as a way to teach people something new.

This change of perspective, though might seem trivial, has hugely impacted my entire process. It was no longer about self-improvement, it has become an obligation towards others. It has become a pressure to put something that matches people’s expectations.

And that was what caused my creative block.

I just had to go back and think and realize why I got stuck in my head in the first place.

Once I realized this, and once I got this initial perspective back, I carried on with my process as usual. I realized that I don’t have to get it perfectly right every single time, not every week’s article needs to be “the best article I have ever written.”

It’s fine to put something that is not my absolute best, and work on enhancing later, or create something better the following week.

No one can get it right all the time. And no has to get it right all the time.

How do you fight a creative block?

I’m sure every creative person has to go through a creative block at one point throughout their creative process. It can cause loss of motivation and a lot of self doubt.

And it can be difficult to get past a creative block, but being aware of when and why a creative block develops can help in avoiding it.

I have read somewhere that in order to fight a creative block, you first need to identify your resistances.

A resistance is whatever it is that keeps you from creating. It is that internal voice in your head that tells you, “don’t create anything today.”

It could be fear. Fear of failure or rejection, fear of judgment, fear of facing an audience.

It could be a voice telling you no one cares about what you create.

It could be your mind telling you there is someone out there who is doing it better anyway.

It could be you comparing your work with someone else’s and feeling you will never match their talent and execution.

There are so many reasons as to why you will have this voice telling you not to create, and to be able to fight it, you will have to give yourself a moment to realize why it is telling you this.

Once you realize your resistances, you can then work on eliminating them.

Think of a creative block like having your brain in a cage, once you know what the cage is made of, you will be able to unlock it.

In my case, it was losing perspective of my process, losing the vision and also the need for perfection. When I identified those things, the resistances, I managed to get my perspective back and realize I was wrong, and that helped me get out of this block.

You may want to check this article that discusses a number of reasons as to why you may have a creative block and suggests some solutions for each one.

It is also worth mentioning that in some cases people can consider several types of therapy to help them with creative blocks.

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Suggestions from the Twitter-verse

I asked creative people on Twitter about what things they do that helps them get out of a creative bock and there were a lot of good suggestions, and some of them could be helpful to whoever reads it.

“I make a list of ideas I want to write about. Organization and accomplishment are big motivators for my writing. I also clean when I’m in a slump, b/c I’m more productive in a clean/organized environment.”
The Prepping Wife

“I just have to walk away and do something else. Inspiration usually strikes when I’m in the shower or about to fall asleep.”
Mom of the Moment

“I keep lots of different projects going at once. If i get burnt out on one, there’s usually another style, another topic, that i can write about.”
Kella Hanna-Wayne

“I usually turn on a documentary or series on PBS which slso tends to get my inspiration spinning. I also find cider helps too – a glass tends to help make me more confident and less doubtful.”
Peacoat Travels

“I also find that reading a book unrelated to anything I do helps. I’m a musician and have recently started writing for fun. Reading gets me out of my own head.”
My Unexpected Life

“Visiting a place I haven’t been to before or in a long time.”
Sean Flac 2.0

“I actually play video games haha. Or go for a walk if it’s nice out.”
In Asian Spaces

“A long run to clear my thoughts or a little girl time with friends usually inspires me — especially the topics that come up (some may not be appropriate for my blog, but they inspire none the less).”
LifeTravelStilettos

“I disconnect from technology, social media & the society. So as to reconnect with my soul and my creativity in nature and silence.”
Neha Gunnoo

“Depending on my creativity to keep a roof over my head means I don’t have the luxury of blocks. I dig in & do the work. When it gets tough, I’ll switch projects for awhile, or do something physical. Or shower. I work through tough plot points in the shower.”
Devon Ellington

“Sit down and write out a first draft with as many related words as possible. So if I’m interested in writing about fitness I would think about related keywords and jot them down, this gets the creative juices flowing…”
Underground Fitness

“Watch something on Netflix, read a small book, take a stroll, start writing in a little notebook, listen to some music. Those are all warmups to me.”
M. Lanen-de Vries

If you have other methods you use to fight creative block yourself, please share them in the comments below.

Till next week, happy days!

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Who Is Ray?

In case anyone is ever wondering.

I’m starting this blog as a way to track and document my very unsettling and skeptic journey of achieving financial freedom and starting my own business (and, you know, becoming my own boss!).

The reason I use words like “skeptic” and “unsettling,” and I would go as far as saying frightening and insane, is that I don’t personally know anyone who’s ever done this before. At least not someone who didn’t initially have a huge sum of money (because they come from a rich family or so) to start with. Everyone I know follows the typical “active income” lifestyle: A day job and a salary for the hours they worked at the end of the month and that is it. And most of them live a month-to-month kind of life.

So, I am certainly taking a huge leap of faith here!

But before I take you on my journey, here’s a brief background about me first.

I’m a telecommunications engineering graduate who never really worked as one. I graduated in May 2015 with the decision to pursue a career as a writer instead. I thought the hardest thing about that decision was to face my parents with the fact. Boy was I wrong! That was probably the second easiest thing I’ve ever had to do. 

The hard part though was to actually pursue the career. Have you ever felt like you just don’t fit in a certain crowd? If so, that makes two of us!

In the brief 4 months of me taking online (because I couldn’t find any off-line) writing courses to polish my skill, I started to feel a lot like an impostor on that field. For two main reasons really: 1st, everyone in those courses was an English speaker who lived in an English speaking country; 2nd, none of them was an engineer.

See, my plan was to write a novel and publish it and become a published author and while I do that, I would find myself a day job as a writer/copywriter. And God only knows why I ever thought that this was going to be that easy.

First reality check was when I realized that where I live people do not need my skill. As you can clearly see, I write in English, and that is not my country’s 1st language. So, an English writing job that is basically for fiction readers is not something you would run into that often (in my case, ever!).

And don’t get me wrong, I do love my 1st language, but for some reason I have always felt more comfortable expressing my ideas and thoughts in English. I enjoyed English literature in school and the more I read the more I was encouraged to write. Perhaps this ease that comes with writing is for the sole reason that it is not my mother tongue. If I were just as fluent in German, that would have been the language I write in. (And there was a brief moment in time when I actually did.)

Anyway, so when I realized that the fact that I love to write stories in the English language was the kind of thing you say in an interview to sound more educated, creative, and thoughtful, but not the kind of thing that would actually land you an interview, I started exploring my options.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any job in my field of study (telecom engineering) that didn’t require a prior experience of some sort. That was when the customer service genie opened its wide arms to my unemployed potato head and I got my first job as a customer care agent for a telecom company (the irony!). 

I spent 10 months in that customer care job, during which I joined the 2015’s NaNoWriMo for the first time and wrote the first draft of my very first novel, as I was still hanging on to that dream of becoming a writer one day. (And, in case you were wondering, the draft is still untouched to this day.)

I then left that job for an opportunity to work as a scientific copy editor at an English research publishing company/online magazine. I figured that was a step closer to my initial dream and as close as it gets to my dream job. And let’s just say that feeling was amazing while it lasted! But 6 months into that job, I realized it was too boring for my brain cells. 

Fast-forward to April 2018, I would land another customer service job at yet another telecom company (when fate is clearly sticking out its tongue at you).

September 2018 was when I decided that this was no longer what I want to do with my life. I no longer want to be a customer care agent, this was supposed to be a temporary thing until I actually find a job I want. But now it felt I was just wasting my days, approaching my 26th year alive with absolutely zero accomplishments, zero goals, zero boxes ticked off my bucket list (which I started in high school, but in my defense, there are some unachievable stuff in there, like owning a home on an island before 30. What was I thinking?)

So, it was kind of an existential crisis in a way. I left my 30-day notice that month and, despite what everyone said, I didn’t care if I didn’t have a clear plan yet. All I knew was that this was not what I wanted to do with my life, and that was enough reason for me to quit it.

The few days following my quitting the job, while still unclear about my next step, I received 3 other customer service job offers 2 of which were really easy to reject, the 3rd one was a tough no; but something else happened too, I ran into this video Getting A Job Is For Losers by Rich Dad Channel on YouTube, and that was when it hit me; I realized that what I really needed was to not need a job. I was more drawn to the idea that I do not necessarily need to work for someone else to make money, the idea of being financially independent, of having an income whether or not I worked for 45/50 hours every week.

That’s when I started to research on this more and figure out other ways to have a source of income. And throughout the posts of this blog I will be experimenting with all the ways I find and share all the tips and methods I run into that would help me (and hopefully whoever reads this) achieve that goal. *fingers crossed*