The other day I had a chance to chat with the hip 30-something celebrity of the neuroscience world, Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer is a prolific science writer, a Rhodes scholar and the author of three bestsellers, including his latest Imagine: How Creativity Works. Yes, he’s scary smart, but he also has some down-to-earth ideas about how to unleash the power of your mind.
1. Believe you are creative. Studies show we’re all capable of creative genius, we just need to recognize — and hone — our abilities.
2. Stop trying so hard. Sometimes creativity comes when you just take a break and let your mind wander. When your brain is less vigilantly focused on the outside world, it’s free to turn inward and find inspiration.
3. Try harder. Of course, there are also times when you have to work at an idea to really get it ready for primetime. That’s the beauty of creativity, there is still an element of mystery to the whole thing — it just takes a little self-knowledge to figure out how your brain works best.
4. Calm your mind with a cocktail. We all know what alcohol can do to our inhibitions and when it comes to generating new ideas, a lack of judgment can be a good thing. Lehrer cites a study in which intoxicated students at the University of Chicago performed 30 percent better on creative problem solving tasks than their sober peers.
5. Talk to strangers. Creativity isn’t a singular, isolated process. The more diverse a social network you have, especially with people outside your field of expertise, the better.
6. Don’t brainstorm. People come up with more — and better — ideas when they work on their own as opposed to free-associating in a group where all ideas are considered equal.
7. Encourage debate. Contrary to popular belief, engaging in debate and constructive criticism can stimulate — not stifle — creative ideas by forcing people to dig deeper and build on an idea to make it better.
8. Move to the city. Research shows a busy urban environment where you can literally bump into interesting new people every day is fertile ground for novel, unexpected ideas.
9. Make mistakes. It’s okay to mess up. Not only do you learn from your mistakes, making them helps you let go of your inhibitions so you can fully realize your creative potential.
10. Be curious. About everything.
Sydney Loney is the senior editor of health and features at Chatelaine magazine.