The Best Emotional State
To Improve Creativity

The need to be creative is quite underrated in our daily lives.

Whether it be juggling your schedule to get things done, finding ways to get your child to eat their vegetables or coming up with interesting new ways to exercise, creativity often spills into many different facets of our life.

And interestingly, scientific studies show that there is one emotional state that is best for improving creativity.

If you’re guessing, the answer to this one might not be too big of a surprise if you are a fan of the Big Bang Theory… or you happen to be over 40 years old.

The answer is boredom!

For fans of the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon once worked briefly as a waiter (a task he considered boring) to kick-start his creativity and solve a challenging physics problem.

For people 40 and over, when you were a child, if you told your parents you were bored, you were probably told to go outside and do something (which could stimulate creativity by exploring something new, making up a game or possibly finding new and unique ways to get in trouble!).

Mann and Cadmarr (2013) had study participants copy phone numbers out of the telephone book for 15 minutes (their boring task), while a control group went straight to completing a creativity task.

Results showed that the group who completed the boring task first performed better on the creativity task, which for this study involved finding as many different uses as they could for a polystyrene cup.

Take-Home Message

If you need a jolt of creativity or find yourself stuck on a problem, consider doing something you find boring for a while to allow your insightful thinking process to kick into gear.

Generally speaking, if you try too hard to force creativity, you’re likely to come up empty.

3 Quick Tips To Improve Creativity

Fortunately, there are many different ways to help improve creativity. This is a good thing because there are many kinds of 'thinking problems,' and some strategies work better depending on the type of problem you are trying to solve.

So, let's take a look at three more strategies you can use to maximize your creativity.

Pick the Right Time of Day

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Does it matter for creativity?

The short answer is, it depends.

Wieth & Zacks (2012) asked study participants to take two types of creativity tests.

The first type of creativity test involved solving an insight problem. These are abstract problems that involve thinking outside the box.

The second type of creativity test measured performance on an analytical test. These are problems where you follow the steps to solve an answer, such as a math problem.

Results showed that morning people (i.e., people who are most focused in the morning) did better at solving analytical problems in the morning and insight problems in the evening.

And for evening people (i.e., people who are more focused in the evening) the same pattern emerged.

They were better at solving analytical problems when they were more concentrated in the evening and performed better on abstract insight problems when they were more sleepy in the morning.

So, depending on what type of problem you want to solve, picking the right time of day can help.

Drink Tea

This strategy was probably a little unexpected, but there is good science to back it up.

Huang et al. (2018) had study participants complete a divergent thinking task as a test of creativity after drinking a cup of tea.

Divergent thinking involves coming up with as many creative ideas as possible to solve a problem.

An example of this would be “How many different ways can you use an apple?”

A few that came to mind include eating it, playing catch with it, and throwing it at someone who is frustrating you... you get the idea.

Results showed that the study participants who drank black tea did notably better on the divergent thinking task.

And for those of you wondering why tea works, science doesn’t have a good answer for you yet.

Caffeine and theanine, which past studies have shown help to improve attention, appear to be unlikely factors, as tea's effect on creativity was immediate, and the doses of caffeine and theanine in the drink were small.

So, why tea is beneficial for creativity remains a mystery for now. But for those of you who enjoy tea, drink up!

However, this isn’t a free pass to drink one cup after another in the name of creativity. A single cup is all you need to help with creativity, and the effect is immediate.

Use Meditation

For those of you familiar with meditation, this strategy may seem obvious, but not so fast.

There are many different types of creativity, and depending on which type of creativity you want to tap into, you’ll need to adjust your meditation technique.

For this example, let’s assume you need to tap into creativity to solve an insight problem (Ren et al., 2011).

This is a predetermined problem (e.g., how to get to work on time but still be able to drop your kids off at school first) that needs a bit of creative insight to solve.

Results showed that learning a simple meditation technique made a significant difference in creativity.

But the key was that meditation needed to focus attention on breathing.

Dr. Ren noted that to solve a pre-existing problem, it is best to use a focused meditative style (i.e., attention to breathing) to get the best results.

What strategies do you use to help with creativity?
Are there any strategies in this list you are interested in trying?
Join the conversation on Facebook!

Article by

Trevor Sullivan, MA, RP

Registered Psychotherapist

August 5, 2020