4 Proven Hacks from Psychology and Neuroscience

What do Thomas Edison, Frida Kahlo, and Michael Jackson have in common? No, they haven’t all recently launched a podcast. Instead, they grace the pages of a terrific new book that tries to reverse-engineer that elusive quality/trait/skill known as “creativity.”
In Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (Buy it at Amazon, BN.com, orIndieBound), University of Pennsylvania psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and writer Carolyn Gregoire enlist psychology and neuroscience to examine some of history’s finest “messy minds.” The result is a fascinating look at the often contradictory habits and practices of the most creative people.

I asked Kaufman to share some advice with newsletter readers. Here are his 4 tips:

1. Make time for solitude.

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For all the hoopla over collaboration, open offices, and constant connection, we can easily forget the value of solitude. The benefits of solitude are many, including the opportunity to find flow, daydream constructively, and think about the meaning of your life. For optimal creativity, set aside time for solitude — from taking a walk in nature to carving out moments when you’re fully removed from social distractions.

2. Think differently – intentionally.

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Creative people are nonconformists. The most original contributions in any field don’t result from efforts to please the crowd. Research by Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns suggests that iconoclasts “bombard the brain with new experiences,” which scrambles existing categories and forges new connections. So take a different route to work. Spend time abroad. Listen to a new genre of music. And the more intentional we are, the better. One study of more than 3,000 entrepreneurs and business executives found that innovators spend 50 percent more time trying to think differently — and these intentional efforts sparked new ideas and associations.

3. Try open-monitoring meditation.

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We’ve all heard the benefits of meditation. But research by Italian cognitive scientist Lorenza Colzato and her colleagues shows one type of meditation is particularly effective for creative thinking. It’s called “open-monitoring” meditation – in which you are receptive to your thoughts and emotions without focusing intensely on, say, your breath or a mantra. By contrast, the more traditional focused-attention meditation was better for “convergent thinking” (coming up with a single best solution to a problem). So depending on where you are in the creative process, try to make time for at least a 15-minute meditation.

4. Embrace adversity.

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History’s creative geniuses weren’t tortured souls. But they were adept at finding meaning and guidance from their setbacks. Some of the greatest creators had a seeming disadvantage — a disability, mental illness, or loss of a parent — which they channeled into their art, writing, or entrepreneurship. To help with your own creative growth, view every setback as an opportunity to reflect: What can I learn from this and how can I put this into my work?

 

This post originally appeared in Dan Pink’s newsletter.