10 science-backed creativity boosters

14468176_1289581571076781_7155701109514326041_o By Emma Clark Gratton

We’ve all had slumpy days where it’s hard to get out of bed, let alone come up with anything new. Luckily, the scientific world has proven tips and tricks to boost creativity.

  1. Clench your left hand

Doctor Amantha Imber is a psychologist and the founder of an innovation consultancy. "When we clench our left hand into a fist it activates a region called the extention memory system. So when this is activated it promotes more unique thinking. In studies, the people who were not squeezing or were using their right hand and not their left hand, didn't have as many creative thoughts. So if you clench your left hand you will have more creative thoughts just through that simple action," Dr Imber said.

  1. Meditate

If you are stuck on a certain issue and can’t move forward, it is easy to feel anxious and stressed. When panic strikes, try meditating: It promotes divergent thinking, a state of mind in which we’re able to generate new ideas.

  1. Write by hand

Carrie and Alton Barron, the authors of The Creativity Cure, advise us to skip the Word doc and pick up a pen instead. Sometimes the whole experience of writing by hand—the feel of the pen, the smell of a fresh notebook—is all it takes to get creative juices flowing.

  1. Look at something blue or green

According to the principles of colour therapy, the colours blue and green can promote creativity. Researchers say that’s because we associate blue with the ocean, sky, and openness in general, while green signals growth.

  1. Sit outside a box

Though it might sound a little strange, in one study, people who sat outside a box (literally) were better at thinking creatively than people who sat in it.  No cardboard container handy? Try sitting in the hallway outside a room.

  1. Exercise

We all know the benefits of regular exercise, but even just a short walk can reset your brain enough to kick-start your creativity. Plus one recent study found regular exercisers performed better on creative tasks than their less active peers did.

  1. Be psychologically distant

Have you ever noticed that giving advice to a friend is easier than solving your own problems? This is because you are “psychologically distant” from your friend’s problem, meaning that the issue is not occurring in the present and does not affect you. According to a study from Indiana University, increasing the psychological distance between you and a problem boosts your creativity. You may also gain new insights and clarity by thinking about a problem more abstractly.

  1. Give yourself deadlines

According to a study by MIT Sloan School of Management, setting self-determined deadlines for completing a project improves task performance and decreases procrastination. Simply give yourself a set amount of time to finish a task, and impose on yourself incentives for meeting the deadline and consequences for failure.

  1. Think like a child

Picasso declared: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." But a recent study suggests that it's possible to regain the creativity we've lost to maturity. A few hundred subjects were assigned to two different groups. The first was given the following instructions: "You are seven years old, and school is cancelled. You have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?" The second group was given the same instructions, except the first sentence was deleted. After writing for ten minutes, the subjects were then given tests of creativity, such as inventing new uses for a car tyre or a brick. The students who imagined themselves as children scored far higher on the creative tasks, with nearly twice as many ideas as the other group. Picasso would be proud.

  1. Restrict yourself

Famously, Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs & Ham after betting that he couldn’t produce a story using less than 50 words. The research shows Seuss was on to something. Most people naturally take the path of “least resistance” and build off of older or existing concepts when brainstorming, which can lead to less creative ideas. In order to put the brain in overdrive, you can mimic Dr. Seuss and place restrictions on yourself while creating, which will prevent you from falling back on past successes. If you usually write 1000-word short stories, try to create a story in under 500 words. Only use a small handful of chords in your song or colours in your design. The limiting nature of the task can bring out your most creative side.


Emma Clark Gratton is the Head of Content at Creative Women's Circle, a staff writer at ArtsHub and a podcaster who, alongside her husband Lee, runs GRATTON, a timber furniture and architectural joinery company. She blogs occasionally at Worst House Best Street and posts endless photos of her sons on Instagram at @emmamakesthings.