Five ways to be more creative

People thinking of ideas Sometimes it can be hard work being creative whereas other times inspiration will hit without warning

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Most people aspire to be creative and have an original insight which makes them stand out from the crowd.

But is creativity a random process or is it something that can be nurtured and triggered using a variety of techniques? Scientists around the world are exploring what happens in the brain preceding that 'eureka' moment.

Their research suggests these five things could help you unleash your creative side.

Do things differently

If you want to come up with innovative solutions to a problem which is bothering you, then doing something as simple as changing aspects of your daily routine could lead to a creative insight.

Psychologist Dr Simone Ritter from Radboud University Nijmegen has found that even just changing the way you make your usual sandwich can help boost levels of creativity.

She says people should seek out unexpected experiences if they wish to think differently and so approach problems with a fresh perspective.

Altering your daily routines can result in changes happening in your brain.

Well-travelled neural pathways are abandoned and new connections made between brain cells. This can then lead to new and original ideas.

Cut distractions

Another option is to remove all distractions if you wish to try to trigger an epiphany.

Creative test

Bricks

Psychologists also often use a simple brick to test people's creativity.

What alternative things could you do with a common brick?

If you are able to come up with many different ideas, then it's likely that you're a divergent thinker.

Prolific children's author Roald Dahl allowed very few people into his famous garden writing hut, while Jonathan Franzen famously wrote his 2001 novel The Corrections at times wearing earplugs, earmuffs and a blindfold.

You can also try to train your brain to cut out distractions.

Neuroscientists believe moments of insight occur in the right side of the brain in an area near the front called the anterior superior temporal gyrus. Research suggests there is a significant increase in high energy brain waves (called gamma waves) which erupt from this spot when that eureka moment occurs.

Prof John Kounios from Drexel University says that just before that happens, there is a burst of alpha waves - which are associated with relaxation - in the back of the head.

People take in a lot of information visually but these alpha waves allow the brain to take a slight break - much like what happens when you blink your eyes.

This then allows this very faint idea to bubble up to the surface as an insight.

Prof Kounios adds: "When you ask someone a difficult question, you'll often notice that they'll look away or they might even close their eyes or look down. They will look anywhere but at your face which is very distracting."

If your attention is directed inwardly you are more likely to solve a problem with a flash of insight.

Work on mundane tasks

Dr Rex Jung explains how white matter plays a crucial role in creativity

Another activity to help you trigger your creative brain waves could be to work on something that requires minimal thought.

Prof Jonathan Schooler from the University of California, Santa Barbara explains: "If you are stumped, take a break. Allow the unconscious processes to take hold. But rather than just sitting there, you might want to take a walk or a shower or do something like gardening."

Gregor Mendel, often described as the "father of genetics", spent years patiently counting and studying pea plants and honeybees.

Underappreciated during his lifetime, he was the first to uncover the laws of heredity.

Don't be afraid to improvise and take risks

Rahsaan Roland Kirk Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a blind jazz musician whose ability to freestyle was renowned

Dr Charles Limb from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says everyone is creative even if they do not realise it.

"If people think about their daily behaviour - most of it is unscripted. Most of it is improvised. They don't actually plan every second what they are going to do," he says.

He says jazz musicians, along with freestyle rappers, illustrators and cartoonists experience changes in an area at the front of their brain called the prefrontal cortex when improvising.

He said: "It's the portion of the brain which kind of makes us human. We saw a shutdown of the pre-frontal cortex in these musicians."

These types of people are less likely to feel they have to monitor their behaviour and so are more likely to take a risk.

Just let your mind wander

Famous eureka moments

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was reading Thomas Malthus's Essay on Population for amusement when he was able to crystallise his theory of natural selection.

Greek polymath Archimedes is long associated with the term 'eureka' which is what he is supposed to have said after discovering the principle of buoyancy while in the bath.

The inspiration for Post It notes came about when 3M chemist Arthur Fry tried to find a bookmark for his hymn book in church. He realised he could use a special adhesive invented by his colleague Spencer Silver to make a marker.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey popularised the concept of an 'Aha' moment - meaning the exact realisation someone has when they need to change their life - with her talk show and magazine.

Dr Rex Jung from the University of New Mexico has also observed that when people are engaged in the creative process, there is a distinct change in the frontal lobes.

When there is less activity in the frontal lobes, it is more likely that you can come up with an original idea.

Dr Jung describes the phenomenon as "transient hypofrontality."

He says it is possible to trigger this temporary brain state by meditating or taking a long run.

He adds it is all about what's happening with the white matter in the brain - an intricate wiring system which is formed of more than 150,000km worth of connections.

Your idea may also have been rumbling around in your unconscious mind for a while before you become aware of it, so while that 'aha moment' may feel instantaneous, as the research shows, a lot happens before you are even aware of it.

According to Dr Jung's research, inventive brains are less packed and organised and so nerve traffic is slowed down. This gives the opportunity for more unusual connections to be made even if it takes a little while to do so.

If it happened to Charles Darwin, it could happen to you.

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