The start of a new year is a time to reflect on the past and start making goals for the future. But a goal can’t be accomplished without a plan. If you decided to kick up your creativity in 2017, you’re in luck. Carolyn Gregoire is here with seven tips for making this year your most creative one to date. If you still want more, check out Gregoire’s book Wired to Create—a neurological and psychological exploration of some of the most innovative minds from history.
Most people aspire to be more creative. We want to become better writers, to learn to play instruments or make pottery, to come up with better ideas at work or to launch entrepreneurial ventures. Despite these aspirations, few people take steps to actually practice and develop creativity in their everyday lives. But if being more creative is one of your resolutions for 2017, establishing daily routines and habits of mind to inspire creativity is essential. Here are seven science-backed tools for tapping into your deepest creative potential this year.
Take up a morning meditation practice
Many artists, writers, and innovators know that meditation is one of the most powerful tools we have for tapping into our creative potential. One study found that many new meditators reported a “flowering of creativity” after starting their practice, and said that they were able to see things in a different light and pursue new directions in life. Even 10 minutes of meditation in the morning could be enough to make a difference in your mood, stress levels, and creative process.
Start going for long walks
If you look at the habits of creative geniuses through history, from Charles Darwin to Nikola Tesla, one clear pattern that emerges is that they tend to spend a lot of time walking in nature. Going for long outdoor strolls is a great way to mull over creative problems, stimulate ideas, and allow inspiration to arise. Science has shown that spending time in nature can boost attention, memory, mood, and creative thinking processes. One study even found that backpackers were 50% more creative after they had been on the trail for four days.
Try 30 days off social media
Doing creative work requires the ability to sit down and focus on a difficult task for extended periods of time. The numerous distractions that fill our everyday lives—Facebook, Twitter, clickbait, Instagram, email, and news alerts being chief among them—are constantly pulling our attention away from the task at hand. When you’re living in a state of chronic distraction, or “continuous partial attention,” as psychologist Linda Stone calls it, focusing on demanding creative projects becomes incredibly difficult.
To give your attention span a reset and develop a healthier relationship with technology, try taking a full month off social media. Apps and plugins like Self-Control, which blocks distracting websites from your computer for set periods of time, can help you avoid temptation.
Embark on an adventure for one
If solo travel isn’t already on your bucket list for 2017, add it now. Solitude and new experiences are known by psychologists to be two of the best ways to stimulate creative thinking. Navigating new terrain or exploring an unfamiliar culture helps us to develop new perspectives and find novel ways of looking at the world. New adventures help cultivate the personality trait of openness to experience, a drive to exploration in many forms which is the number-one predictor of creative achievement in the arts and sciences. Meanwhile, solitude allows us to reconnect with that inner voice which is the source of so much inspiration, insight and ideas.
Make it a ritual
Setting up a special time and space that’s reserved for creating your business plan or writing your novel allows you to harness the power of ritual to commit to your work. Ritualizing behaviors helps to make them more automatic for us, and therefore less mentally taxing. Over time, it takes choice and willpower out of the equation.
To build a creative ritual, create a daily or weekly slot in your calendar for your creative work, whether it’s Sundays or 6 a.m. each morning. Then, find something to signal to your brain that it’s time for work, like brewing a pot of coffee or lighting incense.
Take more showers
The simplest way to tap into your deepest creativity and trigger your most profound insights is, yes, to hop in the shower. Many creative luminaries have said that they get their best ideas in the shower, and we now know why. Research from psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman (my Wired to Create co-author) found that 72% of people say that they experience new ideas in the shower. Why? Because it’s often when the mind is relaxed and drifting away from the problem at hand that a previously-blocked solution can arise into awareness.
Find a creative outlet for your anguish
We’re living in chaotic times. If you’ve been feeling particularly anxious, sad, angry, or on-edge with everything that’s been going on in the world these past few months, you’re certainly not alone. Instead of shutting down or gluing yourself to the news, channeling your energy into something creative is a much more productive way to deal with difficult emotions.
Transmute your feelings into art and innovation. Art-based therapies like journaling and free-form painting have been shown to be effective in helping people cope with difficult emotions. Applying your creative skills towards a social justice cause you’re passionate about can help, too.
Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at The Huffington Post, where she reports on psychology, mental health and neuroscience. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, TIME, Harvard Business Review, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, The New Republic, Yoga Journal and other publications.