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The Simplest Creativity Hack In The World, From A Performance Expert

Lago di Braies forest
Image by Luca Bravo / Unsplash
January 10, 2021
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Look, you can follow all the expert advice on productivity to a T, but sometimes your creativity just takes a hit. It happens to everyone at times—even performance expert Steven Kotler, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Impossible and founder and executive director of the Flow Research Collective

When you're in this sort of slump, he notes on the mindbodygreen podcast, it's near impossible to keep slugging along at peak performance. So don't try to push through it! Rather, it's best to take a step back. Literally. "The simplest creativity hack in the world is to go look at wide distances," he says.

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How wide distances can boost creativity. 

"When you're looking at very wide skies, peripheral vision, it actually activates the parasympathetic nervous system1," Kotler notes. On the other hand, tunnel vision is associated with the flight-or-fight response—your pupils dilate in response to adrenaline2, so more light can enter the eye for you to see the "threat" better, which is why you might zero in on the task at hand. 

"When you have the opposite with peripheral vision, that actually speeds up neural processing and enhances creativity," Kotler explains. One study even recounted that when participants were engaged in thought, they tended to fixate on an "empty portion of the visual field,"3 like a blank wall or at the sky out the window. And it wasn't that these participants were simply zoning out: By choosing to look at wide, blank spaces, they reduced the cognitive load on their minds and were then able to effectively problem-solve.

Perhaps that's why offices designed with open spaces and natural elements (like gardens) have been shown to alleviate stress and promote collaboration4. Of course, you may not have access to an open office space, as many remain working from home—in that case, take Kotler's advice and spend some time peering into a wide landscape. "When I'm stuck creatively, I'll always go hike with my dogs into the backcountry for half an hour, and then come back to the problem," he shares. You might think taking time out of your busy day would reduce productivity, but trust that you'll likely fare better in the long run.

The takeaway.

In a creative rut? According to Kotler, you should take a breather—maybe take a walk outside or simply look out the window at the sky. Essentially: It's worth it to help your mind wander; in fact, peering at wide spaces can actually enhance your creativity and problem-solving skills. 

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