If your go-to January goals—lose 10 pounds, get more exercise, save more money—are feeling a little stale this year, try shaking things up with a more inspiring approach to self-improvement for 2017. Instead of focusing on your waistline or bank account, consider resolving to ignite your creativity.
While most people say that they'd like be more creative, few actually take steps to nurture their own innate creative potential. But there's so much you can do in your daily life to naturally enhance creative thinking and facilitate "aha!" moments—and these little steps could go a long way in breathing new inspiration into your career and personal projects.
Feeling inspired yet? Try these six science-backed creativity boosters to tap into your inner artist or innovator in 2017:
1. Try a monthlong Facebook detox.
To do creative work, you have to be able to sit down and focus on a difficult task for extended periods of time. All those little everyday distractions—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, email, news alerts, and on and on—add up to make it incredibly difficult to sustain your attention on important and demanding creative projects.
Productivity expert Cal Newport recently warned of the dangers of social media for people looking to get ahead in their careers. He reflected on social media in the New York Times:
"The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you're serious about creating things that matter."
To give your attention span a reset, consider taking a full month (yes, 30 days) off social media. Or if you’re not ready for a full detox, try a program like Self-Control, which blocks distracting websites from your computer for set periods of time.
2. Embark on a solo adventure.
Spending quality time alone and seeking out eye-opening new experiences are two of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to nurture creative potential. While solitude presents an opportunity to reconnect with your own inner voice, new adventures and cultural experiences stimulate the personality trait of openness to experience—a drive to explore is the No. 1 predictor of creative achievement in the arts and sciences.
So get planning on a solo road trip through the Southwest or journey across Myanmar for 2017. You might just find that exploring a new locale triggers a whole new way of looking at things.
3. Make a date with your creative work.
Novelist Zadie Smith once wisely advised young writers to "protect the time and space in which you write." Whether you're a writer or an entrepreneur, it's essential to figure out when you work best and to set up a workspace that's as free from distractions as possible. The next step? Get down to work.
Great writers and artists know that if you want to make creativity a priority in your life, you have to give your creative work a regular space in your calendar, whether it's Sunday nights after the kids have gone to bed or 5 a.m. every morning. Setting up a time and space that's reserved for writing your memoir or launching an entrepreneurial side hustle allows you to harness the power of ritual to commit to your work.
4. Get lost in the woods.
If there's one clear behavioral pattern that emerges from studying the lives of creative geniuses through history, it's that they spend a lot of time in nature and a lot of time walking. Great thinkers from Charles Darwin to William Wordsworth went on lengthy outdoor strolls to mull over creative problems and stimulate ideas. As Henry David Thoreau put it in Walden, the classic manifesto on the power of living in harmony with nature, "We need the tonic of wildness."
Now, science has proved that spending time in nature confers benefits for cognitive function and creative thinking processes, often stimulating insights and aiding in complex problem-solving. One study found that backpackers were 50 percent more creative after they had been on the trail for four days, while other research has shown that walks in nature improve mood and memory1.
5. Let your mind wander.
Paradoxical though it may sound, zoning out might be one of the best things you can do for your creativity. It's often when the mind is wandering freely that we come up with our most original ideas or find the solution to a problem that's been eluding us.
A growing body of research has shown that daydreaming can stimulate creative thinking processes and lead to sudden insights. When we daydream, the mind moves freely from one thought to another, drawing loose associations between different thoughts, ideas, and memories. Creating new and unusual connections between ideas is often described as the very definition of creativity, and mind-wandering offers the perfect opportunity for "connecting the dots."
6. Take up Transcendental Meditation.
Research has shown that open-monitoring forms of meditation like TM, which help foster a heightened awareness of one's thought processes, are the most optimal for creativity.
Whether you're just getting started in your creative life, or want to revive it, trying one or two of these tips is sure to help you foster attention, focus, and commitment.
Carolyn Gregoire is a journalist and writer, covering all things health and science. She worked with Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., scientific director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, on a new book for creative individuals called WIRED TO CREATE: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, which addresses creativity, personality, and the science of habit and motivation. Learn more at WiredtoCreatebook.com.