How you can train creativity just like you train your muscles (and how to do both at once)
Creativity is currency these days. In the same way that being disruptive has a cool factor, being creative is suddenly boosting your status as well. Cases in point: A collector’s edition of Scientific American out this spring is titled, “The Mad Science of Creativity.” Adidas’ new ad campaign is called “Here to Create,” and features Karlie Kloss and pro athletes. Adweek has an annual “Creative 100” list and last year, Beyoncé and Aziz Ansari both made the cut amongst 18 other celebs.
It turns out that though creativity is clearly in the zeitgeist, being “a creative” is not some passing fad. “There's never been a time in my 30-year career where I have seen creativity mentioned more often in terms of business and education,” says Gerard Puccio, Ph.D., chair and professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. (Yes, you can actually major in Creativity.) And there’s no sign of a slow-down: In 2016, the World Economic Forum projected the top ten skills necessary for success in the professional world in 2020 and creativity was number three; number one, complex problem solving, is related to creativity. The reason: “I would argue, it’s the fact that we live in an age of innovation and change (people switch jobs upwards of nine times over the course of their careers these days),” says Puccio. It is now widely recognized that creative thinking is a must-have skill, not an it-would-be-nice-to-have skill—creative thinking is necessary in order to survive, he says, and in a way, he means this literally. Exercising creativity can preserve your memory and ward off dementia, says some research.
It can also make you more likely to get promoted to a leadership role or to score a new job altogether. A Bloomberg Businessweekstudy found that creative problem solving is one of the top five skills that recruiters are looking for—and it’s the second most difficult skill to find amongst job candidates.
Whether you’re seeking a more creative disposition simply to be on trend, to boost your health, or so that you can get ahead at work, you can think of training your brain to be more creative just like you train your muscles to be stronger. “We can adapt our minds to become more facile, more fluid, more flexible, and more open-minded when it comes to creative thinking,” says Puccio. But the creativity-exercise connection goes beyond that. Studies show that exercise can actually induce creativity, helping you to come up with new, innovative ideas. “When you begin to explore the neuroscience around this, it shows that exercise promotes incubation and mind wandering,” explains Puccio. “What this does is allow the mind to make new connections.”
In fact, great creators like Earnest Hemingway exercised to promote creative thinking. “Hemingway’s daily writing sessions ended with a one-hour swim—and he’s commented about how often he would get new insights and connections while exercising,” says Puccio.
Here’s how you can harness the power of creativity during your next workout.
Keep it routine
While mixing up your workouts is great for many other reasons, if your motives for moving are to inspire creativity, do the tried and true. “When you first take on new forms of exercise, because you're learning something, your ability to engage in mind wandering may be diminished,” explains Puccio. “But the more you stick with something and the more it becomes a routine, you’ll find your mind will be able to wander and make new connections.” If you go for a daily run, for example, there's a sense of familiarity with that and you don't have to put all of your attention into what you’re doing.
Keep it moderate
“I speculate that if you need new ideas, moderate exercise can help,” says Bernhard Hommel, a professor at the Leiden University Institute of Psychology in South Holland and author of a study on how exercise enhances creativity. “One of the reasons people say they're not creative at work is because they're so intensely engaged in mental activity that their mind can't wander,” Puccio adds. “That's why when you're driving, or going for a walk or a run, you get these "ah-ha" moments. So, intense exercise that makes you focus the mind (think a Tabata workout), may reduce that "ah-ha" phenomenon.”
Eliminate other distractions
While you may typically put on a podcast or workout playlist, try leaving your headphones at home if you’re exercising in search of creative inspiration. Music, TV, and other distractions give your brain other things to focus on which would reduce its ability to wander and discover new ideas, says Puccio.