Try a few of these activities and see where they lead:
Go for a walk. Getting off the couch and moving doesn’t just do your body good–it apparently gets your creative juices flowing as well. A 2014 study from researchers at Stanford University found that people who went for a walk significantly increased their creativity–what’s called “divergent thinking” over people who just sat. This held true whether they were walking on a treadmill or outside, so it wasn’t just exposure to the great outdoors that stimulated more creative output.
Get a hobby. You may think that you have to already be creative or talented to develop a hobby like cooking or painting or music. But a recent study found that people who engage in creative hobbies outside their job also have better problem solving skills on the job. So what if you’re never going to be a pastry chef? Taking that cake decorating class might open up your mind in new and unexpected ways. According to the study’s author, organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman, the participants described these hobbies as providing “self-expression and an opportunity to really discover something about themselves.”
Daydream. Set time aside–maybe even ten minutes a day–to let your mind wander, with no set destination. You may be surprised at where it goes and what you discover. Researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara have found that daydreaming when you’re consciously aware of what you’re doing–called “meta-awareness”–can help you find creative solutions to problems that have been stumping you.
Embrace the Mess. Conventional wisdom says that a neat work space is essential for productivity. But isn’t creativity unconventional? Researchers found that while a neat desk encourages “good behavior” (like choosing an apple over a candy bar),working at a messy desk promoted novel choices and stimulated new ideas.“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” said the study’s lead author, psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”
Work in a coffee shop. Too much or too little noise may hinder creativity, researchers have found–but just like Goldilocks, a moderate hum of background noise may be “just right.” In a series of brainstorming experiments published in theJournal of Consumer Research, scientists found that a light level of ambient noise–like you’d find when you settle down with your laptop at Starbucks or Panera–spurred divergent thinking.
Dim the lights. Working in dimmer light can instill a sense of freedom and dis-inhibition that breeds creativity, compared to standard office lighting, suggested a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2013.
Spend time in another country. Multi-cultural experiences can make you look at things from other perspectives, and stimulate innovative and flexible thinking, suggests a series of studies, including one in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in May 2009.