6 weird, scientific tips for inspiring A+ ideas when you're stuck in a rut.

We've all experienced the struggle of trying to be creative on demand, only to be paralyzed by a major brain block.

You know how it goes. You sit down at your desk, ready to brainstorm some sweet ideas.

"I can do this," you say to yourself. "I'm a smart person. This will be a piece of cake."


You have everything you need at your desk. You're good! You're high energy!

You need a big idea? Yeah! You have big ideas all the time!

Like ... uh...

...uh...

GIFs from "Big Hero 6."

Shoot.

When you're stuck for ideas, it might feel like you've hit a wall. Everyone's been in this position at some point or another, and we've all heard the standard "fixes" for this brain blockage — things to stimulate your brain like taking a walk, talking to a friend, or keeping a journal.

But ... what if those things don't work for you?

Here are six weird, scientifically backed, ways to get your creative brain juices flowing again:

1. Work on your project at whatever time of day is usually your least productive.

Feel most alert early in the morning? You might want to wait 'til the late afternoon before trying to draft the next chapter in your novel.

Photo via iStock.

In a 2011 experiment, participants were consistently more insightful at non-optimal times of the day compared to optimal ones.

It turns out that while being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed might be good for analytical tasks like logic puzzles or math, that highly focused energy can crowd out the eureka moments. But if you try writing that chapter at a time that doesn't feel optimal for you, you might find new solutions and possibilities come more easily.

2. Take a walk in a cemetery or think about death. No, seriously.

Trying to write a song and the lyrics just aren't coming? One weird way to force yourself to be more creative might be to think about death.

Many different studies — like this one about humor and this one about creative expression — have suggested that, under the right conditions, indulging our morbid sides might help unlock new ideas.

Image from ju-dit/Pixabay.

There are some caveats to this advice: For example, the humor study found that this only worked if participants were subconsciously shown morbid stuff, and the results of the creative expression study kind of fall apart if participants dwelled a little to much on their own mortality.

But if you're already in a creative rut, why not try doodling the reaper man, walking through a cemetery, or even just changing to your favorite "The Walking Dead" computer background? Who knows, a little subconscious morbidity might just help you find the inspiration for the muse you've been looking for.

3. Try turning off the lights and working in the dark.

If you need to come up with an elegant solution to a complicated coding problem, for example, it might be time to draw those shades and embrace the darkness like you're a vampire, or Batman.

We all want to be Batman. Photo via iStock.

“Darkness increases freedom from constraints, which in turn promotes creativity." That's according to two researchers in Germany who were studying employee creativity.

Turning the lights down low gives a greater sense of freedom and reduced inhibition, which can increase creativity and help us come up with new workarounds or solutions for whatever we're stuck on.

(By the way, if you regularly work in a dark environment, consider getting a screen dimmer, like f.lux, to reduce eyestrain.)

4. You know that co-worker or relative you never agree with? Show them where you're stuck.

If you've got to pitch an idea to your boss and it's just not coming, don't just reach out to your friends for help, because — in this case — your worst enemy might also be your creativity's best ally.

Craig, your exaggerated hand movements are getting problematic. Photo via iStock.

It might seem like every single office brainstorm starts with the phrase, "There are no bad ideas," but if you need something truly innovative, you should be seeking out dissent, not agreement.

"Dissent, debate, and competing views have positive value, stimulating divergent and creative thought," says one study from 2004.

Having to defend your ideas is not only a quick and easy way to expose any flaws in your thinking, but also helps bring up new viewpoints or snags you may not have considered before. If all your office buddy and you are doing is agreeing with each other, you're just listening to your own echoes and getting nowhere.

5. Take a few minutes to stir up some nostalgia by trawling through your old Facebook photos.

If all your paintings are starting to seem tired or you're stuck on the opening paragraph of your next essay, you might be able to jolt your creative muscle with a little nostalgia.

Like, remember that time we had actual physical photo albums? Photo via iStock.

In 2013, researchers in Hong Kong found that by asking study participants to remember nostalgic events, they could stimulate the participant's creative juices.

"Results showed that participants who were primed with nostalgic experience demonstrated higher creativity," said their paper.

So if you're feeling stuck, go ahead and open up those old pictures from college, try to ignore how awful your fashion sense was, and try to remember what that one professor's name was. It might just make your next painting a new Picasso or your essay an A-minus at least.

6. This last suggestion is the best one — have a drink.

Image from tookapic/Pixabay.

Stuck on what to make your next YouTube video about? Can't figure out the perfect angle for the big pitch you need to deliver this week? I'm not advocating drinking at work or to excess (drink responsibly), but it turns out that being slightly tipsy can help people come up with more creative ideas.

Alcohol decreases focus, which is bad for analytical or intensive tasks but freeing for creative ones. Just don't take it too far — alcohol also makes it harder to weed out the bad ideas from the good ones! So brainstorm with a beer, sure, but it's still probably best you make any big decisions sober. The world doesn't need more "social experiment" videos.

Creativity is weird, but we can learn how to summon it.

We're still learning how the brain comes up with ideas, so take all these tips with a grain of salt. Creativity isn't as simple as the old left-brain = logic, right brain = emotion idea, for example. It's more like a conversation between many different parts of your brain.

And, of course, creativity only takes you so far if you're not also willing to work on it.

But if you're banging your head on a desk, despair not. Your brain is full of ideas, you've just got to unlock them. Maybe these tips can help.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

Looking for some good gift ideas that wont break the bank? We've got you covered with these five suggestions available at our very own Upworthy Market! You can feel good about your purchases, too. That's because every item you buy from the Upworthy Market directly supports the artisans who crafted it.


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Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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