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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

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