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

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less