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How to Boost Creativity: Secrets of the Creative Brain

How to Boost Creativity: Secrets of the Creative Brain

There are countless books and movies about individuals whose skills seemed to be naturally given. This has created a misconception that creativity is simply something you have, or do not have. A recent book Great Minds and How to Grow Them has shown that there is often no such thing as a born genius or born creative.[1] In fact, much like a muscle, creativity and inventiveness can be developed. It can even be taught.

All it takes is practice, and exercising those creative muscles that have often been unused and underutilized. But first everyone needs to learn how to clear some mental space for your creativity and ideas.

Clearing Mental Space

Think with Your Brain, Not Memorize

From an early age we are subconsciously taught to memorize and repeat facts. The focus on memorization and the repeating of facts is very misguided, and is based on a real misunderstanding of how the brain works.

Memories aren’t perfect reproductions of events or things, find out why we should stop remembering stuff to free up space for thinking here: Human Brains Aren’t Designed to Remember Things

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Instead it’s far easier to preserve past memories, emotions, and ideas by simply jotting them down.

Here’s How Jotting Down Ideas in 30 Seconds Boosts Creativity, and How to Start Marking down Your Mood for a better brain.

As you no longer have to worry about remembering this important information, you can safely focus on other things.

Once you no longer rely so much on memorization, your mind becomes much more freed up.

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Ditch Mental Clutter

The human brain is incredibly powerful. Everything that has ever come from humanity stemmed from someone’s plan or idea. Despite its power, the brain is bad at multitasking. Perhaps you were reading once, but you kept stopping to check your Facebook, or perhaps your WhatsApp notification distracted you. As soon as your brain had to focus on multiple things at once, you ability to do any of the tasks severely decreased.

The same thing happens when we have a lot on our mind, we can’t focus, and as such, your mind and brain becomes less able to work dynamically and creativity.

We are often unaware just how cluttered our minds are by physical distractions and thoughts. What’s worse, is if we try to ignore all these distractions, our minds become even more full in the process.

If you have no idea how bad clutter has been draining our brains, this is essential for you: How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

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The only way to clear up all this mental clutter is to be ruthless. It is a good idea to prioritize what is most important to you. This can be generally or smaller scale (such as the resolution of an important task). It may seem difficult to ditch stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose, I’ve got you this Declutter Formula to eliminate everything that isn’t necessary.

Fostering Creativity

Keep Your Right Brain Sharp

Now that you have cleared some mental and physical space, it should be easier to focus on developing your brain’s creativity.

The two sides of the brain are focused on the development and control of different cognitive abilities. The left side of the brain processes things like language, and numbers, fixed concrete information. Whereas, the right side of the brain processes and controls creativity, critical thinking, and artistic ability.

By focusing on fact retention and memorization in school, most people have strengthened the left side of the brain, at the cost of the right brain. Discover the real reason why creativity has become more challenging than ever: Why It’s Difficult to Be Creative: An Underdeveloped Right Brain

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To fix this imbalance and develop the creative muscles, try these:

  • Do this 10-minute exercise every day to workout the brain: The Journey of a Man and a Dog. This simple exercise makes you think out of the box, and is an effective way to stretch the creative muscles.
  • Take up a creative hobby. By involving yourself in a creative hobby such as painting and playing music, you keep your right brain active.

Look for a Problem

One of the most common excuses people give for not being creative is that they lack ideas. The inspiration isn’t coming. The ideas aren’t flowing.

Often times, people focus on something new and original. Doing this will always be fruitless as the mind needs stimulations in order to think. Luckily mental stimulations are everywhere. All you need is to observe for problems in your life. Check out how to look for a good problem for better creativity: How to Look For a Good Problem to Boost Your Creativity

Every problem we face is also a puzzle which needs a creative solution. When you are faced with a problem, you naturally try to think of solutions. By thinking of dynamic or creative solutions to problems, you are improving your ability to be creative.

It’s No Privilege to Be Creative

Once you develop your creative ability, you’ll discover the wonderful truth that everyone has the potential to be a powerful creative thinker. All that is needed is utilize your brain and a little bit of exercise.

Featured photo credit: IStock via istockphoto.com

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier 10 Best New Products That People Don’t Know About Book Summary: The Power of Habit in 2 Minutes 1 Minute Book Summary: How To Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less 2 Minutes Book Summary: Thinking Fast and Slow

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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