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10 Ways to Overcome Creative Blockades

10 Ways to Overcome Creative Blockades

Creativity can flow like water or it can slowly drip out like…water…

The point is that creativity, like everything else in life has ebbs and flows. Unfortunately, sometimes you need to boost your creativity to meet a deadline, complete a project, etc. It’s times like these you’ll end up banging your head against a wall, as pressure mounts and time plows on. I don’t want to see you hurt yourself, so here are a few ways to get those juicy creatives back on track and raring to go.

1. Create a Mind Map

We’ve previously explored mind-mapping in this Lifehack and the dangers of over-mapping here. The reason I advocate looking into the practice is because it helps make everything feel tangible and real. You should always keep notes, whether on your computer or on a notepad. Personally, I try to keep a notepad and camera handy everywhere, although I often fail. Either way, gather your thoughts, and organize them using mind-mapping as a valuable tool.

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2. Write Word Lists

Word lists are another favorite of mine, and it’s something we previously touched on in this Lifehack. The difference between mind-mapping and word lists is the difference between a word search and a Mad Lib, and all of the aforementioned activities are great brain exercises to jump-start your creativity. You can create whatever rules you want.  Start with a random word as a category, and think of 5-7 associated words. Do it on a board, so you can monitor your progress. By the time you’re done with these critical thinking exercises, you’ll have overcome creative blockades.

3. Draw Timed Sketches

Word games aren’t the only great games for overcoming creativity; artistic endeavors could assist you as well. In fact, we’ve explored several great classic games for thinkers in this Lifehack, and many of them have social media equivalents, so you can involve other people in your creative process. “Draw Something” and “Scribblenauts,” for example, make art an action or turn-based adventure, which stimulates parts of your brain that are vital for creativity.

4. Eliminate Distractions

Don’t get too attached to your tools, gadgets, and the people around you – some days it’s easy, but many times creativity takes focus. Isolate yourself in your creative space as much as possible so you can be both productive and creative. We’ve exhaustively touched on distractions at Lifehack, so here are two links to send you further down the rabbit hole on preventing distractions.

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5. Differentiate between Inspiration and Comparison

Comparisons seem harmless, but as we discuss in the rules of creativity, they run counter-intuitive to creative endeavors. It’s also a subject we’ve touched upon in this Lifehack on things positive people don’t do. The reason we’re so vocal against comparison is it invites competition, which can spark, but doesn’t always nurture, creativity. Make sure you understand the difference and use everything in moderation.

6. Steal from Peers

Ideas are free – you have freedom of thought, so by all means, steal ideas from other people. Sure you can’t market an exact replica of an iPod in the U.S., but even that’s possible. What’s even more feasible is implementing Steve Jobs’ ideas (among which is, ironically, to steal) in your business presentation. You can even publicly display a few football logos; I can assure you the NFL is too busy battling real pirates to care what you and your peers do.

7. Wash Your Brain

Meditate. Meditate. Meditate….Sorry, but that’s the only way to drill it into your head. We explored how to meditate anywhere in this Lifehack, and how to maximize your potential with meditation. Whether you close your eyes, put on music, stare at a candle, or sit in the dark, do meditate every day, at least once a day for 15 minutes, no matter who you are or what you do – it does a body good.

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8. Follow Snoop

Snoop Dogg is one of the most recognizable artists in the world, appearing on albums, in movies, on TV, in the news, and in marketing campaigns for soccer mom brands like Hot Pockets, Golden Grahams, and Overstock. It’s hard to say exactly what sparks the creativity in Snoop’s joint, but I’d recommend listening to his chronic words as bluntly as possible. Doggystyle can get you out of some of those real sticky-icky creative situations.

9. Take a Break

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Sorry…I needed a break…

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10. Live in the Moment

The past and future are great, but take some time to reflect on what’s going on around you – you’re only one person, and you have to depend on your senses for creativity. Go on a walk, and interact with people around you; involving yourself in the here and now and appreciating the world around you, no matter how bland or dreary it feels, is one of the best ways to stay creative.

Now flap on, little bird…and get your creative on!

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

How Do We Remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

7 Natural Memory Boosters

So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

1. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

2. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

3. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

Conclusion

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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