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3 Ways To Stay Creative When You’re In A Slump

3 Ways To Stay Creative When You’re In A Slump

Being creative is almost synonymous with being successful, so avoiding creative slumps should be a top priority. Creativity is sparked through acquired skills like escaping conscious thought, knowing how to concentrate, and keeping our spirits high. Read below to learn more about the tools you need to obtain to stay creative even when you’re in a slump.

1. Harness The Power Of Music

Thomas Beecham, a significant British conductor from the nineteenth century, is quoted as saying, “The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” Escaping from conscious thought is critical for creativity; it helps expose us to thoughts and ideas that we would never have uncovered otherwise. The New York Times recently theorized that music is an important key to success, pointing out that many of the most successful people in the world are, in fact, musicians. Indeed, making new discoveries is closely tied to listening to or performing music.

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A great option for unlocking your creativity is to listen to instrumental music, which can blend into the background and avoid disruption but also give you an increased or renewed energy as you work away. Lifehacker recently covered how video game music is tailor made to help us concentrate on what we’re doing, so soundtracks to classic games like Super Mario Bros. might be particularly effective.

2. Focus On The Task At Hand

TIME covered last year how multitasking can be detrimental to our productivity. The more you split your attention the more likely it is that you won’t be attentive enough to the things you are doing. That leads to failure at multiple tasks instead of success at one, a result no one is happy with. As much research as there’s been on the subject, the kind of people who read sites like Lifehack continue to chronically multitask, because we always want to do more. We have to remember that sometimes we can be more accomplished by doing less.

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3. Celebrate Small Wins

Dr. Ken Hudson explains how focusing on small wins can induce positive change, referring to The Progress Principle concept created by Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard. In his post he includes a particularly convincing quote from her article for the Harvard Business Review:

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.

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“And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.

“Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”

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True accomplishment requires dedication. If we focus on just one lofty goal our motivation will wane when we don’t achieve it right away. If it’s really something worth achieving, chances are it will take time. No one expects the impossible from us, so we shouldn’t expect it of ourselves either. We need to take pride in each small win so we can feel good about ourselves as we continue towards the finish line. If you want to run a marathon, don’t make “Run A Marathon” your sole goal. Break it down into smaller steps or you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed. Start with a task on your to-do list that you can check off quickly such as training yourself to run a mile without getting burnt out. Do more and more of those manageable tasks, gradually building up your endurance until you reach the point that running the 26.2 miles is just one check mark away.

Featured photo credit: Lewis Minor via flickr.com

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Matt OKeefe

Matt is a marketer and writer who shares about lifestyle and productivity tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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