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How to boost creative thinking, one of the most in-demand skills today

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, creativity is "the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form." One doesn't have to be an artist, a writer, or a musician to find this kind of ability valuable.

More than that, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report, creative thinking (along with analytical thinking) tops the list of skills deemed to be of the greatest importance for workers in 2023 and is predicted to only increase in importance over the next five years.

If you want to develop this important skill, there're science-based tips that can help, according to TED: Ideas Worth Spreading:

Make your anterior cingulate cortex happy

Researchers established that when people are looking for less obvious, unusual, fresh ideas and solutions to problems, there's heightened activity in their brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). When activated, the ACC gives a signal to the brain to switch attention to these creative thoughts and ideas that we might otherwise find only remotely connected to the problem that we're trying to solve.

The main question, of course, is how to kick-start ACC in the first place. The secret is simple: you need to be in a good mood, i.e. feel safe and comfortable, and willing to be more brave than usual. New ideas and fresh perspectives require courage. Negativity, and being in a bad place limits ACC's ability to direct us to unorthodox, out-of-the-common paths.

What can help: practising mindfulness (a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment) to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress; regular physical exercise; good sleep hygiene to consistently sleep well (for example, making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing; keep electronic devices out of the bedroom).

Take a break from the hustle and bustle

Taking some time from daily distractions, and spending it outdoors, preferably in a natural environment, doesn't only improve overall health and wellness, but it's also beneficial for developing creativity.

A 2012 study conducted by psychologists at the University of Utah and the University of Kansas found that after four days alone in nature, subjects scored 50 per cent better on standard tests of creativity. People participating in the study were not allowed to have any electronic devices with them.

The researchers concluded that even a few days of immersion in nature and disconnection from multimedia and technology increases the ability to solve creative tasks.

What can help: even if you can't go on a hiking trip, according to research by behavioural and learning scientist Marily Oppezzo, getting up and going for a walk might be all it takes to get your creative juices flowing. For example, you can land on new ideas by walking at a comfortable pace and recording everything that comes to your head.

Set limits to stick to

It might sound a bit counterintuitive, but the research shows that having rules and boundaries when it comes to creativity enhances the creative process.

It means that when a person is given a concrete challenge to work on, with certain constraints, it will result in more creative ideas down the line.

In the study conducted by Rider University 64 undergraduates were asked to create a series of two-line rhymes that conveyed a greeting-card-friendly message, such as “happy birthday,” “thank you,” or “I love you.”

Participants came up with more creative rhymes when they had to work with an external constraint, the requirement that they need to include in their message one of eight specific words: shirt, vest, dog, frog, doll, kite, drum, and harp. And they did more creative work compared to others even when they were no longer limited by this requirement.

What can help: having a self-imposed deadline and a plan: you can begin by deciding what you want to work on and putting your finger on the requirements of the particular project/task.

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