Many popular theories about creativity break the process into stages. The most mysterious of these intervals is incubation. Over the years, psychological studies and real life breakthroughs have come to suggest the best ways to use this step.
In general, creative thinking starts when you identify an issue and prepare to tackle it. Next, you hit an impasse and decide to take a break. Then, the answer comes to you while you’re taking a shower or getting up from a nap.
That productive rest period before the Eureka moment is called incubation.
Guiding Principles for Effective Incubating
Prepare carefully. This is the time to do your research and engage in critical thought. Figure out the challenge you want to solve and state it precisely.
Plan ahead. Incubation is more effective when you remind yourself that you’ll be returning to your dilemma later. Look forward to coming back feeling refreshed and full of new answers.
Slow down. Think about coming to a gradual stop rather than slamming on the brakes. Allow your body and mind to quiet down. Take a few deep breaths. Relax your neck and shoulders. Observe your thoughts without pursuing them.
Choose non-demanding activities. If you spend your break studying calculus or the Peloponnesian War, it’ll be difficult to get anything else done. Devote your time to routine tasks that require little thought.
Let your mind wander. Relax and let your thoughts flow. Free yourself from any expectations and see what happens.
Play more. Clowning around stimulates your imagination. Lighten up and have a good laugh.
Keep it brief. You may find that the results you want are already close at hand. Short breaks often work better than taking a whole day off. Take it easy for about a half hour.
Appreciate the value of sleep. REM sleep unleashes creativity in amazing ways. When you dream, you form associations and consolidate memories. You’re able to see things differently and spot new opportunities.
Practical Strategies to Encourage Incubation
Take a nap. Get work done while you sleep. You’re likely to perform better after you lie down for 15 or 20 minutes.
Keep a journal by your bed. If your day job keeps you on your feet, make the most of your overnight slumbers. Have a pen and paper handy to jot down your thoughts when you wake up in the wee hours.
Meditate daily. Meditation and sleep have similar effects on the brain. Carve out five minutes to sit down and calm your mind.
Play with kids. Cut back on weekend appointments so you can spend time goofing around with your kids. Toss a Frisbee or throw a tea party.
Get a dog. If you sometimes get too busy to remember to play, a dog will help you get back on track. They like sharing their toys.
Exercise outdoors. Connecting with nature always helps. Break out your ice skates or bathing suit depending on the season.
Develop a new hobby. Lots of great artists and scientists have engaged in pastimes that created an atmosphere conducive to their accomplishments. For example, Emily Dickinson baked cakes. You may get inspired doing needlework or repairing clocks.
Clean house. Just doing the laundry or vacuuming the living room carpet may reveal your inner talents. Find chores at work and home that keep your hands busy and your mind free.
When it comes to triggering creative insights, not all rest is created equal. If you want to boost your creativity, make time to play and harness the power of your dreams. You’ll be surprised with the incredible payoff.
You are creative, even if you’ve failed to realize it. In fact, you can’t fail to create. You
created the life you’re living right now, even if you don’t appreciate it very much!
However, unless you’ve tried to maximize your creativity, you’ve only been operating
at half-throttle. It’s possible to be much more creative than you have been in the past.
Being able to access your imagination and then use it to find creative solutions will
make life easier, more enjoyable, and bring you greater fulfillment.
Enhance your ability to access your imagination with these strategies:
1. Practice without distractions. Turn off the TV and dim the lights. Have a seat
and close your eyes. Allow your mind to wander, but don’t fall asleep. Instead of
trying to steer your thoughts, let them run wild. Practice being an observer
instead of a director. Do this daily for 15-20 minutes.
Use all of your senses. You can do more than just see. You have the ability
to hear, feel, smell, and touch. Use all of these senses when you’re utilizing
your imagination. Your imagination will feel stronger if you use it daily. Try not to skip a day.
2. Read something outrageous (for you). Try reading a fictional book about aliens,
fire-breathing dragons, or time travel. Expose yourself to new ideas and
concepts. The more you experience, the more your imagination will have to
The same goes for movies. Branch out. You can only watch so many action
movies or romantic comedies!
3. Take up a creative hobby. Learn to paint, sculpture, or play the accordion. Try
writing a screenplay or drawing a monster. Use the creative part of your brain.
4. Explore your passions. Do something you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t
yet. New mental states can increase your level of creativity.
Use your imagination to find creative solutions:
1. Set an intention. Think of an intention as a short-term goal for an activity. What
are you trying to accomplish with your imagination? Find a solution for your
relationship challenge? Figure out a way to earn more money? Invent a gadget
that will change the world? It’s important to have an objective for your imagination to focus on.
2. Choose a method of addressing your imagination: You can turn off the lights and focus on your intention. You could sleep on it. You could sit at a clean table with a pad of paper and write whatever comes to mind. Keep going for at least 30 minutes.
You could ask yourself questions and listen for the answers. Take part in an activity that engages your mind, but not completely. This can include activities like cleaning the house, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or listening to classical music. These activities occupy part of your mind, but leave the remainder to create ideas.
3. Act on what you discover. Creative solutions are worthless unless you act
upon them. Reward yourself for being creative by putting your ideas into action.
Sort your ideas and choose the best one. Try and see if your imagination was
correct! You’ll get better with practice.
Our great creativity is one of the things that separates us from other forms of life.
Using your creativity effectively can help you to find better solutions to the
challenges in your life.
Creativity can fade with age, but that’s just because we fail to use it regularly.
Your ability to imagine is one way to address your creativity. Instead of mindlessly
staring out the window and daydreaming, you can direct your imagination to address
specific issues in your life.