Archive for category Life

Being Creative

YAPP (Yet Another PsyBlog Post) …

This time about being creative.

Apart from the discussion on different or unusual thinking styles (for the person themselves) to enhance creativity, the biggest “take-away” for me from the post was the exhortation to simply remind people that they are to be creative (say, in a particular situation), and this simple reminder will give them permission (so to speak) to be creative.  This is, thus, rather important in a business setting, because in many (if not most) instances, people are told, either explicitly or implicitly, to just follow the rules or procedures and do what has been done before, rather than being allowed to express some creativity in order to solve a problem or improve the situation at hand.

The relevant paragraph is:

Another way of encouraging creativity is simply to be reminded that creativity is a goal.  It seems too simple to be true, but research has found that just telling people to ‘be creative’ increases their creativity (e.g. Chen et al., 2005).

Anyway, the full article is below, and please consider buying Jeremy’s e-book “How To Be Creative” (see ad at the bottom of the article).  I bought it – it is a great little read.

Unusual Thinking Styles Increase Creativity

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Psychological research reveals how rational versus intuitive thinking can inspire new ideas.

The idea of creativity is wonderful: that a spark of inspiration can eventually bring something new and useful into the world, perhaps even something beautiful. Something, as it were, from nothing.

That spark may only be the start of a journey towards the finished article or idea, but it is still a wonderful moment. Without the initial spark there will be no journey. It’s no exaggeration to say that our ability to be creative sits at the heart of our achievements as a species.

Do incentives work?

So, how do you encourage creativity in yourself and in others? I discuss this question of how to be creative in my recent ebook on creativity. There I describe six principles, based on psychological research, that can be used to understand and increase creativity.

But, what methods do people naturally use to encourage creativity? In the creative industries the usual method is money, or some other related incentive. So, can incentives encourage people to be creative?

According to the research, they can, but crucially these incentives need to emphasise that creativity is the goal (Eisenberger & Shanock, 2003). Studies find that if people are given an incentive for just completing a task, it doesn’t increase their creativity (Amabile et al., 1986). In fact, incentives linked to task completion (rather than creativity) can reduce creativity.

Another way of encouraging creativity is simply to be reminded that creativity is a goal. It seems too simple to be true, but research has found that just telling people to ‘be creative’ increases their creativity (e.g. Chen et al., 2005).

The theory is that this works because people often don’t realise they’re supposed to be looking for creative solutions. This is just as true in the real world as it is in psychology experiments. We get so wrapped up in deadlines, clients, costs and all the rest that it’s easy to forget to search for creative solutions.

People need to be told that creativity is a goal. Unlike children, adults need to be reminded about the importance of creativity. Perhaps it’s because so much of everyday life encourages conformity and repeating the same things you did before. Doing something different needs a special effort.

Rational versus intuitive thinking

However telling someone to ‘be creative’ is a bit like telling them to ‘be more clever’ or ‘be more observant’. We want to shout: “Yes, but how?!”

Along with the techniques I suggest in my ebook, another insight comes from a new study on stimulating creativity. This suggests one solution may lie in using an unusual thinking style—unusual, that is, to you (Dane et al., 2011). Let me explain…

When trying to solve problems that need creative solutions, broadly people have been found to approach them in one of two ways:

  1. Rationally: by using systematic patterns of thought. This involves relying on specific things you’ve learnt in the past, thinking concretely and ignoring gut instincts.
  2. Intuitively: by setting the mind free to explore associations. This involves working completely on first impressions and whatever comes to mind while ignoring what you’ve learnt in the past.

The researchers wondered if people’s creativity could be increased by encouraging them to use the pattern of thinking that was most unusual to them. So, those people who naturally preferred to approach creative problems rationally, were asked to think intuitively. And the intuitive group was asked to think rationally for a change.

Participants were given a real-world problem to solve: helping a local business expand. The results were evaluated by managers from the company involved. When they looked at the results, the manipulation had worked: people were more creative when they used the thinking style that was most unusual for them.

One of the reasons this may work is that consciously adopting a different strategy stops your mind going down the same well-travelled paths. We all have habitual ways of approaching problems and while habits are sometimes useful, they can also produce the same results over and over again.

A limitation of this study is that it only looked at the generation of new ideas. This tends to occur mostly at the start of the creative process. So once ideas have been generated and a more analytical mindset is required, these techniques may not work so well (I discuss this balance between a wandering and focused mind in principle six of my ebook).

Image credit: gfpeck

How to Be Creative

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6 Easy Steps to Falling Asleep Fast

Another post from the PsyBlog, once again, re-posted with kind permission.
Something that we are all going to have to pay attention to at some time in our lives.

6 Easy Steps to Falling Asleep Fast

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Psychological research over three decades demonstrates the power of Stimulus Control Therapy.

Can’t get a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone. In surveys of what would improve people’s lives, a good night’s sleep frequently comes near the top of the list.

Poor sleep results in worse cognitive performance, including degraded memory, attention, performance and alertness. And in the long term insomnia is also associated with anxiety and depression. And people’s sleep gets worse as they get older. After 65 years old, between 12% and 40% of people have insomnia.

All sorts of methods have been tried to combat poor sleep, from drugs through psychological remedies to more outlandish treatments.

The problem with drugs is that they have side-effects and are often addictive. The problem with the more outlandish treatments is that although they tend not to have side-effects, we don’t know if they have any effect at all. Psychological remedies, though, combine the best of both worlds: studies show they work without side-effects.

Stimulus Control Therapy

Professor Richard R. Bootzin has been researching sleep disorders for many years at the University of Arizona Sleep Research Lab. Writing in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, he describes the different psychological approaches that have been used to treat insomnia (Bootzin & Epstein, 2011).

Of these the most successful single intervention is called Stimulus Control Therapy (Morin et al., 2006). You’ll be happy to hear it consists of six very straightforward steps. If you follow these it should improve your sleep. After the list I’ll explain the thinking behind them. First, here are their six steps:

  1. Lie down to go to sleep only when you are sleepy.
  2. Do not use your bed for anything except sleep; that is, do not read, watch television, eat, or worry in bed. Sexual activity is the only exception to this rule. On such occasions, the instructions are to be followed afterwards, when you intend to go to sleep.
  3. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, get up and go into another room. Stay up as long as you wish and then return to the bedroom to sleep. Although we do not want you to watch the clock, we want you to get out of bed if you do not fall asleep immediately. Remember the goal is to associate your bed with falling asleep quickly! If you are in bed more than about 10 minutes without falling asleep and have not gotten up, you are not following this instruction.
  4. If you still cannot fall asleep, repeat step 3. Do this as often as is necessary throughout the night.
  5. Set your alarm and get up at the same time every morning irrespective of how much sleep you got during the night. This will help your body acquire a consistent sleep rhythm.
  6. Do not nap during the day.

Why it works

This method is based on the idea that we are like Pavlov’s drooling dog. We attach certain stimuli in the environment to certain thoughts and behaviours. Famously Pavlov’s dogs would start drooling when a bell rang, because they associated hearing the bell with getting food. Eventually the dogs would drool at the sound of the bell even when they didn’t get any food. Replace the bell with a bed and food with sleep and conceptually you’re there.

If we learn to do all kinds of things in bed that aren’t sleep, then when we do want to use it for sleep, it’s harder because of those other associations.

This is just as true of thoughts as it is of actions. It’s important to avoid watching TV in bed, but it’s also important to avoid lying in bed worrying about not being able to get to sleep. Because then you learn to associate bed with worry. Worse, you suffer anticipatory anxiety: anxiety about the anxiety you’ll feel when you are trying to get to sleep.

So, this therapy works by strengthening the association between bed and sleep and weakening the association between bed and everything else (apart from sex!).

Other treatments supported by the research are progressive muscle relaxation, which is exactly what it sounds like, and paradoxical intention. This latter technique involves stopping people trying so hard to get to sleep. The paradox being that when people stop trying so hard, they find it easier to fall asleep.

All this assumes you don’t live next door to a late night drummer and you’re not downing a double espresso before hitting the sack, but those sorts of things are pretty obvious. Everything else being equal, though, Stimulus Control Therapy seems the easiest for most people to implement.

Image credit: Meredith Farmer

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Achieving Long Term Goals

There is a lot written in Pop-Psy (pop psychology) sites, journals, magazines, books and elsewhere about how to go about achieving one’s goals, especially longer term goals (for instance, life goals etc).  Unfortunately, many of the suggestions do not work, and sometimes, are positively detrimental.  The PsyBlog has an excellent article (see reference at the foot of this post) outlining actual research on what and what does not.  In summary:

What Works! What Doesn’t!
Make a step-by-step plan. Motivate yourself by focusing on someone who has achieved a similar goal.
Tell other people about your goal. Think about bad things that will happen if you do not achieve your goal.
Think about the good things that will happen if you achieve your goal. Try to suppress unhelpful or negative thoughts about your goal and how to achieve it.
Reward yourself for making progress in your goal. Rely on willpower.
Record your progress. Fantasize or visualize how great your life will be when you achieve your goal.

To recapitulate, the techniques to use in order to achieve (longer term) goals are as follows:

  • Make a step-by-step plan: break your goal down into concrete, measurable and time-based sub-goals;
  • Tell other people about your goal: making a public declaration increases motivation;
  • Think about the good things that will happen if you achieve your goal (but avoid fantasizing);
  • Reward yourself for making progress in your goal: small rewards help push us on to major successes;
  • Record your progress: keep a journal, graph or drawing that plots your progress.

Further references and sources of selected materials:

  • http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/02/reaching-life-goals-which-strategies-work.php
  • http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/01/how-to-commit-to-a-goal.php
  • http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/01/success-why-expectations-beat-fantasies.php

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