Need a spark to light your creative fire first thing in the morning? Do have that cup of coffee or tea to activate your senses, but don’t be so eager to peruse news sources that cover the woes of the world. You could be harming your ability to be a creative problem solver.
The ability to problem solve isn’t always stated explicitly in a job description, but explicit or not, the reality is that most of us have to solve a range of issues all the time – from the slightly hairy to the almost scary. But taking a thorny challenge head on can be hard when morning brain fog has set in and won’t budge.
This is more likely to happen if your morning begins with chaos. As your stress level increases it sets off a downer of a biological chain reaction. A cortisol (stress hormone) spike aggravates the myelin sheaths that serve to insulate your brain cells. As cortisol pecks away at the sheaths, the transmission of signals between neurons slows way down, resulting in the feeling that cotton candy has replaced your brain.
And this is why a hurried, high blood pressure-inducing start to the day can really inhibit the ability to engage in “flexible, open-minded thinking,” says Annie Murphy Paul in her article “Why Morning Routines are Creativity Killers.” And layering on bad or sad news further shrinks the ability to think expansively; your thinking just slows down. It’s like trudging through two feet of snow – you don’t get very far very quickly.
But there is a solution, should you find yourself feeling like a grumpy cat, and it’s easy and fast. You can activate your creative core in the morning by watching a video clip of something that will make you happy. For example, watch a laughing baby, says Paul. Or, try miniature goats, or rambunctious puppies. You need just a minute or two of viewing time, which can help boost you over the negative side of the fence and into the outer reaches of positive territory. So when you tell your manager (or future one) that your first duty of the day should be to cue up YouTube, you can tell him or her that you’ve got science on your side.
Science Daily helped to make it official in an article that highlights findings from a study (published in Psychological Science) on learning and creative thinking, conducted by researchers at the University of Western Ontario. “Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking,” said Ruby Nadler, who worked alongside Rahel Rabi and John Paul Minda. In their research they discovered that “happy” music and videos evoked a positive mood among participants and made them faster learners.
“If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you to do that,” said Nadler. The researchers even speculated that people look at funny videos at work because they’re attempting to get into a better mood, without even realizing it.
But there’s something else you can try, and it’s a good habit to get into right after your alarm starts bleating. According to researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks, “imaginative insights” are actually much more likely to occur in the morning before caffeine and wakefulness have hit your system. Grogginess, in other words, enables your mind to meander through hazy ideas to connect dots in ways you won’t typically consider when you’re at your most alert.
Creative problem solving is less magical or mythical than we ever thought, thanks to new research – and YouTube. Whether you allow yourself a few minutes in the morning to think without constraints, or troll social media for funny videos, you can seek your own (mundane) muse, rather than wait for it to seek you out.
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