Trick #1 – On one hand
I’m sure you’re more than familiar with the verbal construct whereby you compare things by using one hand vs the other hand. This technique is great because it allows us to mentally visualize a challenge from various perspectives.
Which is great. The researchers found however that if you physically raise one hand, and then raise your other hand, you will come up with much better ideas than if you’d simply held up one hand on its own. The authors suggest that this simple behavior sends a signal to our brain that it should look at the problem from various angles.
Trick #2 – Getting outside of the box
I’m sure that everyone has heard of the saying “thinking outside of the box”. It’s become one of those over-used cliches to describe any kind of creative thinking. It seems our brain may actually get something out of it though.
The researchers asked people to complete a creativity test, with half of the group physically sat inside a box, and the other half sat outside of a box. It sounds hard to believe, but yes, the group sat outside the box actually did better on the test than their peers who were sat inside the box.
Trick #3 – Going for a walk
I’m sure the idea of sitting outside a box has messed with your mind a bit, so the next trick is slightly less unusual. It’s fairly well known that walking, and indeed other forms of exercise, are good for your mind.
The study found however that you can boost your creativity by walking in a particular way. The researchers got people to complete a creativity task after walking in a square shape versus walking in random patterns. Amazingly, the random ramblers came out on top.
Trick #4 – Convergent thinking
Convergent thinking is often seen as the antithesis of creativity because it relies upon the creation of a single correct answer to your problem. Sometimes it can help however, and this was proved by the 4th experiment in the study.
This time, participants were asked to perform the simple task of sorting a pile of playing cards from two piles into one. This simple task was enough to trigger convergent thoughts in the brain, which in turn helped them to perform strongly on a creativity task afterwards.
Trick #5 – Using your imagination
If you don’t have a pack of playing cards, or indeed a box to sit outside of, the final trick brings you some salvation. It revealed that you can receive the same creative spikes as in the previous four experiments, just by imagining yourself engaging in the aforementioned activities.
The researchers found that when participants meandered aimlessly ala in trick #3, but with an avatar in Second Life rather than in real life, the creativity spike was still observed.
Of course, these tricks of the mind are not the only ones that researchers have proven to enhance our performance. For instance, one study found that we tend to do better at anagrams when we’re lying down.
Another found that we seem to be able to pay better attention to a task when we don a nice, white lab coat. The people wearing the lab coats tended to make half as many errors as their non-lab coat wearing peers.
These experiments underline how our performance can often be underlined by very subtle changes in our mindset that can be evoked by seemingly unimportant things.