The right brain allows you to think outside the box, use empathy to reach your audience, increase your productivity, and create something truly new.
In today’s digital world, virtually no question goes unanswered.
Every day, there’s more and more content to keep us informed and entertained. By 2020, there will be 40 times more bytes of data than there are stars in the observable universe. And all that information is a great thing—but in some ways, it can be stifling.
When the answers are always right at your fingertips, you stop relying on your own sense of creativity.
To a certain extent, creativity is innate. But the brain is a muscle, and different parts of it require exercise in order to function optimally. We use our left brains constantly for work, analytical thinking, budgeting—but you wouldn’t go to the gym and just lift on your left side, right?
The right brain needs exercise, too, and unfortunately, all those digital distractions get in the way.
If you want a leg up on the competition, honing your creative brain is essential—especially in the business world. The right brain allows you to think outside the box, use empathy to reach your audience, increase your productivity, and create something truly new.
If you want to know how to be more creative, here are the five tactics I use on a regular basis:
1. Find some form of exercise you love, and do it daily.
There’s no shortage of research on the benefits of exercise, but most people don’t realize how much of an impact it has on your brain health. Science shows that aerobic exercise boosts the size and activity of the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, memories, and emotions.
Personally, I exercise first thing in the morning. If I don’t, it’s not going to get done, and without exception, I can feel the post-exercise benefits when I get to work. My brain is quicker, more creative, and more productive.
That said, you need to find something that works for you.
From personal experience, I can tell you that an hour workout in the morning helps me be far more efficient later on in the day. But if you genuinely don’t have the time, take a break halfway through the workday. Get outside for a walk in nature—even if it’s just ten minutes. It’ll make a difference.
2. Read like the wind—especially autobiographies and historical fiction.
Today, there are so many flashy things vying for our attention. So it’s no surprise that picking up a book and getting into a quiet, steady state is not easy, but it’s something you should aim to do regularly.
It’s possible to read two books a week if you find what you like and commit to it, and according to science, it’s worth the investment. Studies show that reading increases gray matter in the brain, which improves higher learning and attention.
It’s also a must for cultivating empathy.
I’m a big fan of autobiographies and historical fiction, in particular. When you’re reading an autobiography, you’re learning about other people’s wins, losses, successes, and failures—in their own voice and from their own perspectives. Historical fiction draws you into the story immediately (that’s the fiction), but you’re still using your brain to map out the chronology and learn about something that actually happened (that’s the history).
Since reading encourages active presence, any book is better than a movie, but these two genres are especially beneficial. They help you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you can empathize with another person’s point of view, you’ll be much more effective at your job—whether that’s marketing, communication, or managing people.
3. Listen to music while you work.
When our kids were young, we religiously played Baby Einstein for them. These CDs and videos utilized something called the “Mozart Effect,” which research has shown causes developmental neurons to fire in the brain.
The connection between music and creativity isn’t new, but it warrants repeating.
Music can help you shift gears in an instant. I’m the CEO of a startup, and when I need to think up our next big idea, I put on some Mozart. Since jazz cultivates energy and collaboration, it’s my ideal pick when I’m reviewing a colleague’s slides or a 300-page legal document. I wore out Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos when I needed to focus in college.
Of course, some songs aren’t great for creativity. If I listen to anything with English lyrics while writing, those words get tangled with my own—but find what works for you and put together a playlist so you’re ready for the next creative slump.
4. Actually go to an art gallery.
Visual stimulation gets the creative juices flowing.
Most people get their visual stimulation from a screen, but binge-watching a show isn’t the same as physically visiting a museum or an art gallery.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to see the Andy Warhol exhibit at the SFMOMA. It was so compelling to experience his progression from era to era while also finding the common themes. Seeing it up close and in-person gave his work a whole new dimension.
Art gets your brain thinking about connections, and since the brain is just that—connections of synapses—it’s a great way to jumpstart the thinking process.
5. Don’t resort to Google if you get stuck.
Last weekend, my lawn sprinkler broke. As I stood out in the middle of my yard, I took out my phone and looked up a YouTube tutorial on how to fix it.
Problems are less of a blocker than they’ve ever been because the solutions are right there at our fingertips—and sometimes, that’s great. But ten years ago, I would’ve had to use my brain and the materials around me to fix that sprinkler, and it probably would’ve been a more memorable and rewarding experience.
You put a cap on your creativity when you let someone else do the hard work for you.
So the next time you’re sitting around a table with your friends and no one can remember the name of that actor or song, resist the urge to pull out your phone. The same goes for your next big marketing strategy idea. Exercise your brain’s capacity to remember and think by itself.
In the digital world, it’s so easy to absorb information and spit it back out. But that’s not creativity. Creativity is that fascinating step in between when you’re transforming existing information into something new—so make sure you’re feeding your brain the right stimulation in the first place.