Does mood impact creativity?

Each week, I answer questions about creativity and productivity in a series called Q&A Monday. Today’s question asks about the list between mood and creativity:

“Why are we most creative when we feel down?”
Anonymous on Quora

Which moods are scientifically linked with creativity? Various research links negative moods and feelings to a decrease in creativity:

UC-Blog-Feature-Study-MoodA 2010 study published by the Association for Psychological Science linked creativity most with positive moods. Using music and video clips, researchers primed participants for certain moods by researchers of the University of Western Ontario. Those who listened to the happiest music or watched a cheerful video were most able to recognize creative patterns. The happy volunteers were better at learning the rules behind patterns than those in neutral or sad moods.

“Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking.”
Ruby Nadler, University of Western Ontario

Creativity has been associated with mood disorders. Preliminary associations compiled by the University of Iowa found higher rates of mood disorders and alcoholism among writers and playwrights. This study did not include a control group to draw comparisons against. (The relationship between creativity and mood disorders) Among those who were studied, almost all involved reported less creative output during depressive or manic states.

Positive moods enhance creativity. Creative performance increased according to an analysis of 62 experimental and 10 non-experimental studies by Mark A. Davis of the University of North Texas. Understanding the relationship between mood and creativity: A meta-analysis

Matthijs Baas of the University Of Amsterdam focuses his research on creative psychology. His work indicates that happiness, fear, and anger are the most creative enhancing moods. Sadness, relaxation, and relief decrease creativity since stimulation encourages flexibility and idea generation. Happiness leads to creative flexibility while fear and avoidance lead to creative persistence.

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Are you a badger or barker? Achievement Versus Initiation Driven Creativity

What drives your creative projects more: the thrill of the fresh start OR the finish line?

Learning to love both makes us productive and creative.

Creatives love the part in the middle where we get to indulge in the business of making things. At the same time, I’m betting that you’re creativity sparks more from either (a) the love of starting something new or (b) the satisfaction of completing a task.

Imagine the nature documentary. The love of a new start VERSUS the joy of completion.

I see this Creative Drive spectrum as

Badgers versus Barkers

Picture this:

Badgers love achieving merit badges. They’re achievement driven.

Barkers love embarking on new tasks. They’re initiation driven.

Badgers: Achievement Driven

I call these lovers of achievement-focused creativity… badgers! They love collecting merit badges.  The badger Creativity Drive focuses on finishing tasks.

Badgers love the end goal. If they see a finish line, they’ve found focus. They love seeing an idea become real.

They become the classic gamer who wants to complete 100% of a game.  In their game, there exist only a few items. If you’re a Badger, you’re constantly envisioning finishing every single specific piece and then completing everything. That’s because you know exactly what it is. When given a well-defined goal, a Badger figures out how to beat the game.

Psychologists dub one type of a higher achievement drive as “performance orientation”. This is a high focus on positive outcomes such as grades and promotions. If the goals focus on comparison to others, the outcome can be psychologically negative. This high achievement mindset becomes influenced by environment according to a 2012 study by Stanford psychologist Paul O’Keefe. Healthy goals lean toward a “mastery orientation” where finishing the task with a focus of developing new skills, improving, and gaining knowledge.

A badgers favorite part of creating and making involves completing goals. A badger loves small tasks and finishes them.

A badger wants to start in the right place for a goal they know they can complete. Figuring out the unknown feels harder and less interesting.

A badger might tend to finish tasks that don’t really need to do at all. They write things on a checklist just to enjoy an official ending. They love the feeling of crossing a task off of a list more than the feeling of writing it on their first.

As part of a team, badgers are excellent finishers.

They’ll figure out how to get a task done on time. That’s because they are swiftly decisive when they see a way to cross a finish line. If they’re not given a new finish line, they wander off. They might even finish tasks that have nothing to do with the original goals, just because they know they can finish them off.

What are badgers afraid of?

They may be driven by the fear of not finishing a task and not the fun of finishing. If they don’t see how they can win, they won’t try. A fearful badger may learn to be driven by external recognition of a finished task or by an internal sense of accomplishment.

The badger procrastination style:

They do what they can finish easily. They’ll need to practice looking for ways to create finishable achievements. They don’t naturally see those link to real priorities with new projects. They’ll put off looking for goals as a way to delay starting.

Past versus future?

Badgers romanticize past wins. In their fishing stories, the fish gets bigger every time. An extreme badger might remember themselves as a king of their high school. Without those kinds of externally focused starts, that same person might not have done as much in regular life.

How badgers learn:

Badgers learn by looking backward. They love reflecting on completed work. An achievement, trophy or merit badge strongly represents their best qualities. Even when doing a current task, they learn to use past patterns to figure out new tasks. From the outside, this might look like a strong vision and plan.

Analysis paralysis at the beginning.

Achievement driven creatives find resistance when they’ve encountered a task they consider new and undefined.

How can badgers become better at starting tasks?

As badgers love to collect finished tasks, they’ll need to see starting a new task as an achievement. What task can they cross off their list that counts at the start? Get specific on the first step. If a badger learns to see “Finished Starting” as an achievement, they can adopt the best parts of the initiation driven style. Reward yourself at the start by completing even the most ridiculously small step.

Barkers: Initiation Driven

I call an initiation leaning Creativity Drive being a … Barker: They like to embark on new tasks. Barkers have a Creativity Drive focused on starting tasks.

Someone on this side of the spectrum leans towards creativity that involves start on a new work. They love to start lots of tasks and all of them seem ongoing. They find more ways to add and stretch any task as they find new pieces to explore.

A barker starts a new task with energy and then quickly their attention wanders. They chase the next shiny thing.  After all of this dreaming, their project becomes too big. Their ideas began without defining a clear realistic end point.

Research experiments on abstract thinking links such new goals with discpline. (Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) This kind of thinking helps barkers dive into new adventures. What’s hard if you’re a barker? Focusing on the smaller and seemingly mundane details along the way.

As part of a team, barkers are excellent starters.

They’ll know the best place to start is anywhere. They’ll remind others to notice new paths to wander. That’s because they are swiftly decisive when they see something new to jump into. They stop at any point due to frustration, losing focus, or when realising how much work they have involved. They may just start something else and forget the original task if not kept in check

What are barkers afraid of?

A barker may even be afraid to finish realizing that the result may not match their ideal

What’s a barker’s procrastination style?

They’ll start something new and unrelated to put off the old task. If they practice seeing new opportunities to start within the current project, they have a better chance of success.

Past versus future?

For a barker, starting a new project feels like falling in love. A barker feels excited by possibilities to come. They’re disillusioned by possibilities when they realize the effort, work, or planning involved. A barker feels more likely to seem like a perfectionist. After they’ve created an idealized task, they want the reality to live up to their vision.

Barkers love trying new things. The downside? Barkers love trying new things. The tendency to fantasize about the future –
experiments in the American Psychological Association demonstrate – results in a false sense of finishing. We imagine how it ended, felt the reward of that, and so we don’t actually feel like we need to create any of it.

Listen to more on the podcast:

How to Finish What You Start (Uncanny Creativity Episode 33)

Since a barker loves new beginnings, they open a new and different box of cereal before finishing the last one. Leftovers lose their appeal and they’re ready to cook something new. Creation feels like exploring new wonders in life.

How barkers learn:

When a barker learns, they love to think about their future use of knowledge or an ability.

Analysis paralysis at the end.

Initiation driven creatives find resistance when they’ve encountered a task that needs a well-defined end. The dream of travel might be appealing to a barker. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, a barker would be paralyzed by the mundane details of travel planning.

How can a barker become better at finishing tasks?

Since a barker loves to embark on new adventures, they have to see the journey of finishing. Get specific on the last goal, break down each small step along the way, and take a minute to see the fun in starting the next little thing.

Research on self-control demonstrates how focusing immediate rewards help us meet our goals. Reward yourself at the finish line by leaping into a brand new fun thing that you’ve withheld beforehand.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What types of mental blockades hinder creative thinking?

What types of mental blockades hinder creative thinking?
Anonymous asked on Quora

Often we get in our own way without realizing it. Figuring out which habit of thinking help or hurt us can be tricky. Often habits emerge from the environment and conditioning. The heart of creativity is solving problems in interesting ways.

Here’s a list of ten ways to look at your creative processes based on problem solving techniques used to change unhelpful thinking and the resulting behaviors.

Tip 1: Embrace the grey.

Compromise and find middle ground. Often when we’re stuck creatively, it’s because we’ve decided it exists as one thing or another other. It appears as the perfect most photorealistic painting or it is completely worthless. We must use all paints and no pencils. We’re a print graphic designer and don’t do the web.

Those are perfectly acceptable choices, sure. It’s also worthwhile to consider—revisiting the above examples—that any effort painting can yield lessons. That mixed media becomes really cool and interesting. And knowing a bit about the web, even if you’re primarily an expert print designer, is still better than nothing.

Tip 2: Focused on the task at hand.

Over-applying negatives about a task to all aspects of our life can trip us up. We’ll define ourselves by our job, our art, and our relationships. If we’re not “always” a perfect artist, this trap tells us, then we’re “never” worth much in all areas of our life. If your project isn’t the most original thing in the world, it doesn’t represent your self-worth.

Tip 3: Identify the positives.

We tend to only see the negatives. The positives are invisible to us. Notice what’s good about your efforts. It’s the only way to keep motivated to keep working and making.

Tip 4: Positives matter.

Even if we see the positives, it makes sense to take delight in good aspects. Make sure that you notice the positives about your work, and that you actually like and love those awesome aspects. Find where your strong happy emotions are. They tell your point of view.

Tip 5: Consider alternative solutions.

The first solution isn’t necessarily the best one. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Feel free to jump in to reality test your assumptions. Just because you’re trying something doesn’t mean it’s true either.

Tip 6: Stay present.

You can’t predict the future. We often envision disaster as a form of procrastination. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. We developed an imagination to help us understand and avoid danger. Catastrophizing and fortune-telling takes this to an implausible level and cripples our creative muscles.

Tip 7: Gather comments.

Don’t assume the worst. Clearly communicate as best you can to your audience and collaborators. We don’t know if others will hate our work unless we share. Carefully curate that feedback for what we find usable and doable.

Tip 8: Consider evidence along with feelings

Don’t believe everything you feel and think. Consider what these thoughts and feelings are really based on. From there, we can create brand new conclusions.

Tip 9: Work with what’s possible

Don’t demand unrealistically about yourself and others. Understand where your expectations come from and what they are. There’s a thin line between positive idealism and negative perfectionism. Learn to understand how to be most productive.

Tip 10: Describe specific circumstances.

Avoid negative labeling of yourself and others. There’s no need to use unkind names when a neutral word or thought will do. Consider all contributing factors.


These ideas are based in part by tips described in David D. Burns’s Feeling Good Handbook.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Survival distracts from creativity. Leaders say they want innovations, but don’t take action.

Let’s discuss three notable stories currently in the news about creativity:

1. Taking care of basic survival needs aids in creativity

Earth’s creatures test new ideas all of the time.  This Scientific American article shows that survival helps and hinders creativity. One study discussed notes how the economically challenged find solving problems in new situations more difficult. Further studies of this effect show that financial help positively impacts cognitive performance. Meeting basic needs makes us all more able to take advantage of opportunities.

2. The best CEO’s want to be imaginative, innovative and flexible

In a cross-industry and international survey, CEOs agree that they want to be ahead of their industry. They want to hire highly creative employees as a top priority. In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Emma Sepal writes about how executives are cultivating their own innovation. Terykson Fernando – who is Creative Director at Sativa – tries to integrate observation into everyday activities. “The entire universe is filled with ideas and has in it what I am trying to create, so I take clues from everyday life by observing every little thing and being inquisitive about the how, why, what of things around me.” Leaders also look for a variety of feedback from diverse sources, create space by taking walks, use mindfulness meditation to clear their heads, and embrace natural and artificial limitations.

3. Strong cultures encourage leaders to play it safe even when customers want innovation

Managers tend to evaluate ideas based on cultural fit rather than possible positive outcomes. Research discussed in the Wall Street Journal notes this. Leaders say they want creativity. Their decisions don’t often match. They fear taking a risk on a less proven idea. That prevents employees from discussing controversial or unpopular ideas.  More support needs to be built into workplace system to show employees how to accept and implement creative ideas. They have to reward thinking like artists in ways that encourages action.

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Is imagination a gift or a curse? 9 Tips to Manage Yours

“Is imagination a gift or a curse?”
Anonymous via Quora

Worry is Imagination. And so is Hope.

Both are taking current events and guessing at a possible future. Usually without much thought about how likely the events are. And often without much thought on how we apply those thoughts to the present.

Our thoughts and imagination can be trained. We’re training them every day. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Positive Psychology to Meditation and Yoga, there are many methods of training our thoughts.

We often live out the story we imagine for ourselves. To change your life for good or bad, all we have to do is imagine it.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
Pablo Picasso

Tackling our negative imagination:

Tip 1: Compartmentalize. In his book How to Worry Less and Start Living Life, Dale Carnegie gave some great tips on how to minimize our worrying thoughts. One very strong thought is to contain bad events within the day they happen. Anything bad that happened yesterday has happened and can’t hurt us today. What happens today will be done and gone by tomorrow. And tomorrow can’t leak into today. Accept the events that happen and let them go.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Tip 2: Improve. Since we have an imagination, might as well use its powers for good. Learn what we can and look for opportunities to make our lives better. Sometimes the lesson is that we’ve put enough thought into something and even a moment more is not worth it. Plan a trip to getaway. Think of your life goals, career, and education. What have you always wanted to do?

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
Maria Montessori

Tip 3: Visit. Visit someone else’s imagination. Listen to your friends and family. Talk to people on Quora. Read a book or articles. Watch a television show or movie. Memorize the lyrics to your favorite songs. If you love your imagination, then put it to work by visiting fiction and nonfiction.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem

Tip 4: Keep busy. Write down ideas of things you love to do or need to do. When you’re imagining problems, use that time to focus on other things. It’s the perfect time to start cleaning, working on projects, and organize your junk drawer. Your imagination is just looking for things to do. Apply it to some real tasks and you’ll start coming up with amazing solutions

Encouraging positive imagination:

Tip 5: Doodle. Research shows that doodling helps us focus. Get a sketchbook and doodle about all of the good things in your life. Food, shelter, love, health, minor and major kindnesses. If you let yourself be creative, you can train yourself to notice all of the things you have going well in your life. Have you ever had a moment of courage, hope, or peace? You can probably fill a sketchbook with images of your happy thoughts. Pull it out when you need a reminder and keep adding more.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein

UC-Blog-Quote-GiftTip 6: Love your enemies. While you’re doodling, try making notes of all of the great qualities of people you have problems with. Even if the best you can come up with is “Not a murderer.” “Not here right now.” You’ll start to see yourself as someone who can see the good in anyone and any situation

“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.”
Yoko Ono

Tip 7: Project. We all often tend to project negatively on others. Projection in psychology is applying traits and motivations on others based on our biases and experiences. Practice imagining other people around you are happy thoughts about you and themselves. Even if they don’t say it out loud. For example: “My boss is grateful that I’m taking care of this! Even if he doesn’t know about the details, it’s one less thing he has to think about”

Tip 8: Transform criticism into compliments. Imagine that anything negative someone says to you is a compliment. If someone says you need to do something better, think to yourself “Wow, he must really think I’m capable of improvement if he decided to share that.” And for times when others don’t believe in you? It’s just a compliment to be noticed.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

Tip 9: Change external circumstances. A study showed that students who transferred to a different University had an easier time changing other habits at the same time. Any time you have a new habit you’re working on, change your external world as much as possible. Consider ideas like always sit at your desk when you work on your art instead of sitting in bed with your laptop. Go to a coffee shop, art museum, or park to spark your imagination.

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.