If your New Year’s resolutions include improving your fitness routine or diet, being more creative should be on your list, too. With advantages ranging from greater brain function and productivity to better mood and memory, creativity can help improve your life at work and home. Anyone can benefit from the nine exercises listed below, whether you’re seeking fresh inspiration for your art practice or just looking to improve your problem-solving skills in 2019.
Take a free online art class
It’s never been easier to take an art class. From your phone or computer, you can dive into lessons and videos covering everything from the basics of analog photography to the history of Egyptian art. Free online classes and MOOCs (massive open online courses)—which you can find through websites like Class Central, Skillshare, and Coursera—allow you to access weeks- or months-long courses in various creative fields. Many of these curricula allow you to work at your own pace, and some are even offered by prestigious universities.
It’s a common misconception that all people who routinely put off their work are procrastinators—and that creative geniuses like
were famous for this type of behavior. However, if you leave an assignment until the last minute knowing full well that you’ll still be able to get your work done—and done well—your actions are more accurately described as “purposeful delaying.” True procrastinators, on the other hand, end up producing work that’s worse not just in quality, but in terms of creativity, as well.
Some helpful strategies for kicking your procrastination habits include working during the times of day when you’re naturally most productive, breaking down big assignments into more manageable tasks, and minimizing distractions while you’re working, like turning off your phone.
Start a drawing routine
Drawing is not only an accessible means of creative expression, it can also help you process emotions and enhance your memory—in fact, a new studyfound that drawing is more effective than writing for memory retention. Like anything, you’ll need to make it part of your routine in order to stick with it and improve your skills.
One way to start is to keep a sketchbook, which you may choose to fill with depictions of your surroundings, travels, friends, or simple
you can assemble from household items. The beauty of a sketchbook is that you don’t have to worry about making mistakes, and you can keep it to yourself, like a diary.
Meditation has long been utilized as a means to tame anxiety and tap into creativity—and countless artists and other creatives have caught on. Take, for instance, filmmaker
, who is largely responsible for growing enthusiasm around Transcendental Meditation (TM), and performance artist
, who follows a form of focused-attention meditation (FA).
In its various forms, meditation has been found to improve skills that are key to creativity, including observation skills, divergent thinking (the ability to come up with many novel ideas or solutions to a problem), and convergent thinking (the ability to find connections between different things). If you don’t know where to begin, consider a meditation app, like Headspace or Calm.
Eat more fish and walnuts
Researchers believe that you can optimize your diet for greater creativity—and unsurprisingly, the recommended foods are staples of a healthy diet. They include fruits and vegetables, which contain creativity-boosting flavonoids; fish, walnuts, and other foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which heighten brain performance; as well as bananas, almonds, and seaweed, which contain tyrosine, an amino acid that’s been linked to convergent thinking. To be clear, this approach won’t work overnight, but rather through a long-term diet.
Broaden your dating pool
A recent research study found that the deep learning that occurs during a romantic relationship with someone from another country may contribute to creativity. For one experiment, researchers worked with a group of students enrolled in an international MBA program over the course of 10 months, and tested their creativity at the beginning and end of the program; those who had dated someone from another culture had “superior creative performance.” Other experiments supported these findings, showing that the depth of a relationship correlates with a person’s convergent and divergent thinking.
While some studies have found that creative people don’t sleep well, adequate sleep is recommended for boosting the cognitive functioning that creativity requires. Both a full night’s sleep and power naps have been shown to help with idea generation;
and Thomas Edison were known to regularly nap for this reason.
Getting enough sleep at night, however, is particularly important for creative problem-solving. A study published in June 2018 suggested that both REM and non-REM sleep play a role in enhancing a person’s creative thinking. A previous study found that when people had a full eight hours of sleep before trying to solve a problem, as opposed to staying awake, nearly triple the number of participants were able to solve the problem. One of the easiest ways to become a better sleeper is to develop “sleep stability,” meaning going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends).
Take more museum trips
Researchers working at the intersection of arts and medicine have proven that the seemingly dissimilar fields are mutually beneficial—even when it comes to the simple act of viewing an artwork in person. This year, studies reported findings that patients stand to benefit from doctor-prescribed museum visits, and likewise, doctors can learn crucial observation skillsthrough carefully examining art. If you’re wary of a fatigue-inducing museum trip, make a plan to visit one exhibition or gallery, or even just one work of art—this approach is also a good one if you’re planning on seeing art with children.
Spice up your cooking or baking rituals
If making art is not your cup of tea, perhaps you find food more accessible. Cooking invites just as much room for experimentation as art, and for many artists, like Olafur Eliasson, the ingredients, science, and ethics of food can spur fresh ideas and lead to fruitful, communal meals. While the alchemy of baking may seem to leave less room for improvisation, devotees of The Great British Bake Off and Instagram users will know well that there’s no shortage of innovative bakers and pastry chefs pushing confections into the realms of art.