“The biggest breakthrough ideas often come from relaxation,” wrote Emma Seppala, Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), in an article for Quartz.
Seppala notes how in researching for her book The Happiness Track, she found that the biggest driver for creativity isn’t angst or grief as popular culture has us believe (Vincent Van Gogh and Kanye West are two "tortured artists" that come to mind.) . Instead, "creativity happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming or idle,” she wrote.
In an article by the University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and University of York professor Jonathan Smallwood, the authors found that people who are assigned with a challenge perform better if they first work on a simple task that promotes daydreaming before returning to the challenging one. Switching between linear, focused thinking and creative, idle thinking is an effective way to perform inventive work.
But nowadays, it's incredibly easy for our brains to be overstimulated, going entire days without being idle. We work nine-to-five solving problems, writing, or analyzing data. And when we get home or even when we run errands, we stare at screens that suck up all of our attention.
So what are research-backed ways for us to rekindle our creativity?
A 2014 study found that taking long walks outside every day is correlated with more imaginative thinking. And so can getting out of your comfort zone by trying new things, going new places, and meeting new people.