Creativity is becoming more in demand. Our world is changing fast — AI, Machine Learning (ML), automation and machines are taking over many of the mundane and tedious tasks. This makes human creativity, communication, problem-solving, and design skills more valuable. Not only to employers but also if you’re embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.
We all have the ability to create. Like every other skill, it can be grown and honed, strengthened and stretched. And because we are human, it can also ‘dry up’ — especially when we’ve been running too long or doing too much.
When this happens, it’s necessary to take a break. Rest, recharge and regroup. When we do this, our creative juices can rise. Then, we get flowing again. However, not all rest and relaxation is created equal. Spending time in natural spaces is one of the best ways you can boost your creativity and mental health. Here’s why.
There’s always more to learn. In today’s world, information comes at us from almost every angle. It can feel as though we’re expected to keep up. Even when we don’t want to, we can be pulled along by the tide of information around us — smartphone notifications, radio, T.V, podcasts, social media — it can feel endless. Many scientists agree that our brains don’t cope well with this constant digital life.
The ‘always-on’ nature of our existence can cause us to gloss over the detail. More and more, we pick up on the headlines and ignore the depth of the story. The gloss and glamour often win over the meaningful detail.
This constant distraction stops us from digesting and processing the information we are presented with. It’s in the digesting that we are able to pull things apart and put them back together differently. It’s when we get to taste the flavour of an issue and feel the texture of a problem.
Creativity is way more than painting pictures, writing books, or building a product. It’s our ability to look at something and imagine what could be. It’s the ability to find a solution to a curly problem. It’s innovation, experimentation, curiosity, and exploration rolled into one.
The Oxford dictionary defines creativity as:
“The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”
For this we need space, we need time. Nature gives us both in abundance. Our digital world hurries us along. Nature invites us to slow down. All we need to do is step out into it.
Go green for creativity
One study in Japan, another in Finland found that people who walked through green spaces — parks, woodland and forests — had significant reductions in stress levels. There are other ways green spaces affect our moods too — decreased anxiety, rumination and increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This part of our brain is involved in the regulation of emotion and behaviour.
A smaller, qualitative study with Danish creative professionals in the performing arts, arts and crafts, design and architecture arenas, found that natural green environments enhanced creativity. These spaces were particularly good for the preparation and incubation stages of ideation.
Natural surroundings have the ability to evoke creative thinking by enhancing our curiosity, sparking new ideas and calling us to be flexible with our thoughts. Nature can rouse our fascination, induce calm and relaxed states of mind. Of course, they also help us to feel safe and less stressed. All of these qualities are essential for boosting out creative abilities.
Surf the blue to find your flow
It’s not just green natural spaces that spark your brain to work more creatively. Ever had a great idea in the shower? Water can literally help us find our flow. Connecting with water in one form or another can lead to increased creativity, health, happiness and success.
Wallace J. Nichols, the renowned marine biologist, looks into the connection between our brains and water in his book Blue Mind — How water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do.
Unlike simple green spaces — particularly small urban gardens or parks — blue spaces allow more of our senses to rest. Visually, auditorily, bodily, we get a break. Water supports our bodies so muscles can relax. The sound of waves, a babbling brook, the patter of rain or even a running tap is a simple one that enables our ears and the brain’s auditory receptors to relax. Visually, blue space is uncluttered and free — with just enough interest to capture our attention gently.
Blue environments are spaces that support our senses to unwind — not switching off completely but switching to a contemplative mode. This is the perfect state for letting creativity rise within us. When we can switch off conscious, laboured thought, our mind is free to invent, explore and come up with new ways of thinking we may not have considered possible.
The lovely thing about using blue spaces to enhance creativity is that almost any ‘blue’ space will do. A shower or bath could work for some as well as a thunderstorm or swimming in the sea may for others. There is no right or wrong when it comes to using blue space to enhance your creativity. Choose any body of water that feels good and get as close to it as you can!
Blue and green together
If green spaces are good, and blue space provides further opportunity to recharge, what about blue/green spaces?
Parks with ponds, fountains and other water features can be the ideal place to take a creativity break. You’ll reap the benefits of the green and the blue, combined they enhance each other, boosting our wellbeing and creativity even further.
Green spaces reduce stress, blue spaces help us turn down our senses and become more quietly contemplative about the world, our life, ourselves. If you’re looking to recharge or reignite your creativity, step outside into nature. Choose green, or blue, or do yourself a double favour and take a dose of each together.