Chasing Inspiration: Setting the Right Conditions for Inspiration to Strike
Inspiration has many mythical and mysterious qualities. We often use terms like ‘inspiration striking’, ‘ah-ha’ or ‘light bulb’ moments. While it’s incredibly satisfying when an idea hits us in an enlightening flash, for those of us in creative professions those moments are far too inconsistent to rely on.
Here’s the (simplified) science bit – inspiration is a result of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to continue to find new connections and neural pathways over time. When the brain makes new connections, inspiration hits – seeing things in a new light.
So, how can you increase your chances of inspiration striking more frequently? What are the conditions that invite inspiration in? Read on…
Inspiration Ain’t Nothing But a State of Mind
Creating the mental conditions for inspiration involves finding the states of mind that work best for you.
- Cultivate a practice of noticing and paying attention. As Twyla Tharp puts it in her book the Creative Habit, “Ideas are all around you.” Being mindful of your environment in a detailed, intentional way can reveal the inspiration that is waiting in the wings. The trick is being open to the ideas that are all around you, and finding mechanisms for capturing the ones you want to hold on to – such as photographing, taking notes, or simply making a mental note.
- Shake up your perspective! Look at something from a different angle – the power of reframing – can yield great results. Perspective shifts can take several forms, the goal is simply to free yourself from the mental assumptions and framing that you are approaching the subject at hand. Much of digital design asks us to see things from our user’s perspective – stepping into their shoes in order to find the best solution.
- Fuel yourself with food for thought. Our brains are designed to make connections and to see patterns, however, to do this most effectively they need diverse inputs. Artists and creators are often people who are ravenously engaged with the world around them – collecting, reading, absorbing, observing, and so on. Find ways to build your own stash of ingredients for inspiration, from Pinterest boards to Instagram to Behance to scrapbooking or collage, to voraciously reading. You will reap what you sow!
Your Body is Your Inspiration Temple
Your physical state can certainly have an impact on how inspired you feel, as the body and mind are intimately connected.
- Use sleep to your advantage. Being well rested and getting enough sleep boosts creativity and increases our chances of inspiration striking. A 2009 UC San Diego study found that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep ‘directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state.’ This could explain famous examples of songs that came to musicians in dreams, for example ‘Yesterday,’ written by Paul McCartney.
- Find ways to loosen up. Often a relaxed state of mind and body is most likely to yield inspiration or new ideas. For some people, it’s caffeine that gets the creative juices flowing. For others, a glass of wine helps to loosen up and relax in a way that is conducive to finding inspiration. Deep breathing and meditation can also help to create space for creativity.
- Get your body moving! Ever wonder where that impulse to pace back and forth when thinking comes from? As Ferris Jabr writes in the New Yorker, “The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa.” Physical movement and kinetic energy encourage blood flow to the brain, and some scientific research shows that exercising increases neuroplasticity. Intense focus on more vigorous exercise can occupy the mind in a way that allows for the subconscious to get to work producing ideas.
Wherever You Go for Inspiration – There You Are
What’s around you will influence your ideas and creativity. Findings environments that spark inspiration goes a long way.
- Be visually immersed in your work. Your environment can have big consequences on the level of inspiration you experience. Where possible, distributed visual thinking (i.e. sticking up your prototypes, notes, and inspiration sources) is a wonderful way to submerge yourself in the raw materials that allow your subconscious to get going on making new connections. This is part of why the trope of a design studio with post-its all over the walls exists!
- Change the scenery. A change is as good as a rest as the saying goes, and this is certainly true where inspiration is concerned. Stepping away from your regular workspace and working in a different environment can yield serious dividends. A simple way to do this is to work from a coffee shop or local library one morning a week. The key is to keep changing it up – sit in a different spot, go to a different neighbourhood, go at a different time of day or evening.
- Get out in nature. Several studies show the benefits of being outside and immersed in nature – from improving our mood and wellbeing, to reducing anxiety and brooding, and even making us more creative! Nature creates conditions for our mind to slow down and wander, and is a perfect backdrop for creative daydreaming, for example seeing shapes in clouds.
When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.
The concept of inspiration has its roots in Greek ideas of divine Muses who orchestrated human creations. It was thought to come directly from the gods. Hopefully with some of these tips, you won’t have to wait for divine inspiration to come to you – you’ll be able to go get it!