The Crux of College Creativity

Educational Consultant, Research Psychologist, and Writer

Last Updated: Nov 8, 2016

People often think as creativity as something that is reserved for artists, writers, film makers, and the like. The truth of the matter is that creativity is something that everyone needs, often on a regular basis. Nowhere is this more true than when you are in college.

To some extent, creativity is a trait of an individual. Some people have more of it than others through either nature (you are born with it) or nurture (you develop it yourself). Learning to harness your creativity will help you be more successful in college and later in life.

So, how do you crank up your creativity when you need it? The simplest method is the most obvious one: try another way. When you face a challenging situation, anything from writing a paper to scheduling a complex series of events, don’t always fall back on old strategies. Think of some options, even if they slide you out of your comfort zone. The options should make sense and help you accomplish your purpose, and only you can make this judgment.

A second way to pump up your creativity is to establish psychological distance between yourself and the challenge. This sounds more complicated than it really is. All it means is to move yourself away from the problem mentally. You might, for example, think about how another person might look at the problem and try to solve it. By “feeling” farther from a challenging situation, you might discover that potential solutions pop up more quickly.

Adding psychological distance seems to prompt creativity because the problem becomes less concrete and more abstract. A good example is a piece of wood. When you think of a piece of wood in concrete terms, it is something to build with. When you add psychological distance, it assumes many more aspects. To a person who is cold, wood is a source of heat, while to someone trying to move a rock, it can be a lever. A piece of wood can hold up a window or prop up the sagging tree branch.

The researchers who studied this strategy found all sorts of interesting results. In one experiment, college students were asked to list as many different modes of transportation as possible. Two groups of students from Indiana University participated. One group was on campus and the other was studying in Greece. Those in the distant group (Greece) thought of a greater number and more original modes of transportation.

Similar results were found when the researchers did other studies. They even found that adding time distance to a problem (thinking about it in the future) helped subjects come up with more and varied insights about the solution.

If you develop the habit of adding psychological distance to a problem, you may experience an unusual side effect. Thinking about faraway places, dreaming of the future, communicating with a new group of people who are unlike you, or even imagining an alternate reality increase your creativity. By opening your mind and putting space between you and a problem, you might come up with a great solution that will surprise even you.

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