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Do you want to be more creative? Move your body!

"Thinking outside the box" is in fact something that should be taken quite literally if you want to be more creative or break through writer's block.

There is an entire body of research that is staring to point to a strong connection between physical movement and being creative. One psychological scientist Angela Leung of the Singapore Management University, while working with some colleagues from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and Cornell, became interested in the possibility because of the many metaphors that link creativity to physical experiences.

These metaphors it seems derive from a link between "generating new ideas"when we adjust our "physical experiences" or our "environment." Anthony Robbins the world's leading expert in peak-performance has long espoused the connection between physical movement and triggering our emotions and the ability to performa at a peak level.

Scientists however are now doing experiments that confirm Robbins' work. Angela Leung and her associates recently ran numerous experiments to test whether the hypothesis of whether there exists a link between moving our bodies and breaking through with a creative idea and a new thought.

In one test, Leung and her team examined the metaphor "on the one hand ... on the other hand" -- a figure of speech that is often used when solving a problem. The scientists asked volunteers to use two hands while figuring a problem. The goal was for the volunteers to come up with some new ideas for using the university property. The volunteers thought the study was to come up with the creative ideas. They were asked to hold out a hand as if they were making a speech. Some volunteers held out just their right hand, others switched hands during the course of coming up with ideas.

The scientists judged the volunteers' ideas based on flexibility, fluency and spanning categories - a kind of creativity called "divergent thinking." The scientists crunched the data and concluded that the the two-handed thinkers were far more creative than one handed thinkers. These "two handed" thinkers generated both more ideas, and more spanning of ideas and their ideas were considered to be more creative or new.

The scientists then focused on the phrase "thinking outside the box." To test whether there was a relationship between the metaphor and creativity, Leung made a box, out of pipe and cardboard. The scientists then asked volunteers to sit inside this box and solve word puzzles and get out of the box and solve problems. The scientists discovered that the more people "acted out the metaphor" the more creative they were in solving the problem. They believe that the results show that being outside the box fostered creativity.

The scientists experimented further dug into the "outside the box" metaphor and it's tie to creative thinking in another expermiment where they had some volunteers walk inside the box and had others walk around wherever they wished. Leung had the volunteers think about the riddle pictures. The results were the same as in the earlier "out of the box" experiment. Those "outside the box" generated creative solutions than those walking in a fixed pattern "in the box." Leung and her team ran a final version of the experiment where the volunteers were "avatars" in the virtual world, "Second Life." The scientists had the volunteers to repeat the previous experiment though "as avatars." Some volunteers walked around and other volunteers walked "in the box." The results were identical to the "real world" experiment. According to the research this would suggest that using visualizations to think about moving one's body, just like the actual physical movement itself triggers a more creative state.

At a surface level the results suggest that the common metaphors about physical activity and creativity possess some truths. The more important finding and confirmation here is that if a person changes their physical state, and doesn't limit themselves to one hand, or to a box, or to a chair, or to the same environment that the physical movement will trigger a psychological or emotional response, that places the person in a much more empowered state for creativity. While the scientists did not test whether this phyical movement leads to a change in mood which can also lead to a more empowered emotional state. It is likely that mere movement has many more affects than simply on our creative abilities.



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7 comments on Do you want to be more creative? Move your body!

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By Angie Alaniz on October 30, 2011 at 01:19 am

I would think hands down on physical movement leading to a more positive state of mind and emotion.

Its always good to hear stuff like this, it makes me want to go out and run.

Great and positive article.

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By Randy Mitchell on October 30, 2011 at 11:04 am

Great article. Though, I haven't always been the most physical person, movement always makes me feel much more creative. It's also a great way to lighten ones mood and get those brain waves moving in a happier direction.

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By Felicia Stevenson on November 01, 2011 at 01:24 am

I really need to get more active... I'm turning into a hermit... and a computer potato!

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By TonyBerkman on November 01, 2011 at 01:35 am

Felicia, that makes two of us :(

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By Lynda Lehmann on November 02, 2011 at 07:58 am

Me too, on the couch potato--at the throne of my omnipotent and omnicient PC, of course.

But I agree that changing one's physical state refreshes the mind and senses, brings in new perceptions to process and generates new thoughts. Speaking of my own experience, walking or other activity stimulates different parts of the brain, releases tensions, and makes us more receptive to a flow of thoughts we might habitually repress when obsessed with daily routine.

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By TonyBerkman on November 02, 2011 at 10:27 am

It works.

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By Ed Attanasio on November 02, 2011 at 11:48 am

So true. I sit here writing 8-10 hours daily including many weekends and my big breaks of the day are walking my dogs and swimming a mile every single day. I come back fresh and ready to write every time. Great article TB!

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