It has happened to everyone, you are trying to solve a problem or brainstorm an idea and you are completely stuck and frustrated. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, while in the shower or in the middle of the night, the perfect idea comes to you. So in order to avoid those mind-numbing, head-banging mental blocks, let’s look at some tips to foster creativity.

1. First, as we already noted, concentration can actually be a killer of creativity. Sometimes when you are too focused, the answer alludes you. And when this occurs, you become frustrated, anxious, disappointed, worried, etc. which only leads to further mental block. It is the same as focusing on sleep leading to greater insomnia. So when you need the creative juices to flow, step away and take your mind off the task.

2. Fear of failure also stifles creativity. Research shows that being evaluated helps when tasks are concrete and measurable such as a personal trainer monitoring your gym attendance. However, creativity is often not measurable. Good ideas come from brainstorming, thinking of any and all ideas no matter how wacky and then evaluating the pros and cons of each idea. Or some creative endeavors such as art or poetry are not “right” or “wrong” but rather are a matter of taste or opinion. So when trying to spark creativity in yourself or others, encourage freedom of expression without evaluation or consequence.

3. When stuck, try changing what you are thinking about. Memory stores information in an interrelated manner. So the way you frame a problem will automatically bring to mind relevant related information. If I ask you to think about food, you are going to think about food and not animals. But what if I ask you to think about the origins of your food. Now you might start to think of certain animals. In this manner, reframing the problem can help bring forth other stores of information and prompt that “outside the box” thinking.

4. Be optimistic. If you think you can…you know the rest…it is more likely that you will. In the case of creativity, you will put in more time, effort and energy into a project or a task that you believe will be successful. So work on that positive self-talk. Encourage yourself and others. And you will likely see results.

5. Embrace boredom. If you are always on the go without any calm, relaxation time, your mind has less time to process and integrate new information and ideas. It is when we have “down time” that our mind is free to wonder and tap into those percolating unconscious or subconscious ideas.

Whether you are trying to foster creativity in yourself, your children or your business team, frame the problem differently, be optimistic, take breaks and remove evaluation components and the creativity will flow. Let’s see what creative endeavors you will accomplish in this new year.

For further reading, try “The Enemies of Invention” in Psychology Today.