Like light-up sneakers and race car beds, an active imagination is something children tend to grow out of. But that doesn’t mean the ability to envision new worlds and dream up imaginative ideas isn’t present in the mind of every adult. Schoolyard recess may be a thing of the past, but there are still plenty of opportunities to use your imagination in everyday life.
If your brain functions on more of a visual level than a verbal one, drawing may be the outlet you need to stimulate your imagination. Devoting your mind to nothing but a pencil and paper for several minutes can act as a form of meditation. And just because you haven’t drawn since elementary school doesn’t mean you have to go back to doodling firetrucks and unicorns. There are plenty of ways for grown-ups to get into drawing, whether it’s through sketch challenges, visual to-do lists, or gorgeous adult coloring books.
2. LEAVE YOUR HEADPHONES AT HOME.
It can be tempting to plug headphones into your ears whenever you step out of the house. While feeding your brain nonstop content can be fun and informative, it doesn’t give your imagination a chance to breathe and form thoughts of its own. Next time you go to the grocery store, hop on a bus, or even take a walk around your neighborhood, give your mind the relief of having nothing to absorb and enjoy it. You may be surprised by where your imagination takes you when it’s left to wander.
3. JOIN A ROLE-PLAYING OR IMPROV GROUP.
You’re never too old to play games. Participating in role-playing games as an adult gives you a chance to meet new people, learn problem-solving skills, and use your imagination in ways that you rarely would otherwise. If fantasy isn’t your style, there are tons of role-playing games out there that will likely appeal to your tastes. Signing up for an improv class would also check most of these boxes if you’d rather do an extracurricular that shows off your comedic talents.
4. DIM THE LIGHTS.
While sitting at your desk waiting for a stroke of genius, try dimming the lights. In 2013, German researchers divided 114 college students into groups of two or three, and asked them to solve problems that measured creative thinking. These subject groups were placed in environments that were dim, office-level, or bright. Scientists found that groups in low-light settings solved more problems than others, plus they felt less inhibited and more imaginative.
5. TAKE A WALK.
Taking a walk is good for your body, and great for your imagination. It’s a method that has sparked the imaginations of great thinkers throughout history, and it’s still a terrific way to get your imagination moving. One recent study showed that students who took a test while walking came up with more novel responses to the questions they were asked when compared to students that sat throughout the entire thing.
6. PICK UP A NEW HOBBY.
If you’re trying to boost your imagination at work, consider taking a creative writing course or playing a new video game. A 2014 study of 433 employees found that workers who had imagination-boosting hobbies were better at problem solving, plus they had a better attitude while on the job.
7. VISIT A COFFEE SHOP.
Studies have shown that a simple cup of joe might boost your brain’s performance, but there’s more to it than just that. Another study showed that the noise level that you would normally hear in a coffee shop—around 70 decibels—is likely to stimulate more imaginative thoughts than quieter locations that people generally associate with thinking.
8. STARE AT THE COLOR BLUE.
Boosting your imagination might be as simple as switching your computer’s desktop screen to a serene ocean scene, or painting your walls azure. One study involved tests with 600 individuals to measure how two colors—red and blue—affected mental performance.
Participants performed six tasks with words or images displayed against red, blue, or neutral computer screen backgrounds. Groups with red backgrounds performed stronger on tests that measured recall and attention to detail, like remembering words or proofreading. As for the blue groups, they shone on tests that asked them to brainstorm imaginative uses for everyday items or make toys from shapes.