To be more creative, try faking it

Aha! Faking perceived traits of creative behavior can increase the likelihood of creative output.

Research, and the anecdotal stories it produces in popular culture, have taught us that when we fake certain physical states our mind tend to follow.

According to repeated studies, faking an emotional state causes the sympathetic nervous system to react accordingly.

So if you’re feeling down or frustrated, forcing a smile for a few minutes might help you feel more positive or optimistic. Making an angry face will cause your heart rate to climb as the amygdala in your brain begins to stimulate feelings of anger. Or sitting in a relaxed position and relaxing the muscles of your face is likely to make you feel more relaxed.

This “fake it to make it” strategy works for more than just emotional behaviors. Enacting some of the behaviors we associate with other types of characters causes us to act like those characters. Imagine how Einstein might pace around his studio and you’re likely to also think in ways akin to the genius. Or approach a canvas as if you were Picasso, and some work of art may follow. Of course playing the part of a famed creative isn’t going to make you a genius, but faking some of the characteristics can help you overcome creative blocks and kick-start otherwise dormant ideas.

This can be beneficial for creative thinking in numerous ways.

If you were to start your work each day as though you’d suddenly come across an insight—audibly shouting “aha!” or muttering “I have an idea” while enacting a physical stance of power, authority, or wisdom—what’s likely to follow is just that: a creative idea.

When I sat down to write today, for example, I had no idea what I would cover. But as soon as I remembered the research on faking facial expressions in order to gain the benefits of what they represent, the first thing I wrote down was the “aha!” that started this whole post off. The result is what you’re reading now.

Faking the aha moment didn’t trick me into believing anything, but it did set the stage for something to follow. And when it comes to creative work, getting over the slump caused by a blank canvas, or sudden block, is vital to uncovering worthwhile ideas.

If you set the stage by diving into your work as though you had some idea of what you were going to do, your brain (and body) will likely follow.

Additionally, this approach of “fake in order to make” is beneficial for creativity, as it entails a playful mentality from the get-go, which allows for more loose, exploratory thinking. This enables more creative play, where the cost of tinkering or experimenting is imaginary, but the results might be very real.

So the next time you want to feel more creative, try faking it a little.