Creativity Under Pressure: 4 Ways to Come Up with Brilliant Ideas when the Pressure's On

Here's an intriguing idea from New York Times best-selling author and writing coach Michael Levin, "Creativity is a muscle; use it or lose it."

Levin says anyone can grow their creativity just like any other muscle. "I define creativity as 'the ability to develop great ideas while under pressure,'" he says. "Pressure creates diamonds, so why shouldn't it also create great ideas?"

But sometimes, pressure paralyzes creativity.?"I've experienced it when writing under deadline pressure and writing under the pressure of my own high expectations," he says. "Over time, I've developed several tricks to stimulate my creative muscle and help me come up with great ideas for whatever challenge I face - whether it's writing or figuring out how to arrange a busy family weekend schedule so that everyone's needs are met." Here are four of Levin's no-fail tips for generating creative ideas under pressure:

1. Ask yourself, "What's the most dangerous, expensive, and illegal way to solve this problem?"
We usually take the same approach to solving problems every time with the resources we have at hand. "This doesn't exactly translate into breathtaking creativity," Levin says. So imagine that you have no limits -- legal, moral, financial, whatever. You can do literally anything to solve the problem. The way-out ideas you develop may not be practical, but they'll lead you to new ways of thinking about your problem. And then you can find a non-life-threatening, legal way to solve it!

2. Hide.
We live in a world of constant, thin-sliced demands, unanswered texts, and emails. People waiting for you to say something, do something, read something, decide something. Run and hide. Lock yourself in your car or hunker down in a bathroom stall. Slow down and get your brain back. It's all but impossible for your creative brain to operate when you're responding to endless external stimuli. The best ideas often come when you run from your responsibilities.

3. Count to 20.
Go somewhere where you can be undisturbed, bring a yellow pad and a pen, turn off your phone, and sit there until you come up with 20 ideas for solving your problem. This requires discipline, because most of us are so happy when we have one answer to a problem that we want to move to the next agenda item. Not every idea you invent will be a great one, but that's okay. It may be idea number 17 that's truly brilliant, but you'd never get there if you ran back to your desk after you came up with one, two, or even five ideas. If you do this daily, you'll develop 100 new ideas a week. Imagine how strong your idea muscle will be!

4. Give up.
Cardiologists recommend to heart patients that they visit nature, go to a museum, or attend a classical concert. Why? It slows them down and allows them to appreciate instead of seeing life as a constant battle. Surrender your own siege mentality. Life isn't war, thank goodness. Take a major step away, even for a couple of hours, from whatever battles you're facing, contemplate the greatness of the human spirit or the wonder of nature, and reawaken the creative that our fight-minded world suppresses.

So there you have it, four ways to generate great ideas under pressure. Where's your next big idea coming from? From your mind at peace, that's where!

New York Times best-selling author Michael Levin runs the "Books Are My Babies" YouTube channel,, a free resource of tutorial videos for writers. Levin has written more than 100 books, including eight national best-sellers; five that have been optioned for film or TV by Steven Soderbergh/Paramount, HBO, Disney, ABC, and others; and one that became "Model Behavior," an ABC Sunday night Disney movie of the week.

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