You are most likely to generate creative ideas at a time when you least expect it. We often imagine creators as solitary individuals struggling against great odds, trying mightily to craft new inventions, music, or art that is novel, fresh, unique. We assume that prior training and skills are crucial in the creative process. The right state of mind and tools (some unusual) can trigger the perfect creative ideas you need today.

There are unusual ways that can improve your chances of working creatively. According to research, these five ways can help inspire your next big idea:

1. A pen and a paper can strengthen your memory

When compared to paper, reading or writing on a screen requires more effort and makes us tired faster. Even expert writers have been shown to write 50% slower when using a computer, compared to paper.

Lots of studies have compared reading and writing on screens and on paper over the past 30 years, looking at metrics like comprehension, speed, and accuracy. The general consensus remains that paper holds an advantage.

Writing by hand with a pen or pencil has some surprising benefits, too. For both children and adults, writing on paper has been shown to improve the strength and length of memories of new shapes, such as symbols used in music or the letters of a new language. It also uses more of the brain, as you need to make several strokes for each letter, so your working memory gets activated, as well as brain areas used for thinking and language. On a keyboard, one tap creates an entire letter, so your relationship with making the letter is shorter and more superficial.

2. Messy environment can help you explore new ideas

Most people prefer a clean, tidy space to work in but research suggests you should get comfortable with disorder if you want to be more creative. Now, that’s strange.

A 2013 study published in the Psychological Science journal found that a messy environment increases creative thinking. The study’s “messy room” also made participants more drawn to new things. The same study found that an orderly environment led participants to be drawn to “classic” items and to choose healthier snacks than those in the messy environment.

John Cleese makes a great analogy, saying that creativity is like a tortoise: It pokes its head out nervously to ensure the environment is safe before it fully emerges. Creative thinking won’t happen when you’re nervous, stressed, or busy.

 3. Exercising can unleash your creative genius!

If you are not a fun of exercising but want to enhance your creativity, any form of exercise can help. The point is that exercise of some kind can lead to a boost in creativity.

Studies have shown that exercise can improve our ability to think creatively. Divergent thinking, in particular–that is, thinking of more possibilities for a certain set of circumstances–was improved by exercise in a study where half the participants exercised before completing a creative-thinking task.

4. Some kind of ambient noise can make you more creative

Whether you’re working in your personal office, a coffee shop, or your living room, a pair of headphones can be handy when you’re trying to access that creative side of you.

Research from the University of Chicago shows that ambient noise at a moderate level is the best sound environment for creative work. Although silence can be just what we need when we’re concentrating on a difficult task, ambient noise will get our creative juices flowing and open us up to new ideas.

While moderate noise levels do increase the effort required for us to process thoughts, this is beneficial because it promotes abstract processing, which increases our ability to come up with new ideas. Once the noise levels get too high, we lose this advantage to pure distraction as our brains get overwhelmed.

 5. A sleepy state of mind can trigger the right ideas

You may have some of your best ideas when you’re sleepy, yes when you are taking a short nap. You know that dozy feeling when you accidentally nod off and then shake yourself awake? That period of coming out of sleep is known as the hypnopompic state, and often happens as we come out of the dreaming stage of sleep, called REM.

The cool part of this is that you can bring on the hypnopompic state to help you access those crazy connections and scenarios that your subconscious throws into dreams.Salvador Dali even did this to help him generate creative ideas for his paintings.

Dali was intrigued with the images which occur at the boundary between sleeping and waking. They can occur when people are falling asleep, or when they are starting to wake up, and they tend to be extremely vivid, colorful and bizarre. He experimented with various ways of generating and capturing these fantastical images.

His favorite technique is that he would put a tin plate on the floor and then sit by a chair beside it, holding a spoon over the plate. He would then totally relax his body; sometimes he would begin to fall asleep. The moment that he began to doze the spoon would slip from his fingers and clang on the plate, immediately waking him to capture the surreal images.

The extraordinary images seem to appear from nowhere, but there is a logic. The unconscious is a living, moving stream of energy from which thoughts gradually rise to the conscious level and take on a definite form. Your unconscious is like a hydrant in the yard while your consciousness is like a faucet upstairs in the house. Once you know how to turn on the hydrant, a constant supply of images can flow freely from the faucet. These forms give rise to new thoughts as you interpret the strange conjunctions and chance combinations.

Following is a blueprint for the Salvador Dali technique:

1. Think about your challenge. Consider your progress, your obstacles, your alternatives, and so on. Then push it away and relax.
2. Totally relax your body. Sit on a chair. Hold a spoon loosely in one of your hands over a plate. Try to achieve the deepest muscle relaxation you can.
3. Quiet your mind. Do not think of what went on during the day or your challenges and problems. Clear your mind of chatter.
4. Quiet your eyes. You cannot look for these images. Be passive. You need to achieve a total absence of any kind of voluntary attention. Become helpless and involuntary and directionless. You can enter the hypnogogic state this way, and, should you begin to fall asleep, you will drop the spoon and awaken in time to capture the images.
5. Record your experiences immediately after they occur. The images will be mixed and unexpected and will recede rapidly. They could be patterns, clouds of colors, or objects.
6. Look for the associative link. Write down the first things that occur to you after your experience. Look for links and connections to your challenge. Ask questions

What creative practices and tools have been most useful to you?