Whenever I get the chance, I write or draw, sometimes alternating with sculpting. Especially when I am on holiday, my A5 sketchbook is indispensable. I can sit for hours at a table for a short poem or a black-and-white pen drawing. However, I'm pretty picky when it comes to choosing that little table.
When I walk along the beach, I immediately know which tiny place I want to sit in and at which specific table. I have this sense of my surroundings not only when writing or drawing. With every relocation of my company, it takes me at least two weeks before my new office feels familiar and I can start working fully again. The environment I find myself in undeniably affects my creativity and productivity.
I realize that this varies from person to person. Some are more sensitive to ambient noise, and others even say they feel the energy of others, which can affect their creativity and productivity.
The influence of your environment on creativity
When we create or concentrate intensely, it is essential not to be distracted by unfamiliar elements. Our full attention should be focused on what we are working on. Here, fixed habits and rituals play a big role.
Each individual has a specific preference when it comes to their work environment. For some it is listening to certain music, for others it is the need to be alone. These habits, which usually contribute to creative inspiration, are often deeply ingrained and create an environment where a person is least distracted. Indeed, some people have set rituals that help them get into the right state of mind. Here, location can be a crucial factor.
Our brains constantly make associations between our surroundings and our activities or moods. When you get used to a specific place where you are often productive, your brain may associate that location with concentration and productivity. A sudden change can disrupt that association, making it difficult to get into that productive flow. I experience this myself, for example, when I am not sitting at the 'right' table.
This has less to do with (over)sensitivity and more with habit. However, some people are indeed more sensitive to sensory stimuli such as light, sound, temperature, or the layout of a room. When such a person finds themselves in a new or different environment that is very different from what they are used to, it can be overwhelming. So it is essential to understand what works for you and pursue these conditions as much as possible for optimal creativity.
The influence of sensory stimuli on creativity:
The human senses are extremely sensitive and each individual reacts in their own way to different stimuli from the environment. This is especially true when we talk about the creative process. Light, sound, temperature, smell, and texture are all sensory factors that can influence creativity.
Light: Lighting has a direct impact on our mood and can serve as a creativity boost. Natural light is often associated with well-being and increased productivity. Some people prefer bright, natural light for reading or writing because it boosts their alertness and clarity of mind. Others find dimmed light or even candlelight inspiring, as it creates an intimate, contemplative atmosphere, ideal for reflection and deep thinking.
Sound: Reactions to sound vary greatly from person to person. While some swear by absolute silence to concentrate, others find inspiration in the gentle murmur of a café or the rhythm of background music. There are also those who listen to 'white noise' or nature sounds to mask distracting sounds and create a consistent auditory background.
Temperature: The ideal temperature for work and creativity is subjective, but studies have shown that people generally perform better at moderate temperatures. Too cold environments can lead to reduced motor skills and concentration, while too warm environments can cause drowsiness and reduced responsiveness.
Smell: Although less often discussed, scents can have a powerful influence on our moods and creativity. Consider the smell of freshly ground coffee in a café, which can be stimulating, or the soothing scent of lavender that can help relax. Some people deliberately use aromatherapy, with essential oils, to enrich their workspace and create an atmosphere of concentration or creativity.
Textural/tactile sensations: The physical sensations of the space we work in - the softness of a chair, the texture of a desk, or the weight of a pen - can all contribute to our comfort and willingness to create. A comfortable working environment, tailored to personal preferences, can minimize distractions and promote focus.
Creative rituals of famous thinkers
Fortunately, I - and perhaps you - are not alone when it comes to certain rituals for being optimally creative. Several well-known thinkers all had their own way of getting into flow and accessing their creativity.
Ludwig van Beethoven: This famous composer started his day with a morning walk, always carrying a notebook to write down musical ideas that came to him.
Albert Einstein: Besides his famous afternoon naps, Einstein often went sailing as a way to relax his mind and meditate on problems.
Frida Kahlo: The painter was known for her unique rituals and routines, including the use of certain color palettes and themes that helped her express her emotions and pain.
Thomas Edison: He believed in 'power naps'. Edison often took short naps during the day to recharge his energy and creativity.
Maya Angelou: The writer often rented a hotel room to write in peace, away from the distractions of home.
Steve Jobs: The co-founder of Apple was known for his "walks for brainstorming". He believed that walking stimulated creativity and often had his most profound conversations and ideas during walks.
Pablo Picasso: The artist believed in the power of routines and habits. He often painted at specific times of the day and believed this consistency fostered his creativity.
Ernest Hemingway: The famous writer was known for getting up early every morning to write, often right after dawn. He believed that writing in the morning, when the world was still quiet, was the most productive.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The composer had a very structured day. He composed in the morning, taught in the afternoon, and played concerts in the evening. Despite this tight schedule, he always found time for short breaks to relax and reflect.
Agatha Christie: The crime writer did not really have a set writing schedule. She wrote whenever she felt like it, often bathing in the bath or while she ate.
Charles Dickens: Dickens took a long walk every afternoon. Regardless of the weather, his walks usually lasted several hours and he believed they were essential to his creative process.
Leo Tolstoy: The Russian author of "War and Peace" had a habit of getting up at dawn every day and starting to write. He wrote until noon and spent the rest of the day on family and physical activity.
Marie Curie: The two-time Nobel laureate had an unyielding focus on her research. She rarely took breaks except to reflect on her findings and discuss ideas with her husband, Pierre.
Mark Twain: The American writer often wrote while lying in bed. He put paper around himself and immersed himself in his writing, often with a pipe or cigar in hand.
A creative environment is tailor-made
Of course, a company cannot accommodate every employee's preference, but being aware of the individual is already a first step. Perhaps you yourself can make small adjustments to your (work) environment that will make you even more creative.
Sometimes it is as simple as decorating your workplace with artwork, inspirational quotes, plants, or personal photos. The key is to know what works for you. Spend some time in self-reflection and analyze when and where you feel most creative.
For me, that one little table on the beach on that idyllic holiday island. But since I can't and won't be there for 12 months of the year, I try to achieve that feeling as much as possible within my own office. My screenshot of the sea and my little palm tree don't come close to it, but they do give just that familiar feeling as if I were there again.