Everyone has his or her own version of the creative struggle. It usually goes something like this: You’re the last person at the office, scrambling to figure out how to solve a crisis. The answer is there (it always is), but in that moment — or for the past few hours — the solution seems far out of reach.

It’s not until we are sitting down for the evening or taking a shower, unable to check email or answer phone calls, that we are able to hear the quiet, insightful voices in the back of our mind, giving us the answers we were seeking.

A study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine says that our brains emit different brain waves (alpha, beta, theta and delta) that are believed to create a spectrum of human consciousness. These brain waves change throughout the day and are part of a feedback system that is influenced by what we’re doing, thinking and feeling emotionally, even while we’re asleep.

The study also suggests that alpha waves, in particular, help creative people work through complex problems and are prominent in the brain during moments of insight and inspiration.

What Are Alpha Waves?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) are present when the human brain is in the idle default state, typically created when one daydreams or is mindfully trying to practice meditation.

Steve Jobs was a pioneer of this type of mind technology. He used mindfulness meditation to reduce stress, gain clarity and enhance creativity, which ultimately led to all of the Apple products we know and love today. Other top companies, like Target, Google and General Mills, have started to train their employees in mindfulness meditation, as CEOs and leading creative minds admit that meditation has been the key to discovering newfound insights.

These “aha” moments involve the mind moving effectively through various thought patterns between alpha waves. This effect exudes the popular saying, “The answer will arrive only when you stop looking for it.”

How Can You Leverage Alpha Waves to Boost Your Creativity?
Jobs once said how meditation changed his life: “You see so much more than you could see before.” To some, getting in the alpha “state” is a rare event and, for others, it comes naturally. It is trainable and attainable, and here are three ways to reach the alpha state:


  • The University of Washington suggests that frequent meditation leads to cognitive improvements, such as enhancing one’s attention and the ability to ignore distractions.
  • Cisco Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior explained that meditation helps reboot her brain and makes her feel calmer when she is responding to emails later in the day.

Aerobic Exercise

  • The National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that aerobic exercise produces alpha brain waves that help reduce fear and anxiety signals that get in the way of making important decisions throughout the day.
  • For marketers, artists and other creative types, exercise is a powerful tool that the majority still resist, despite the fact that it enhances the ability to formulate cool ideas that are relevant to people.

Green Tea (L-theanine)

  • Similar to meditation, green tea helps stimulate alpha brain waves by creating a deeper state of relaxation and increased mental alertness. Green tea is also high in antioxidants, which is extremely important in maintaining mental stamina for late-night projects or hours of endless coding.
  • Research from the Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine has shown that people who drink green tea produce the same (or even more) alpha brain waves than they do when meditating.

So, the next time you find yourself stuck or need a creative boost, consider trying one of these techniques to step back from the chaos and uncover the insight you’ve been looking for.