7 Strategies to Unlock the Creative Beast Inside You
We were barely five years old when my next-door neighbour Josh and I became obsessed with birds. The freedom they had, the grace, the flying. My favourite being the wise old owl. One fine weekend I decided that, like an owl, I too wanted to fly.
I recruited Josh and we spent all afternoon in my basement crafting our wings out of cardboard and red construction paper. It was an incredible feat of engineering and we would be fastening them to our arms with duct tape. It seemed impossible to fail.
When we finished, we would take the ladder from my parents’ shed, climb onto the roof of my house, and set sail. It was autumn at the time so of course we would build a pile of leaves in the backyard to break our fall if something went terribly wrong. We weren’t idiots.
Luckily before we made the jump, I ran this plan past my mom, and I don’t need to tell you how that went. I actually still remember the fear and bewilderment on her face when she realized I was dead serious. A trip to a child psychologist may or may not have happened after that. I can’t recall.
The point of this story isn’t that it was an incredibly dubious and dangerously silly plan, it’s that there’s something magical about the way kids think. If you’ve spent any time around children, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Their creativity seems boundless and the way they solve problems or answer questions can be outrageous, hilarious and downright creative.
This is because they are divergent thinkers, which means they can think of a million ways to do something. Sometimes innovative, sometimes insane, but always creative. As we get older we become more convergent thinkers. We have learned through life what works, and we tend to stick to this tried and tested method. However, the problem with that is that it can restrict us and stifle our creativity.
When you’re a kid your brain is hyper-plastic, meaning that you’re a sponge for information and you’re trying to figure out how the world works. This means you take chances and experiment, and no idea is off the table as you begin grooving your young brain.
As we get older the plasticity hardens somewhat as our brains become grooved through our life experiences. The belief used to be that once you reached a certain age, your brain was set in its ways and you were incapable of changing the way you think. But luckily neuroscience has now proven that our brains will always remain somewhat plastic, giving us the chance to grow, change and continue to create.
Creativity can be learned, and you can get better at it with practice. Your brain functions like a muscle and the more you do something the better it’s going to work for you. Here are some excellent ways to begin working out your brain to get that creative pump.
Creativity starts with observing the world around us. Appreciating the details of your surroundings and how they work taps into your creative mind and helps you notice the details and nuances you didn’t notice before.
Psychological scientist Matthijs Baas conducted an experiment at the University of Amsterdam to see if there was a link between mindful observation and creativity. The participants were first given standard psychological tests to gauge observation levels.
They then gave participants two minutes to type as many creative uses as possible for a tin can and rope. The results showed that strong observation skills were linked to greater creativity, originality, and flexible thinking.
Here are 22 mindful observation exercises to try.
Blue sky thinking
This is the concept of having nothing to hold back your thoughts. Your creative landscape is a beautiful blue sky full of endless opportunities. First, think of a problem that you want to solve. Write down every single thing that comes to your mind. There are no boundaries. Think like a kid. The crazier the better.
Let it all spill out on the page. When you’re done you can look for ideas that you can build on and filter out the not so great ones. A mind dump is a valuable tool to get the creative juices flowing.
Albert Einstein was unabashed in his love of daydreaming, which he also called ‘thought experiments.’ It’s said that this is how he came up with the theory of relativity. It makes a lot of sense. How many times have you come up with a great idea while taking a walk, riding your bike or having a bath or shower?
The key to daydreaming is to make it focused and deliberate and be aware of what you want to achieve. Think of the problem you want to solve and have as much information on the subject as possible. This will allow your subconscious to have a lot of information to explore.
Then put all distractions away and drift off wherever your mind takes you. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have found daydreaming can lead to creative problem-solving. It’s a way of accessing memories, emotions and other buried knowledge. Direct it towards an area you’re looking for inspiration in and let your mind go.
Find your catalyst
What’s the one thing that makes you feel the most alive when you do it? Go do that. For me, it’s a nice relaxing walk. Nothing refreshes my mind and summons my creativity and problem-solving skills like a nice long walk. It’s the most therapeutic thing I can do for myself and I owe most of my good ideas to this process.
Whenever I’m stuck or need a proverbial shot in the arm, I put on my shoes and hit the path. Find your catalyst, whether it’s walking, running, listening to classical music or chopping wood.
Change the way you think
Changing your mindset allows you to eliminate the self-fulfilling prophecy of negativity that will keep you stuck. Eliminate saying things like, ‘I don’t know’, I can’t’, or ‘I’m stuck’. Flip it on its head and say, ‘I will find a way to do this’, ‘I will find the inspiration’, or ‘I know that solutions are going to come to me.’ Studies have shown positive affirmations play a key role in our self-integrity to achieve the outcomes that we want.
Switch up your routine
Do things differently than how you usually do to access different parts of the brain. If you keep doing the same things you get the same results. Take a different route home, try listening to different music, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. If you usually like rock, try some complex classical music. If you usually sit at your desk, try standing up. Switch up the mundane.
Inspiration is contagious
I find I get some of my best ideas after reading, listening to a podcast, or watching something inspiring. If I watch a cool documentary about minimalism, I start to generate ideas of how I can live with less. Or if I read a great article on productivity, it breeds enthusiasm on how I can hack my own life to be more productive. A good podcast on motivation can get me fired up to start planning on how to take my life to the next level. Whatever your current interest or goal is in life, look to others for inspiration. As Einstein said,
“Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”