How to Become More Creative and Free Your Mind

Photo by Twenty20

Create your OWN definition of creativity

What does creativity mean to you? Take some time to think about what sets you on fire. Do you want to bring new worlds into existence through words or images? Do you want to create art that expresses your feelings and life experience? Do you want to tell stories that will inspire others to pursue their dreams?

Once you articulate your vision, you’ll be able to find the path you need to follow and overcome the obstacles that stand in your way. The better you define your goal for what you’re seeking to create, the more you’ll find the focus and inspiration that will propel you forward.

Rebel against the real evil in the world

“I was born here and I’ll die here… against my will.” 
— Bob Dylan

Dylan captures the ultimate rebellion, that we’re all here against our will. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of rebelling by mindlessly rejecting everything. When you criticize everything, you stand for nothing, and you end up with clickbait, digital lynch mobs, and plotless stories. If you want to make your rebellion meaningful, you need to combat specific, well-defined evils. Focus on the suffering and injustice that others blindly accept, and let your anger fuel your creative energy. When you let your emotional fires burn, you can harness your rebellion into a powerful force that can lead to real social change.

Delight in becoming the idiot in the eyes of the insane

“To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” 
— Elbert Hubbard

Fear of criticism is often what holds us back from creativity. But the truth is that no matter what you do in life, there will always be people who criticize you. Instead of trying to avoid the critics, you should accept that there will inevitably be someone who gets offended. Learn to see criticism as a badge of honor that means you’re saying something meaningful.

Evolution has programmed us to seek the approval of the tribe, to fit in and avoid controversial beliefs so we don’t get ostracized. Thankfully, most of us live in a society where ostracism won’t get us killed, and we can actually make a difference by voicing our opinions in a thoughtful way. Recognize that the crowds are usually insane, and let their criticism boost your creativity.

Never stop reinventing yourself

“Personal change should not be accompanied by a wagging finger, because it’s blessing.” — Anne Lamott

If you want to keep your creativity alive, you must welcome change that leads to growth. It can be scary to abandon old habits and beliefs, especially when they formed part of your identity. But clinging to the past too strongly will leave you stagnant and stifle your creativity. Instead, always look for opportunities to admit you were wrong and reinvent yourself.

Photo by Twenty20

Forge a deep respect for your ideas

There is a river of ideas endlessly flowing through the mind. Your ability to direct and harness these ideas is your greatest power. Like many of nature’s wonders, we often take it for granted — but when you explore the depths of your imagination, you’ll find abundant material for creativity.

Reshape the stories you’re telling yourself

I used to think I couldn’t tell stories. I thought I’d never had any talent for it and assumed I never would. Then I realized that this self-defeating narrative was itself a story, one that was bringing me down and limiting my potential. The narrative you tell yourself about your life will usually become a self-fulfilling prophecy: believe that you’re a worthless failure, and you’ll probably become one. Believe that you’re a budding writer with a troubled past but limitless potential for a successful future, and you’ll see that story come true.

Scrub off the layers of self-censorship

In order to let your ideas flow freely, you have to unlearn your habit of censoring yourself and seeking the approval of others. Scrub away your worries about grades, perfection, and being better than your peers. These things were necessary to be successful in school, but they won’t help you in the real world.

Upgrade your hardware

If you think of yourself as technology, you can better care for all the components. Your body is the hardware, and your mind contains the operating system and software you use to interact with the world. Why do some people take better care of their smartphones than their own bodies?

You only get once chance with the most valuable technology in the world, so use it wisely. The better you take care of yourself, the more capacity you’ll have to build the things you care about.

Clean out your OS and delete the apps you don’t use

When your phone or computer is filled with junk files and applications that you don’t use, it won’t function smoothly. Your mind works the same way. It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly downloading new knowledge and experiences without deleting the old information you no longer need. Make sure you set aside time regularly to update your software with new wisdom you’ve gained and let go of the habits and activities that no longer serve you.

Direct Experience > Filtered Experience

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.” — Ray Bradbury
That’s what direct experience feels like. Photo by Twenty20.

Nothing beats the personal experience you gain when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and into a situation where you have no choice but to learn something new. This might mean traveling to another country, roughing it out in nature, or taking on a challenging project. You’ll discover things you never knew and gain immense creative insights.

Many of the best writers draw material from their own adventures. Michael Crichton, best-selling author of dozens of books including Jurassic Park, used his experience traveling around the world as inspiration for the characters and plot lines of all of his books.

Examine your relationship with technology

When you’re a passenger, do you ever look at the other drivers around you? I look at the drivers around us. It’s terrifying how many of them have their eyes glued to their smartphones, ignoring traffic signals and speeding through crosswalks. They’re risking their own safety and the lives of those around them, all for a hit of dopamine.

You might think that you’re a good multitasker, so checking your text messages while writing an article is not a problem. But several studies show that multitasking can waste as much as 40% of your productive time by imposing “switching costs” when switching your focus to a new task. Complex problem solving and creative projects produce the largest burden on brainpower, so multitasking during these activities can overload the brain and cause mental blocks that disrupt your train of thought and prevent you from finishing anything.

Don’t let technology control your life — make sure you’re the one using technology, not the other way around. Turn your phone into airplane mode when you’re working on a project so that you don’t get distracted. Resist the addiction, and your creativity will flourish.

Feed your mind wisely

Everyone knows that you need to eat nutritious food to build a strong body. In the same way, you need to feed your mind high-quality material to fuel your creative endeavors. If you spend your time reading the garbage that floats around the internet, you’ll get frustrated, anxious, and depressed. Make an effort to find well-written books and articles that will nourish your mind and leave you feeling inspired.

Photo, Twenty20

Look for instances of karmic proof

My own creativity gets sparked when I find out that something I’ve done has helped someone else. This type of karmic proof leads to a virtuous cycle of creativity. There is no better way to set off a virtuous cycle than by doing a random act of kindness for someone. Do good for others, and sooner or later you will reap the rewards in your own life. I’ve found that when I get this karmic proof, my creativity jumps, and I go to work scheming up new ways to be helpful.

Don’t worry about using up your imagination

Your imagination is a force that will grow stronger the more you use it. When you exercise your creativity, you’ll find an abundance of new ideas.

Be careful as you wade into the sea of ideas

“The sea gets deeper the further you walk into it.” 
— Nassim Taleb

Truly embracing your imagination can be treacherous. Don’t let this stop you from embarking on that hero’s journey to find new and important ideas, but make sure you return to the world and synthesize what you’ve found. The sea is deep and vast, so you have to take it one step at a time.

It’s DEEP out there. Photo, Twenty20.

Embrace virtuous addictions

Usually we treat addiction as an unhealthy habit to be cured, and many of us lament having an “addictive personality.” Instead of this approach, welcome the propensity for addictive behavior but channel it towards addictions that will improve your life. Get addicted to learning, growing, creating, and allow yourself to become obsessed with whatever passion you’re pursuing in the moment.

Give yourself the freedom to lose your inhibitions and completely immerse yourself in whatever creative pursuit makes you come alive — it’s okay to be addicted to learning and creating.

Recharge your creativity

“Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.”
— Bill Watterson

The best way to recharge your creativity is by learning something new. Instead of zoning out to Netflix when you’re exhausted, find a relaxing activity that still keeps your mind engaged. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel afterwards.

Realize that the world needs you

“It’s time to start speaking about the unspeakable, it’s time to articulate these options. It’s possible we’re going to sink into the quicksand of extinction with the answer clutched in our hands. That would be a tragedy too much to bear.”
— Terrence McKenna

Right now humanity is facing a choice that will determine our future. We can either create the change that will save the world, or we can give up and let entropy take its course. When you’re surrounded by voices screaming that all is lost, mocking you for your privileged audacity to believe that you can still make a difference, you must cling to your hope for a better world and remember that your valiant effort is worth it, even if you only manage to help a few other people.

Each person who masters themselves, and awakens their creative potential possesses enormous power. Spread that energy and those good works. That ripple effect will reach others, and maybe you’ll change the world.


Chad Grills is the founder of The Mission, your #1 source for accelerated learning. You can subscribe to their M-F newsletter here.

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