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The concept of creativity is a little bit like a magical fairyland. While, yes, the word has its own specific slot in the dictionary, it’s hard to quantify and measure. And it’s not always obvious what to do to boost creativity.
Some people believe creativity is available to only a select few, while others believe that we all have creative potential. (I’m in the second camp.)
I also believe that in order to tap into that creative potential, we have to believe that it’s there in the first place. Consistently telling yourself, “I am not creative,” extinguishes any spark that is there under the surface.
Creativity isn’t something that just thrives like a weed either. It needs water, sunlight, and attention. It sometimes needs to be flattered and lured out of hiding.
How do I find the flow of creativity?
As a songwriter and artist, I consider myself creative. That doesn’t mean that art just flows out of me without effort. Hardly. It takes persistence and patience. As much as I love creating, I sometimes loathe the process. It doesn’t come naturally every time I sit down to do it, and sometimes I work for hours with no result.
Yes, the opposite is also true. Sometimes I feel the flow and time seems to be nonexistent. (Perhaps you’ve watched Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted Talk or read his book Flow.) These are the times when creativity flows effortlessly and pieces of art come to be quite easily. These times are rare for me.
In order to get to this place of flow, I most certainly have done one of the things from the list below. So here are 10 ways to boost your creativity. No matter which ones you decide to try, I suggest you make one central change to your mindset: Tell yourself you are creative. And believe it.
1. Listen to music you love.
Scientific studies have suggested that human creativity relies on dopamine. How can you naturally boost your dopamine levels? Listening to music is one way. Boosting dopamine also results in heightened focus and productivity so there are lots of wins here. Music has also been shown to reduce stress, lessen pain, lower blood pressure, improve mood and decrease the effects of aging on the brain. Again, lots of wins.
2. Change your perspective.
When we continuously view life from the exact same angle, we miss out on a lot. In fact, we’re often looking at what we think is the same exact thing as someone else. And in reality, they are seeing something entirely different.
The other day, I took my 19-month for a walk in the stroller. We were on a boardwalk trail through a wooded area, and I caught a glimpse of a woodpecker in the trees. I stopped the stroller and turned it towards the bird, and proclaimed, “Wow! Do you see the woodpecker, Niko? Look at that red head!” I went on and on as he cooed and pointed. As I was proudly sharing the moment with him, I squatted down next to the stroller, my head directly next to his. And from this new perspective, I saw that he couldn’t see the woodpecker at all. Instead he was babbling on about a plastic bag caught on another tree and blowing in the breeze. Oh. Whoops.
Seeing things from a new angle can be eye-opening and enlightening. At the very least, it kicks your brain off of auto-pilot. So try imagining a challenge you’re having or an interaction with someone from a completely different view point.
Better yet, literally change your perspective. Lay down on the floor and view the room from the bottom up. Or if you have a toddler, squat down and see the furniture from their height. Get under the kitchen table. Get up close and personal with some items that you usually only see from far away.
3. Hang around other creative people.
We become the people we surround ourselves with. Maybe you’ve heard it said before that you are the summation of the 5 people you are with most often. If your best buds complain constantly, chances are you will complain a lot. Do they watch a lot of TV? You probably do, too. Are they outdoor adventure seekers? Then you probably do a lot of hiking, biking, or mountain climbing. Find people who are good at embracing their creative mindset and you’ll boost your creativity too.
4. Move your body.
Besides a whole host of other physical benefits, exercise sends more oxygen to the brain. It improves thinking skills and reduces stress, too — all things that contribute to laying the groundwork for your imagination to bloom. In my personal experience, exercising gives me an upgrade on all kinds of good feelings that benefit creative thinking and focus.
5. Channel your inner child.
If you have kids, this is the perfect opportunity to get completely silly with them. In fact, that is the assignment. Have a wacky dance party, draw ridiculous pictures, or make believe you are different animals. Depending on the age of the kid or kids, this one will be different. But the real test is how well YOU can get back to that place of pure curiosity. If you don’t have kids, what is something you can do that takes you back to that place of simplicity and inquisitiveness? Climb a tree? Lay on the grass and look up at the sky? Bust out some crayons and color a picture?
6. Go to the places that inspire you.
What environment makes you feel alive? If visual art is your jam, go see more of it. Visit galleries, places in your city with murals, or even coffee shops that house pieces from local artists. If music gets you going, find concerts or festivals to see live music. Take a walk through funky neighborhoods, check out a farmer’s market, or people-watch downtown. Perhaps nature inspires you. Go to a park or take a hike. New environments shake things up, and if its the kind of place we feel a kinship with, it can give a great big boost to creativity.
Nothing kills a flow more than a notification that you have a new email. In general, I associate creative thinking with stepping outside of time. You are essentially more in the present moment than ever, and yet not existing in any particular minute, second, or hour. (That is, of course, the most extreme version of it.) If that’s the case, checking texts, emails, and Facebook feeds are the very actions that give you a time stamp to yank you out of it. Turn off your devices and just be. Dare I say you could even simply meditate??
8. Stop trying so hard.
You often hear of people coming up with their best ideas in the shower, on a drive, or doing some other activity where they are specifically focused on something else entirely. As a songwriter, my best ideas for songs come when I’m out in the world DOING. Life is inspiration. New conversations with other people are inspiration. Even mistakes and failures can be inspiration. You might be thinking, “This sounds totally counter-intuitive. The whole point is that I’m TRYING to boost my creativity. To stop trying makes no sense.” The awareness of your mindset is key. You start with that first step of owning it — telling yourself that you are indeed creative. You live your life, and you pay attention to those moments where ideas come. And where you might normally dismiss them or not even notice them, you then listen a little more closely.
9. Zero in on the right time of day.
When do you usually feel sparks of creativity? If you aren’t sure, then think about the time of day where you feel the most focused, most productive and the least amount of stress. Once upon a time (when I was younger and pre-kids), I would get into my most creative state late at night. I would stay up into the wee hours songwriting. These days, I’m usually zapped in the evenings, but if I can work first thing in the morning, I have much more success in giving my creativity a boost.
This is about choosing the most welcoming and inviting time of day for creative thinking. In fact, space and time for non-distracted thinking is essential for leaders and entrepreneurs. When we are constantly doing, doing, doing — whether its meetings or phone calls or emails — we have no time to process what’s going on. Whether you’re trying to paint a picture or come up with a creative solution for your client, the space to focus at the *right* time of day is critical.
10. Make it a habit.
Lastly, when you find something that gets your creative wheels turning, do it regularly and consistently. If early morning writing sessions work for you, make sure to schedule them a few days a week. Or every day. This is a personalized decision for you based on your goals and desires. If exercise works, incorporate a workout or a walk before your “right time of day.” Schedule regular gatherings of creative friends or weekly crazy dance parties with your family.
Try new things. The act of stepping outside of a normal routine, in itself, is a catalyst for creativity. Remind yourself daily that you are creative. (reference article for creating affirmation – worksheet) You don’t have to be Picasso or Jimi Hendrix. Nor do you have to win awards or pass tests. You do, however, have to acknowledge your innate ability as a human being to think creatively. And you have to be willing to try and keep trying. We’re often reminded of the countless failures Edison had before he ended up with the light bulb. The sources conflict on how many, but just imagine it was 1000 fails. Or even 100. It’s a modern day convenience we completely take for granted, but think of how creative this scientific invention is, and how much effort had to be exerted to make it happen.
Giving your own creativity a boost is absolutely possible. Try these 10 ideas and let me know in the comments below what works best for you! Then check out The Ultimate Guide to Creativity for Moms for more tips, inspiration, and need-to-knows!
Zabelina DL, Colzato L, Beeman M, Hommel B. Dopamine and the Creative Mind: Individual Differences in Creativity Are Predicted by Interactions between Dopamine Genes DAT and COMT. PLoS One. 2016;11(1):e0146768. Published 2016 Jan 19. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146768