“I can’t do that… I’m not creative enough.”
Replace that with anything… Writing, painting, crafting, dancing, playing a musical instrument.
If you are telling yourself you aren’t creative enough, then you’re right.
But I’m going to tell you a secret: EVERY human being is creative in his or her own way. Yes, it takes some individuals more time or effort to be creative than others, but creativity is in each and every one of us.
However, telling yourself you aren’t creative enough is also limiting yourself and your mindset. In fact, close-mindedness is the number-one enemy of creativity.
I know, because I used to be one of those people. I used to tell myself that I’m not creative enough to do XYZ. However, I started blog writing by accident back in 2011, and today I own and operate a digital marketing business, which was built on passion, diligence, and creativity. But through this journey and experience, I had to discover what I need to do to be creative.
Creativity is a Process
Creativity is fundamentally the process of making connections between different parts of the brain. And believe it or not, this is a process that you can perfect with practice, patience, and time. All you need to do is find sources of inspiration.
In this article, I will share some tips for how to generate new ideas and innovation, how to solve problems, and how to find your greatest moments of creativity.
1. Discover Your “Creative Peak Points”
Every person has his or her own time during the day (or night) when they do high-value, high-focus work. Typically, these are also the same times when they are most creative. This could be first thing in the morning, in the middle of the day after that afternoon coffee, or late at night. There’s no “right” or “wrong” time to be creative.
Figure out when you do your best work, when you are most creative, and build your work schedule around these times. If you find it helpful, you can even block off your calendar as “focus work” or “deep work” periods to avoid disruptions, which brings us to our next point…
2. Work “Deeply”
Do you know the moments while focusing on a task at work or a personal project, and you are so fully immersed in what you’re working on that you forget what time it is? That is what we mean by “deep work”.
Working deeply helps you to come up with or master new ideas and apply them, create something with them, solve a problem, or learn how to do hard things quickly.
Once you understand when you work best, schedule “deep work” sessions. This could be a few hours, or a few days. To truly reach the level of “deep work” described above, your “deep work” sessions should involve 0 distractions and interruptions.
All in all, deep work is about developing habits, and setting routines and rituals that allow you to focus on meaningful, creative work. With that being written, there’s no “correct” deep work ritual. It could mean schedule 2-3 hour-long blocks of time every day, locked in your office or a quiet room; or a “grand gesture”, such as substantially changing your environment. It’s about finding out what, where, when, and how works for you.
3. Mind Map it Out
Let’s say your “creative peak point” is 6:00 am. So, you set an alarm for 5 am to wake up, take a shower, get dressed, make a pot of coffee, and sit down to work.
Now what? Where do you start?
You might have to “practice” being creative. One of the best ways to start is with a creative brainstorming exercise. You can do this by “mind mapping“. There are several mind map tools and apps you can use, such as Mindmeister or Mind Tools, PowerPoint, a white board, or a good, old-fashioned pencil and a piece of paper.
Start with an idea or a concept, and begin drawing out that idea with whatever comes to mind. It could be words, pictures, a pattern of lines, or even stick figures. Try not to overthink it; rather, treat it as a little free association exercise. This will allow you to close the gap between “creation” and “ideation”.
4. Say No.
I used to be someone who always said “yes” to everyone’s requests, regardless of how large and important, or trivial and ridiculous. I am naturally a “people pleaser”. I always want to help others. And I would give the shirt off my back for people I love. And if I ever have to say “no”, I feel guilty, like I let the other person down.
However, over the years, I have learned that saying “yes” all the time only wears me out and robs me of my time to be creative and run my business.
One morning I read this great blog over coffee, which featured this awesome graphic. I keep this open on my laptop screen every day. This way, before I say “yes” to yet another commitment to make someone else happy, I refer to this graphic to help me take a step back, assess my priorities, and reflect on how I really feel about the ask.
The point here isn’t to be a jerk. It’s perfectly okay to say “no”. It’s about setting boundaries, protecting your time, and allowing you the time you need to be creative.
5. Make Connections.
As I mentioned above, creativity is the process of making connections in the brain. Of course, everyone is wired differently, so take the time to discover A) what connections you need to make to solve a problem or create something awesome, and B) how to harness high levels of creativity to make A happen.
High creativity = Problem solving
One of the main aspects of creativity is the ability to understand the complete problem, then brainstorm solutions. Creatives usually come up with solutions when they are combined with other insights, or making connections.
6. Build a Routine.
It might seem counterintuitive, but healthy habits, rituals, and routines are all important for fostering creativity and doing creative work. This is because the human brain thrives on some level of structure, which allows it to function and focus. We call this “structured thinking”.
Many creative professionals wince at the word “structure” as it seems like this means removing creativity from the thinking process; however, it does the exact opposite. Creativity thrives on rules, structure, routines, and habits. By giving your brain boundaries, you not only build focus, but also allow your thoughts to roam freely and on top of one another.
7. Rest and refuel.
So, you established a great routine? Great. Now forget that routine. I don’t mean entirely, but maybe for a day or two, or three, or seven.
According to the book, Principles by Ray Dalio…
“Our greatest moments of inspiration often ‘pop’ up from our subconscious. We experience these creative breakthroughs when we are relaxed and not trying to access the part of the brain in which they reside [the neocortex]…
Many people believe that the way to accomplish more is to cram more into the conscious mind and make it work harder, but this is often counterproductive. Clearing your head is the best way to make progress on any project.
Knowing this, I now understand why creativity comes to me when I relax (when I’m in the shower) and how meditation helps open this connection. It’s physiological. I can actually feel the creative thoughts coming from elsewhere and flowing into my conscious mind. It’s a kick to understand how that works.”
Yes, a routine is important, but relaxation is key to a creativity-driven life. This is the concept of “indirect reflection”. In fact, simply taking a break from the busy workday can help you refresh, refuel, and be more creative later that evening or even the next day.
If you can’t take a long weekend away or a vacation, try taking an hour or two, or even one weekend day and going for a walk or a hike. In fact, studies have shown that there is a direct link between walking and creativity.
8. Be Open-minded.
If you are a close-minded person, you will likely find it more difficult to really get in touch with your creative side. However, by keeping an open mind to new ideas, new changes, and ways of working, you will find that you are more creative.
One point that I want to make clear: There is such thing as being too busy. Not only does this risk burnout, which is creativity’s ugly cousin, but when there is too much floating around your brain all at the same time, you end up subconsciously becoming close-minded. By taking time to relax, decompress, refresh, and reflect, you will discover new things, think of new ideas, or gain a fresh perspective on problems.
Remember, a busy mind is NOT an open mind.
As mentioned in the point above, decluttering your mind is important. Decluttering your mind might also mean decluttering your physical space.
Your home. Your office. Your car.
Not only will decluttering and simplifying your life will leave you feeling fantastic and fulfilled, but it also allows your subconscious mind to relax, without focusing on all the “stuff” or the “noise” sitting around you.
10. Listen to Music.
…But not just any type of music… Studies have shown that music with repetitive, monotonous, and strong beats can stimulate brainwaves, and help you focus on the task at hand.
Furthermore, listening to music allows the brain to release a “feel good” chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine allows us to feel satisfaction when we do something we enjoy or eat a delicious meal. It boosts mood, motivation, and focus, which are all important factors in being productive and creative.
Music also helps create good distractions, which help improve your state of mind. It can ward off negative stimuli or feelings and regulate breathing, which increases oxygen to the brain, and improves cognitive processes.
So, if you are trying to boost your creativity levels, try a little music therapy.
11. Set Realistic Deadlines.
Most of us would admit that we have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. Deadlines keep us motivated and focused, however, if they are too tight or unrealistic, this can have the opposite effect, and hinder creativity.
In fact, research shows that a moderate deadline, as opposed to one that’s extremely tight, can boost creativity. So, the next time you need to set a deadline for a certain task or project, set one that is fair, achievable, and realistic. Here are some tips for making deadlines more motivational.
12. Build a Process.
Once you figure out what you need to harness your creativity or when you are most creative, the next step is to build a process. And by this, I’m referring to a personal process or system that leverages the activities or timeframes to get you in a creative “mood” or mindset.
For example, a good “creativity-building” process might look like this:
- Gather relevant material pertaining to a particular topic to read and review.
- Allow new information to “incubate”.
- Write down any ideas that come to mind.
- Add them to your project pipeline to prioritize and produce.
- Review and reflect.
It could also be a routine:
- Wake up early.
- Drink water.
- Stretch and exercise.
- Make coffee.
- Read and write.
What Are Your Creative Resources?
Before I start any new creative project, I ask myself this question: What are my creative resources? What are my sources of inspiration?
These can include:
- Browsing creative social media channels (such as Pinterest or Instagram)
- Going for a walk or spending time in nature
- Mind maps, notes, or sketches
- Spotify playlists
- A “vision” board
- A journal or ideas log
- Books and blogs
I will clue you in on a little secret… With the constant day-to-day responsibilities, meetings, projects, and tasks, I personally have a hard time shutting off my brain at the end of the day. It constantly goes and goes and goes, replaying all the events from the day, and thinking ahead to doing it all again tomorrow. Forget trying to do anything “creative” at night…
However, I found that what works for me on occasion is drinking alcohol. I don’t mean drinking every day, nor do I get trashed every night just to write a blog. At the end of the week, either on a Friday or Saturday night at the end of the day and a long week, I enjoy a shot or two of whisky. During these moments, I find that it’s just enough to take the edge off and calm my mind. I find that I suddenly have a flow of ideas… so fast that I can’t even keep up with writing them down.
The key here? No, don’t get plastered just to harvest a little creativity (especially if you’ve struggled with alcohol or substance abuse in the past). The point is to take time to discover what you need to relax, and do it.
The list of tools you can use to promote creativity is endless. However, they aren’t a must. It’s best to focus your energy on creative ideas and vision rather than on the equipment. In fact, sometimes using the most obscure tools can lead to creating the best work. If you ask any artist, he or she sometimes uses whatever tools are available at the moment creativity strikes.
Living a Life of Creativity
“Live a life of creativity and art—not fear.”
– Some awesome person
All in all, remember that every idea starts somewhere—and it usually isn’t while at work. In fact, studies have shown that few individuals or professionals are creative while at work. The best ideas come to mind during vacations, travel, or even recreational activities. Your creative ideas likely aren’t going to come to you while you are sitting in front of a screen. Break out of your comfort zone.
Remember, the worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt. The minute you look at a beautiful piece of art or a unique creation and think, “I can’t do that…”, you will never achieve the level of creativity you need to actually be creative.
Before you totally shut yourself down, try some of the ideas mentioned in this article and see which work for you. When you discover what does work for you, then build a process or routine that involves those activities.
So, whether or not you feel like you can do it, the creative ideas are there. You just have to work at them.