Creativity is like strength. You get more by exercising.
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Creativity isn’t necessarily a characteristic you’re born with; it’s a trait that can be honed through habit. With the right practice and persistence, you can rewire your brain to make the most of your inherent ability to generate original ideas.
The best way build your creative mind is through practice. Pick your favorite creative pursuits and do them regularly — daily if you can. The more you flex your creative muscle, the more your mind will naturally innovate. Research shows that creative practice reduces stress and improves problem-solving.
Start rewiring your brain with these nine life-changing habits, and soon you’ll be bursting with innovative and creative ideas.
1. Mindful observation.
Our ability to create begins with observing the world around us. How we perceive our surroundings and our environment fuels our creativity. This begins with mindful observation, or noticing and appreciating the details of your surroundings.
By improving your observation skills, you’ll tap into your creative energy and discover nuances and details you hadn’t noticed before. This will open your mind to new possibilities and help you build a repertoire of experiences that can ignite innovation. Being observant means paying close attention to the world around you.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the staggering amount of visual information that surrounds us. Start by focusing on areas where you want to make improvements. The world is full of interesting patterns and connections. Try to spot the relationships between things. Look for how things form or “click” together, and how people and things affect one another. These connections can be fuel for ideas and spark your creative process.
2. Change your environment.
Your drab surroundings may be zapping your inspiration. One easy hack to rekindle your creativity is to try changing your environment. Sometimes a bustling atmosphere can do the trick, so try packing up your laptop and find a restaurant, café or even a park setting where you can work for a while.
In addition, set up your workspace in a way that is conducive to being creative. This will be highly personal based on your preferences, but make sure you have a dedicated space where you create, and only create, whether in a work office or in your home.
Make the space comfortable, ensuring your desk and chair are at the right height and you’re well supported. Consider what colors you use to decorate. Blue is often considered good for boosting creative thinking, but you know yourself best. And consider clutter — some people believe that clutter encourages creativity by promoting unconventional thinking. Others feel they can focus better in a tidy space.
3. Take a creative stroll.
We all know a sedentary life is bad for your health, and it turns out exercise is also good for your creative thinking. Simply getting up and going for a walk will improve brain function and boost your creativity. One study found that walking benefited creative brainstorming and enhanced “divergent” or unconventional thinking.
You can also turn a walk into an opportunity to practice mindful observation. Watch people in a crowded area. Take mental note of things that catch your eye and make a quick sketch when you get home. Or take photos along the way and create a weekly collage of the things you see. Try taking a “soundwalk,” in which you focus on the sounds around you and where they’re coming from.
4. Recharge your curiosity.
Creativity thrives on curiosity. Our ability to wonder, to dig into something and search for answers, ignites our creativity and fuels our innovative thoughts. But our thirst for knowledge can dwindle over time. We stop asking and begin accepting. Try sparking your imagination and creativity by asking questions.
Start living a curiosity-driven life. What piques your interest? Delve into it; examine and research it. See where your line of thinking takes you. You may discover that you thrive on the process of discovery. The more you know, the more your mind is awakened, and the more you want to learn. This will open your mind to new possibilities others simply cannot see.
5. Try some blue sky thinking.
Blue sky thinking means to completely free your mind and brainstorm without limitations. It means moving beyond the standards, boundaries and thresholds that we have built for ourselves and generating ideas that aren’t bound by cost, effort, time, technology or resources. It means freeing yourself of constraints, assumptions and self-limiting beliefs. It’s a great way to ignite your creative engine and spur innovative thoughts.
Start with a clear question with a specific goal. Remember, there are no bad ideas, so don’t berate yourself for a thought you might think is dumb. This is giving yourself the ability to think out of the box and explore ideas without dismissing them too quickly.
The idea is to unburden yourself with constraints that bog down your thinking, so be creative and wacky. When you’re done, look through the ideas. You can weed out impractical ideas or those that aren’t focused on the goal, but there may be nuggets of thought that can help you find achievable, pertinent concepts you can build on.
6. Incorporate “design thinking” into your creative process.
Design thinking is an approach to practical and creative problem-solving. It starts with empathy — understanding what the end user wants, their constraints and desires. Because design thinking focuses on humans and understanding people’s needs, and then coming up with effective solutions to meet those needs, it can be applied to nearly any field.
The design thinking process consists of 5 stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. It marries both creativity and critical-thinking skills. It requires designers to generate lots of ideas and prototype them, so they become comfortable with failure.
It forces you to keep your mind open, to try out many ideas early on, so you don’t get too invested in just one. The process harnesses creativity through inquiry. At its core, it’s a structured, systematic way of solving problems.
7. Practice creating.
Creativity is a skill, and it takes practice to fine-tune it. The act of creating something actually spurs your mind to be more creative. Even for the most creative and innovative people, about 10 percent of their work is natural talent and 90 percent is labor.
You can cultivate your creativity by challenging yourself to create every day, in whatever way speaks to you, whether that is writing, drawing, photography, painting, dancing, singing or creating music. Push past your first ideas. We often focus on concepts we already know.
Don’t self-edit, but give yourself freedom to go in different directions. Let your ideas flow, then look at them more critically. Creativity is a process that takes time and effort.
8. Take time to daydream.
Allowing yourself time to “space out” and let your mind wander can boost creativity. Researchers have found that daydreaming can lead to creative problem-solving. When your mind wanders, it accesses memories, emotions and random bits of stored knowledge. The key to using mind-wandering effectively is to direct it toward an area you’re looking for inspiration in.
Focused daydreaming requires you to first research and explore the problem or issue you’re hoping to solve. Having a foundation of knowledge to draw on is important, so the subconscious mind can ponder it all. Then you’ll need to find a way to “switch off” and let your mind go.
Pay close attention to any ideas you come up with, and jot them down. A few ways to create a daydreaming mind include going for a walk, taking a shower or bath, going for a bicycle ride or lying awake at night or in the morning.
9. Build a creative portfolio that inspires you.
Reflect on what inspires you to be your best, creative self — what helps you tap into your innovative thoughts and ideas? Are there certain blogs, books or videos that shake up your thinking and spur ideas? Are there activities that always seem to relax your mind and help you look at things in an unconventional way, such as journal writing, meditating or going for a run?
Build a portfolio of things that help you tap into your creative energy and original thinking. If you enjoy drawing, try keeping a sketch pad or doodle book. If you like to write, keep a notepad handy to jot down stray thoughts.
Make time to write every day. If you find inspiration in nature, try collecting small items from your time outside, or take pictures of scenes you come across and find stimulating or exhilarating. Arrange the items or pictures in a notebook or collage. Whatever it is you find interesting, motivating and inspiring, use it to help you rewire your brain and boost your creativity on a daily basis.