What is creativity?
Do we possess it?
Do we turn it on or off?
Can we call upon it?
How do I know how much I have??!
A little trip over to dictionary.com tells me that creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”
The awesome thing about this definition is that knowing it’s classified as an “ability” tells me that it’s something I can grow, build, and learn. Whether or not you feel like a “creative” person doesn’t matter. Because it can be practiced, and you can get better at it!
So, now you know that we ALL have creative potential. Where are you on YOUR creative journey? Maybe it’s thriving like a weed. Maybe it just needs a little water, sunlight, and attention. Even the most creative people sometimes get stuck and need a way to re-engage the flow.
Here are 10 ways to restart your creative engine.
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.
Years ago, I was taking my toddler 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? 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. Lift some weights, ride a bike, do yoga, take a walk. Find what works for you.
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 buy a coloring book?
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 it's 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 timestamp 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 it's 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 PRIORITY.
When you find something that gets your creative wheels turning, do it regularly and consistently (e.g. prioritize it, and make it a HABIT). 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.
Become intentional about building more creativity into your life. By consciously setting intentions for how we want to show up each day, we make it easier to take the actions that give us the results we desire. And when we align our actions with our intentions, Any. Thing. Is. Possible.
If you want some support in setting daily intentions and creating action steps around that, check out the Intentionality Journal-Planner. It gives you a weekly and daily framework to tune into your goals and how you want to feel each day -- and then take the proper steps to create that for yourself.
The act of stepping outside of a normal routine, in itself, is a catalyst for creativity. Remind yourself daily that you are creative. Acknowledge your innate ability as a human being to think creatively. And give yourself a little grace, will ya?