For a long time, I never considered myself creative, convinced that it was an innate talent that could not be taught or developed. I believed you were either born creative or you weren’t.
In one sentence, I have summarized two common misconceptions about being creative.
The first is to think that creativity is innate.
Creativity is, in fact, a skill that can be acquired and developed throughout our lives. It is not only linked to talent, but also to hard work. The most creative people often recognize that their art is not only created through their natural talent but also hard work and drive. We can all become creative by continuously training our brains to think this way.
Dr. Carol S. Dweck, in her great book Mindset, shows that “even artistic ability such as drawing can be learned. Most people view drawing as a magical ability that only a select few possess. But this is because people don’t understand the learnable components of drawing”.
The second misconception is that creativity is only associated with artists.
As the award-winning radio producer and bestselling author Julie Burstein, once said, “creativity is essential to all of us whether we are scientists or teachers, parents or entrepreneurs.“
Creativity is not exclusive to the arts, it is not just painting, sculpting, writing, or composing. Creativity is a useful skill both in our private and professional lives as it allows us to find solutions to problems, be innovative and think outside the box,
Balder Onarheim, Associate Professor in creativity at the Technical University of Denmark, shared a study led by IBM in 2010. In this study, they asked 1,600 CEOS in more than 60 countries if they were prepared for the future. Less than half said they were. They were then asked what they could do to better help their company prepare for the future. And guess what… Creativity came out on top.
In over 60 countries, 1,600 CEOs agreed that creativity was actually what they needed to improve and better prepare their company for the future.
As Balder Onarheim says, “Creativity is not about art, it is about success in any aspect of life,”, and if this is true, then developing our own creativity should be high up on all of our to-do lists.
“But how do we develop our creativity?” I hear you say. Well, fear not, here are 15 things you can do to help you become more creative.
1. Set aside your brain
I am going to start with some lovely advice that I think we’ll all appreciate. If you want to enhance your creativity, take a break! If you are not moving forward, then you won’t produce good work. Take some time out, have a change of scenery and you’ll be one step closer to becoming creative.
And I speak from experience! For years I remained glued to my computer, even if I was not making any progress because I felt guilty about doing anything else. I couldn’t conceive the idea of taking a break, for fear of falling behind. I now know that this was not an effective way to nurture my creativity. It was only once I had a break and took a step back, that I began to find inspiration and see things from a new perspective.
Indeed, as Shelley H. Carson, Harvard University researcher, psychologist and author of ’Your Creative Brain’ explains, “if you are stuck on a problem, an interruption can force an incubation period. A distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution”. The most effective way to solve a problem, to find ideas, is, therefore, to move away from it. It is thanks to this break that your brain will have the space to create new ideas.
Christophe André, a reputed French psychiatrist, said that “recent data on brain function confirms that the moments when we rest our brains are precious for our creativity, in these moments our brains retreat all the information about what we have experienced and accomplished and connect them together.”.
Similarly, Mark Fenske, professor of neuroscience and co-author of ‘The Winner’s Brain’, reveals that when we do tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration or cognitive effort, such as taking a shower, it allows other parts of the brain to work.
“The results of neuroimaging studies indicate that these types of situations allow the outermost regions of the prefrontal cortex to loosen the kidneys and allow thought processes and neural activity not strictly related to the primary task.” It, therefore, allows space for “highly associative processes and the emergence of new ideas. We engage in more free association and mind wandering, and that’s really critical for innovation.”
This explains why Einstein said his most profound thoughts emerged in the shower, Archimedes found the solution to his physics problem in his bath and Steven Spielberg came up with some of his most groundbreaking ideas on the highway.
When you’re at work, I understand you don’t have the option to take a bath or go for a quick drive on the highway in order to find a solution to a problem. But if you want to have a quick break to help clear your mind, go to the bathroom or grab a quick coffee. In short, let your brain rest to allow your creativity to flow.
2. Go for a walk
If you want to get the creative juices flowing, go for a walk. I always see a link between my walks and the feeling that my brain is being replenished and starting to create new ideas. And this link has been scientifically proven. According to a study conducted by Stanford University in 2014, walking increases a person’s creativity by 60% on average.
“A person walking produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down” and the ”creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.”
When you walk, your mind is aerated, free to think and imagine.
When you walk, you open your eyes, silently observing this new environment, which is a necessary process when trying to nurture your creativity.
3. Open your eyes
Julie Burstein says, “creativity grows out of everyday experience” and in order for our creativity to flourish, we need to “pay attention to the world around us”.
It might seem obvious, but when you walk, go to a restaurant, or exercise, are you honestly observing your environment? Or are you staring at your phone taking pictures of the food? Let’s be honest!
I realized I was on my phone too much when I almost got hit by a car. I was sending a message and I didn’t see the vehicle coming. Everything ended well but I realized that instead of observing my environment, I was just looking at a screen, and beyond being dangerous, it was actually very sad.
I didn’t even notice the beauty of the trees around me or the birds singing. It sounds cliché, but it’s many people’s reality. Our phone cuts us off from our environment. Psychiatrist Christophe André says in the book ‘ A nous la liberté’, “Let us restore our freedom, never a phone between us and the good things in life”.
Taking notice of our environment and observing our daily life nourishes our creativity and encourages inspiration. At work, go out at lunchtime and nurture your senses. Julia Cameron, author of the international best-seller ‘The Artist’s Way’, emphasizes the importance of feeding ourselves with images. She explains that the creative brain cannot be activated with words alone, since a creative’s brain works in a sensory way, and therefore needs to be fueled with images.
Therefore, to be inspired you must observe. So close your phone and open your eyes! Look at the world around you, live in the moment and you will inevitably feed your creativity.
4. Creativity is based on knowledge
Now, you might be thinking, but didn’t you just say to be creative you need to give your mind a break? And while this is correct, you must fill it with knowledge in the times between.
To be creative, innovative, and inspired, you have to nurture your creative spirit. It is a fallacy to think that we can be creative without first filling ourselves with knowledge. Fill your mind with knowledge, experiences, ideas, and any other source of information, such as a museum, a film, a video, a podcast, or a book.
Adopt a lifelong learning mentality, never stop learning. To be creative you have to be curious! As Julia Cameron says, we must feed our artistic self well. If we overexploit it but do not feed it, we will no longer be creative.
If I’m feeling uninspired, I cut vegetables while listening to podcasts, Ted Talks, or radio interviews. It opens my field of consciousness and when I learn new things, it inspires me. Sometimes a word triggers an idea, that idea will lead to a subject which ends up as an article!
There are infinite podcasts on all matters of subjects. I previously mentioned the negative consequences of smartphones, but there are also many positives we can take advantage of. The information has never been so vast, free, and easy to access, so why not use it.
Beyond video and audio, reading remains a fundamental practice for expanding your creativity. I, personally, am a huge bookworm.
Reading has many beneficial effects on the human brain. One of which is creating new neural connections in our brain, with reading being one of the most stimulating activities for the brain.
Reading develops our knowledge, our thoughts, and the ability to generate new ideas.
As Hal Elrod said in his international bestseller ‘The Miracle Morning,’ “reading 10 pages a day is not going to break you but to make you. We are only talking about 10-15 minutes of reading a day but if you multiply 10 pages X 365 it is 3650 pages a year which equates to approximately eighteen 200-pages books. If you read 18 books in the next 12 months do you think you will be more knowledgeable, capable, and confident? Absolutely.”
5. Talk about it
If you are feeling uninspired, discuss, exchange, and share your ideas with others. Your family, colleagues, and friends could give you a new perspective on your ideas or thoughts. They can challenge you or ask questions that could be inspiring. I frequently discuss the themes of my articles with my partner and family, using their questions, suggestions, and ideas as sources of inspiration.
6. But Ignore aggressive critics
To release your creativity, you must protect yourself from your own non-constructive criticism, as well as that of others.
What is non-constructive criticism?
As Julia Cameron describes it, “a useful criticism is one that brings an extra piece to the puzzle. The useless criticisms are ones that are overwhelming and contemptuous. The content is ambiguous and the comments are personal and global. You need, at the very least, to ignore them, and at best avoid them.”
Why are children so much more creative than we are? Because they don’t fear failure or criticism. The fear of being mocked and judged deprives us of ever fully expressing our creativity.
I am not saying close yourself off from all criticism, but to close yourself off from malicious criticism. Surround yourself with people who encourage and support you, who help your creativity flourish instead of suppressing it.
7. Be aware of your limiting beliefs and conditioning
As Julia Cameron explains, and I can testify, difficulty creating often comes from early conditioning that we aren’t always aware of. We are conditioned from childhood and told limiting beliefs that don’t always reflect reality.
Discard the limitations that others have placed on you.
We can all be creative, we just aren’t always aware of it. If it’s not something that comes naturally to you, then from a young age you may have been told that you aren’t creative. Or perhaps your creativity has been devalued, mocked, or associated with pejorative connotation. “Creative people are hippies, disconnected from reality, creative people take drugs, your creativity won’t buy you a house.”
The questions below are from Julia Cameron’s bestseller The Artist’s Way. These questions are intended to help you recognize your creative wounds. Some sentences may not be relevant to your past experiences, but use the ones that resonate with you and write down everything you feel.
- As a child, my father thought my creativity was…It made me feel like…
- I remember once when he…
- I felt very… and … about this event. I never forgot it.
- When I was a child, my mother taught me that daydreams were…
- I remember she always told me to get out of it …
- The person I remember who believed in me was …
- I remember once when ….
- I felt … and … about it I never forgot it
- The teacher who destroyed my trust was …
- I believed this teacher because ….
Starting with these questions, I began to explore and understand where some of my own creative roadblocks came from and why I had never considered myself to be a creative person.
This exercise is just a starting point, try and go further than these sentences. Dig into your childhood, think about any words that hurt or shut you off from your creativity.
Julia Cameron insists on the importance of positive self-talk when trying to become more creative. Turn your limiting beliefs into positive affirmations. Transform “I’m not a creative person,” into ” I’m creative, inspired, and have original ideas.”
As Mohamed Ali says, “the repetition of affirmation leads to belief. Once this belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
Studies have shown that being in a good mood enhances your problem-solving abilities.
Humor and laughter can also positively impact our creativity, as demonstrated through research conducted by Karuna Subramaniam. This research found that participants who had just watched a comedy were better at solving a word association puzzle, which is the standard test for creative problem-solving.
“Laughter can help people solve problems that demand creative solutions, by making it easier to think more broadly and associate ideas/relationships more freely.”
9. Connect to your inner child
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”.
At the age of five, you’re using 80% of your creative potential. As Balder Onarheim, Ph.D. explains, the older we get, the more our creativity decreases,
In a nutshell, it looks like this.
As children we paint, draw, dance, play, build huts and create stories. In short, we are constantly being creative. When we are children, we have a natural innocence that’s mixed in with the enjoyment of playing, and this enjoyment stimulates our creativity. When we grow up, we don’t allow ourselves to play anymore, meaning our creativity naturally starts to decline.
Balder Onarheim demonstrates that as adults, we rarely think outside the box. We create obstacles and rules that don’t even exist, and this prevents us from being creative.
So to develop your creativity, reconnect with your inner child. Reconnect to the child who did not care about judgment, rules, or fear of failure.
Julie Burstein explains how artist Richard Serra, whose work is displayed in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries, had to look inward and embark on a journey of playful exploration to create the work he is famous for today.
So buy pencils, markers, stickers, in short, all kinds of creative and crafty things.
As Stephen Nachmanovitch said, “The most powerful muse is our inner child.”
“Words are a form of action capable of influencing change” – Ingrid Bengis.
Another powerful way to develop your creativity is to write. Now, I’m not saying you have to write great literary novels or win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but rather write whatever comes to mind.
Writing naturally encourages you to reflect, explore your feelings, and generate new ideas.
As Hal Elrod said in The Miracle Morning, “by getting your thoughts out of your head and putting them in writing, you gain valuable insight you’d otherwise never see. Writing gives you more clarity, allows you to brainstorm, and helps you work through the problem”.
Writing allows us to release anything that is troubling us or cluttering our mind. By writing, we free up space for our creativity.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I was not writing every day. I was writing spontaneously and sporadically. But after reading a number of books, I kept coming across the same advice. Writing every day can help us empty our worries, relieve our anxieties, and clear the way for new ideas.
Julia Cameron encourages us to write three pages every morning.
“The morning pages are three pages of writing that give free rein to our thoughts, in these pages you must let your hands slide along the sheet and write down everything that comes to your mind, nothing is too insignificant, too stupid, too silly, too strange to be excluded.”
Even though authors such as Julia Cameron insist on the importance of writing at least three pages every day, I don’t completely agree with this strict approach.
Don’t put pressure on yourself, the goal of writing is precisely to free yourself from this type of pressure in the first place. You can write one, three, or ten pages, whatever you find works best for you. No matter how much you choose to write, what’s important is consistency.
11. Eat better
Eat better and you’ll become creative, now you must think I’m going crazy with my advice! And yet a scientific study, led by the University of Otago, has proven the link between good nutrition and creativity.
The study analyzed food eaten by 405 participants over a 13-day period. They concluded that those who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher levels of creativity and more intense feelings of curiosity, compared to participants who ate less of these foods.
“Fruit and vegetable consumption produced greater eudaemonic well-being, curiosity, and creativity within personal levels. Young adults who ate more fruit and vegetables reported higher average eudaemonic well-being, more intense feelings of curiosity, and greater creativity compared with young adults who ate less FV.”
When you think about it, it actually makes sense. The body and mind are linked, so by nourishing your body you will also nourish your mind. And if you eat badly, then you will lack energy, and no energy means no creativity.
Julia Cameron states, “doing sport is what moves us from stagnation to inspiration, from problem to solution”.
Sport stimulates the production of dopamine, also known as the “happiness hormone”. As mentioned above, happiness can increase our creativity.
Just as sport stimulates the production of dopamine, Alice Flaherty, neurologist reputed for her work on creativity, underlines the importance of dopamine within creativity. The more dopamine we produce, the more creative we are. Sport releases dopamine secretion and in turn, promotes our creativity.
Similarly, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, author of “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” said that in addition to its stress-reducing, productivity-inducing and memory-enhancing properties, there is evidence that exercise can help make us more creative.
Exercise, especially aerobic workouts like running, stimulates the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which encourages the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. This is the region of the brain that can “imagine new situations”, or in other words, be creative.
Exercising not only promotes the secretion of this positive hormone but also eliminates certain negative hormones. As Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D., director of research and development at North Carolina’s Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, explains,
“When you work out, your body flushes out cortisol, the hormone that triggers the ’tired’ response when you are stressed, and which also shuts down brain functions for creativity and problem-solving.”
So sport can indirectly influence our levels of creativity. Research in this area is ongoing, but as we know from above, walking promotes creativity, so sport is the logical continuation.
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”- Buddha.
As you might know, I am a big fan of sophrology and meditation in general. I started practicing these techniques long before it became trendy.
I first used sophrology and meditation in high school to overcome my stress of speaking, and still use it every day.
Meditation has many benefits. It promotes reflection, the return to oneself, and one’s body. This allows us to be fully present and encourages us to relativize and relax, physically and mentally. This relaxation promotes the creative process because when you feel less irritated and your brain isn’t cluttered, our state of mind is much more positive and focused.
To benefit from the effects of meditation, you do not need to meditate for long periods of time. Ten minutes is enough to relax the mind and refocus.
When I am in a creative rut, I lie down and meditate for 10 minutes. This short amount of time has long-lasting effects on my creativity. I notice that I am much more focused and creative after meditating. The words flow and my inspiration returns.
If you are at work, put on your earphones and if possible, try to find a discreet spot. If not, you can also do it at your desk, though you may not be able to close your eyes. But by just hearing the music and listening to the soothing voice of the meditation guide, you should start to notice a feeling of calm and focus.
14. The power of sleep
It is often said to “sleep on it”, as a good night’s sleep can help provide answers, while also unleashing our creativity.
Balder Onarheim explains that dreams promote our creativity. In our dreams, there are no rules to hinder our creativity. We can do and be whatever we want, our imagination can truly run free.
So, if a subject has got you stumped, or if you’re lacking ideas, Onarheim suggests that we think of the problem before we go to sleep, as we get creative peaks during our dreams. Therefore, when you wake up, you are more likely to have a wave of inspiration about the said issue.
Without us even realizing it, when we sleep our minds will reflect on any issues or problems we may be experiencing.
I’ve actually used this technique for a long time, even though initially I used it for memorization.
When I was in elementary school, I would always read my poems before I fell asleep to memorize them. I took this technique into later life, using it to memorize my law articles at University, even though this was nowhere near as enjoyable as my poems!
Now I use this method to find inspiration when I am stuck on something.
Creativity is like chocolate mousse, it’s better when you leave it to rest overnight. So if you find at the end of the day you’re lacking inspiration, don’t force it. Let it rest overnight to get better results the next day.
15. Random words
And finally, The Random Words creative technique. It’s a complicated term for a very basic, yet effective, method.
This method asks you to take one word and create continuous links from the previous word, which can help spark inspiration and generate new ideas. We used this technique to come up with the name The Way Factory. Using random words encourages our imagination to explore new perspectives and view things from a different angle.
Generating random words can help trigger ideas and create links that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. For this method, you can look online, use a word generator, or use the traditional method of looking in the dictionary.
The purpose of today’s article was to encourage you to look inwards and explore your own creativity. I hope these methods give you a great insight into the tools, techniques, and methods you can use to unleash your inner creativity.
This list is not exhaustive. Of course, there are plenty of other resources out there, and I would encourage you to keep exploring! Reading this article is a fantastic first step towards becoming more creative, but don’t stop here. Creativity is different for everyone, so try a variety of different methods and see which works best for you.
Contrary to what you might have thought before reading this article, you now know that anyone can be creative as long as you’re willing to work on it. The power is in our hands!
We can all enjoy and experience creativity, no matter where you are, what you have done, or what preconceived ideas you may have about your abilities. So believe in yourself, experiment, play!
Try it. Buy markers, stickers, write, read, or even jump on a trampoline! Creativity invites us to let go and enjoy life as it is, and isn’t that fundamentally an invitation to a fulfilled, happy life?
“Creativity is the greatest expression of liberty.”- Bryant H. McGill.
When are you going to start expressing yours?