by Philip VanDusen
Creativity is critical to your success as a creative professional or an entrepreneur. New ideas and innovative solutions are your livelihood. But even naturally talented creative thinkers need to cultivate and develop their ability to consistently create “ah-ha moments”. Great ideas don’t just drop out of the sky. You have to create an environment for those ideas to grow and be nurtured.
Creating an environment for creativity means looking at your inner world, such as your thoughts and beliefs, your outer world or physical environment, and taking inspired action. Here are my top 10 tips on breaking through for higher creative output:
#1 It’s OK to feel blocked
The very first thing to do when you hit a creative block is this: quit beating yourself up. Negative self-talk will only perpetuate your misery. Here’s the truth about creativity; Everyone hits a dry spot. Creativity isn’t a constant. It ebbs and flows. So relax, and give yourself a break, because if you try too hard you’ll tense up and the flow can become constricted.
#2 Carry a notebook everywhere
Everything is available in digital format, even your notes and sketches But there is a downside to going digital with your inspiration; digital can get lost. If you carry a notebook and actually physically write it down or sketch it out, you’re always going to have it at the ready. It’s easier to page through a notebook than it is to open a folder of individual documents. The tactile aspect of doing so is inspiring in itself. So sketch, doodle, write, tear stuff out of magazines and paste it in. Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go so your ideas are easily captured and retrieved.
It’s scientifically proven that going for a 10-minute walk will dramatically increase your productivity and your positivity. New ideas will pop into your mind when you are walking – no podcasts, no music – just walking. Jump on a treadmill or take laps inside if that’s the only option available to you. Getting some fresh air by walking outside boosts your oxygen intake which gives the brain more fuel. Additionally, nature acts like a reboot for the overloaded brain so walking outside gives you twice the benefit.
#4 Copy Something
All fine artists learn by copying. Designers, musicians, writers, and even business professionals actually learn by copying, as well. There’s very little in the world that’s truly original. So if you’re having trouble with creative ideas, just copy something. It’ll get the creative flow moving and some new ideas will inevitably pop up for you to explore.
#5 Change your environment
I noticed that after spending many hours in my home office and then going into New York City, I’d have an explosion of ideas. I would be bursting with blog ideas, lists, and things I wanted to do. I saw the connection clearly: I realized that simply getting out of my office and getting on the train made my creativity skyrocket. It was the change in my environment. A break from the monotonous routine that got my synapses firing. If you want to stay creative, you must change your environment. Go to the library. Get on a train. Take a drive. Take a walk. Simply sitting in another part of the room can even do the trick. Break the “location monotony” cycle.
#6 Do something new
Using your brain in a different way can shake off the cobwebs. If you do a lot of designing, do some writing. If you do a lot of writing, do some sketching. If you live in Excel spreadsheets, take up piano. There’s a famous saying, “If you want to change what you get, you’ve got to change what you do.” In order to loosen up those creative ideas, do something new and different.
Creating a “final product” means sometimes spending hours crafting it to make sure it’s absolutely perfect. Instead, create some stuff that you’re definitely going to throw away. Start a project knowing you’re not going to keep it. When you intentionally create work that’s impermanent, it takes away some of the stress that’s impeding your creative flow. It also gives you an opportunity to practice your craft without the tension of creating something final. This gets the ideas moving and helps release the stress that perfection brings.
#8 Calm your mind
In today’s fast-paced digital world, we’re always on our phones or laptops. Or we have TV, music, YouTube or a podcast constantly providing a healthy dose of sensory overload. All this input doesn’t leave space for ideas and creative thoughts to gestate. In order to center your creative self, take some time out of your day and turn off all the input. Turn off your phone, put your computer to sleep, and just sit with yourself. You’d be really surprised how creative ideas will flow in when you simply stop and meditate. Not a seasoned meditator? Here are some short, painless techniques to try.
#9 A Special Kind of Brainstorming
Brainstorming has fallen out of favor in the past few years since its efficacy was debunked (Harvard Business Review, 2015). What has taken its place is a specific type of brainstorming, called a “question burst.” A “question burst” is “a process for recasting problems in valuable new ways” (Harvard Business Review, 2018) by writing down every new question you can ask about the problem. Writing questions instead of searching for answers helps you push past creative blocks by going deep into the “what ifs.” There’s less logic and bias to hold you back when you ask questions, so the creativity surges. Give it a try by yourself or in a group. You’ll be surprised how quickly interesting ideas start to formulate.
#10 Feed your mind
There is so much amazing visual inspiration available for you in print (which still exists, by the way) and on the web. Constantly feed your mind with beautiful images before a creative dry spot pops up. Make a habit of gathering inspiring images. Collect them like a fiend. There are a host of applications that make it easy to collect images. Everyone knows Pinterest, and there are other options like Niice or Behance, which help you make beautiful mood boards. You can also use software you may already have like Keynote, PowerPoint, or a Google Slides document, Evernote or Google Keep. Become a voracious collector of visual inspiration and feed your brain a diet of refreshing stimulation. It will definitely improve your creativity.
Being in a creative “slow moment” or an “idea desert” is not fun. I know, I’ve been there. It happens to the best and brightest. No one is immune. But these tips and tricks are certain to help coax your creative self back to life and have you producing exceptional work again in no time.