We so frequently limit the word ‘creativity’ to one’s capacity to be artistic; however, true creativity is more broadly the ability to recognize patterns, generate novel ideas, solve complex problems, and communicate solutions effectively. For this reason – strengthening our creative brains is important for all of us. Below are ten habits to help you cultivate creativity in your everyday life:
Creativity does not thrive in chaos. It thrives in an environment where we can dedicate all of our energies to solving a specific problem. Don’t start by prioritizing your “to-do” list. If you’re human (and anything at all like me), you will do all the easy things first to “get them out of the way” – and never save time for the big stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that matters. Instead, start by figuring out what your priority is. Write it down and make it your sole focus. Give it all your attention. Everything else can wait.
stick to a routine
Chalking up novel, creative ideas takes time. “Ah-ha!” moments are not an offering from some mythical creative genius. They are most frequently the result of dedicated work. Once you have your priorities straight, show up and work at them. Routinely. Like going to the gym, some days are easier than others, but if you commit to a routine (rather than relying solely on internal motivation) you will get results. Set a schedule for getting your work done on a consistent basis. Don’t wait around until you “have the time” or “feel inspired;” the only way to get work done is to carve out the time to do it.
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters, then I read a bit and listen to music. I go to bed at nine p.m. The repetition itself becomes the important thing” – Haruki Murakami
create a studio
Even if this “studio” is a tiny corner of your living room floor or your usual table at Starbucks. Find your safe haven. Your creative genius will blossom in a place where you feel at peace, where you are not distracted by the commotion of a ringing phone and a crying child. Figure out what kind of environment you thrive in, one that makes you feel both relaxed and motivated. What smells, images, and sounds do you love to be surrounded by? Go rent a hotel room, drive to that remote cabin in the woods, kick everyone out of your house if you have to. Create space for the work you need to do.
Relax. Take a walk. Take a bath. Take a drive. Be bored. When your dedicated working time is up, step away. When we stop working, we give our minds permission to wander. Observe where this wandering takes you. Working tirelessly at a frustrating problem can often leave us feeling defeated, and potentially hinder our tenacity. Taking breaks lets our creative minds breathe. Sometimes when you unwind, the dust settles and the answer appears. You will find yourself more focused went you return to your work the next day.
Mindfully change your perspective to help expand your creative mindset. Lay on the floor, turn the problem upside down and inside out, reverse your logic, play devil’s advocate. What would a child say if you asked them? How would someone from a different religion, background, geographical location view this issue? What if the opposite were true? What happens if you defy convention? Forcing yourself to see challenges from a different angle opens windows in your mind and gives your creative juices permission to do their thing. Be like Apple and ‘think differently’.
Journaling, even for the non-writer, helps to organize the enormous influx of daily information our minds receive and process. It frequently becomes a place of cathartic release, a chronicle of your journey, and also a record (sometimes a reality check) of your progress. If you don’t want to pick up the habit of journaling, try thinking on paper for a change. Draw something to activate your creative mind. During your day, take a moment to pause and jot down your ideas, thoughts, and questions as they arise. Use these lists as a reference for the future. Even if you don’t want to carry around a notebook, chances are you have a cell phone with an electronic note keeping app.
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say” – Flannery O’Connor
Pay attention in life, even to things you are not interested in. Listen acutely to others; you never know what you can learn or where it may lead you (one of the most inspiriting podcasts I listened to this year about creativity was from a day trader). I consider myself a largely creative individual, but I am constantly applying ideas from my day job in scientific research to my life’s culture outside of work. I am fortunate enough that the company I work for upholds the value that science and creativity are collaborative and not contradictory skill sets. So much so, that our hallways are littered with employee artwork. Don’t limit yourself to being a “right brain” or “left brain” individual. Even the neuroscience community has started to debunk this myth. You are a whole person, and it takes both brain hemispheres to be engage in effective problem solving. Creativity is often the result of discipline, and logic is often enhanced by creativity.
make new friends
Seek out people that want to talk about ideas, even if they are not in your field. Hanging out with other creative thinkers will help stretch your imagination and broaden your horizons. The goal is to get your brain out of its comfort zone. Hear other’s unique perspectives, have someone look at your work with a fresh set of eyes. Trouble finding these friends? Dial into one of the thousands of free podcasts now available online and give your brain some food for thought. Here is a good place to start: 5 Best podcasts for the Creative Mind
keep the momentum
My father always said: laziness begets laziness. Likewise, creativity begets creativity. Start anywhere (even if you’re not ready or satisfied). Let this starting point be a springboard into your next project. Keep moving from project to project. Perfection is not the goal – completion is. Keep fueling the fire, let the momentum carry you onward.
“You can’t edit a blank page” – Jodi Picoult
Shout out to my supremely talented mother for donating the water color illustration to this blog post