How to Boost Your Creativity: Even if you “aren’t creative.”
I hear it all the time: “Oh, you’re so creative. You’re so talented. I wish I could ____ like you! I’m just not creative.” Anytime I hear someone tell me they’re “not creative,” I want to SHAKE THEM and make them realize that they’re WRONG! We are all born artists, born writers, born creative thinkers. Think about when you were a small child – drawing pictures, finger painting, thinking up crazy stories in your imagination – THAT is creativity! We are all born with it – and somewhere between childhood and our “big kid jobs,” many of us seem to have let it escape us. But here’s the best part: no matter how long it’s been since you’ve picked up a pencil to draw, a brush to paint, or a pen to write a poem, you CAN spark, use and develop your creativity with a few simple tricks.
Creativity is most often associated with artists, musicians, writers, and other “artsy types,” but developing your creative mind can actually help you with your every day life – from desk job to parenting to big life decisions. Creative thinking is useful in every part of our existence, so even if you don’t have a goal of “becoming an artist” or “writing the next best selling novel,” developing your creative brain is still one of the most important things you can do to prime yourself for success.
Boosting your creativity can be divided into three major categories: Igniting it, Using it, and Developing it. Here are my top five tips for each phase of the creativity boost.
- Listen to music – Specifically, listen to music that makes you feel something. Music that makes you feel something strong – whether anger, inspiration, sadness, happiness or peace – can set your brain on the right path to do what it is you’re wanting to do. For me, when I’m getting ready to start a painting or a drawing, I’ll turn on music that reflects the mood of the piece. If I’m drawing a portrait of Eric Clapton, I’ll turn on my Eric Clapton Spotify station. If I’m working on a Chicago Blackhawks painting, I have a playlist on my phone of music that gets me pumped up for “game day.” If my goal is a tranquil, pastel, abstract painting, I’ll turn on something soothing. This gets me in the right frame of mind – and even on the days I’m not necessarily working on something, music tends to plant ideas for future work in my brain.
- Meditate. We carry a lot of unnecessary stress in our bodies and minds every day. Sometimes it’s hard to shut down and get creative “because there are more important things to deal with right now.” But seriously, just for a few minutes, let it go. Allow yourself the time to relax, shut down and clear your head of all the unnecessary stress that is taking up valuable space. Relax yourself, and not only will you have the mental clarity to take on something new, but sometimes these meditation sessions will give you a solution to the problems that were weighing on you in the first place.
- Look at beautiful things…and really see them! It sounds easy, but it’s actually incredibly overlooked. There are a million beautiful things we see every single day, but most of the time, we’re so used to looking at them that we never really see them! Start noticing colors, shapes, movement – pay attention! That painting that’s hanging behind you at your office – start looking at it and feel what it makes you feel. Look at the sunrise or sunset and take notice of how many colors it takes to make the sky look that way. Look at the photos in magazines and start noticing the fabrics, the angles, colors, etc. Go sit outside and watch some animals or people live their every day life. Or one of my favorite things to do is go to a zoo or aquarium! Watch animals and nature on display and just soak it all in. When you finally start seeing the things around you, you’ll start to think a little bit differently, whether you realize it or not.
- Daydream. No, it’s not for slackers or suckers – daydreaming is vital! Allow yourself a few minutes to space out from time to time. Whether it’s on your lunch break, just before you fall asleep, or right when you wake up – take the time to daydream. Create your own little dream world and see what sorts of things your mind throws at you when you’re not trying so hard. When we were kids, it was “using our imagination” or “playing pretend.” Start letting your brain be a kid again. You don’t have to let your job or responsibilities suffer, but take a minute or two to daydream every so often. You’ll be surprised what your brain can do!
- Try something new. It doesn’t have to be a painting, writing a poetry book or even anything “artistic!” Try something new in your everyday life. Take a new workout class in the evenings. Try a new restaurant. Cook a new recipe. Just do something outside your “ordinary, everyday routine” and fully commit to it! Trying new things – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – causes your brain to work in ways its not used to, and that, my friends, is being creative! So bust out that cupcake recipe and put your spin on it. All you need is that spark for your creativity to catch fire – and you can find it in almost anything.
- Schedule mandatory creative time. It doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes, and it doesn’t have to be major. Start with 5-15 minutes every day, and force yourself to do something creative. Even if it’s just spending 5 minutes writing your name over and over in different styles, that counts! Doodle on your notebook while you’re on hold with that company. Get yourself an adult coloring book (they are ALL the rage right now…) and color for 10 minutes. Whatever it is, set aside a few minutes every day and DO IT. If you’re not a “typically creative” person, it may seem forced at first – and that’s FINE. That’s normal. Do this every day and you’ll start to notice things flow easier as you go along.
- Take more pictures! You know that phone in your pocket – yeah, the one full of random pictures of your cat, your kids and food you had for dinner last night? You do know those cameras capture just as much as a professional one, right? Sure, the details may not be as crisp, and your photos may not be “framed” like a pro photographer, but a camera is a camera. And a camera is a simple way to build creativity and keep it on hand at all times. So when you’re out and about, whether it’s at the grocery store, your kid’s soccer game, at a museum or just on your commute into work (but not while you’re actively driving please), if you see something that makes you say “wow” or “that’s pretty,” take a picture! That sunset, that cool looking bug, that graffiti covered wall you walk by every day – take a picture! Or let’s say you see something on Instagram, on Facebook or just on the internet in general – save it or screenshot it! Save these images that inspire you! Having those pictures on hand instead of holding onto a vague memory of what it looked like can bring back the emotions and stimulate your brain the same way as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
- Display your creative work. When the kids draw us a picture, it goes on the fridge. They’re so proud. They used their creativity and they want everyone to see how great it is. But what about when we, as adults, do things we’re proud of? Where does that work go?! Start displaying your work! It doesn’t have to be framed, and it doesn’t even have to be “gallery worthy.” Put it on your fridge, hang it on your wall, put it on a bulletin board, or hey – start posting it on a blog! Put it somewhere that people can see it – even if it’s just you! Because all it takes is that visual to remind yourself that you DO have that power to be creative inside of you. When you create something – anything – that you’re proud of, display it!
- Get some alone time. Seriously. While it’s true that hanging with other people, creative or not, can boost your mood and your brain activity – and that in itself can boost your creative juices – sometimes you need to take the time to be alone with your own thoughts. Much like meditating can help you clear your mind, just having some time to yourself can give you a quiet, uninterrupted flow of thoughts to inspire you to do something different. The peace and quiet of alone time can allow your inner file cabinet to sort itself out and give you some direction. It can help you sort out the problems you need to solve for work (hello, this is creativity too!) and it can help your brain download that “universal inspiration” for your next poem, drawing, painting, musical composition, or even sidewalk chalk masterpiece. It’s not necessary to become a total hermit, but there’s a good reason why many artists and “typical creative types” have been referred to as reclusive and loners. We’re not, necessarily, we just understand the value of having time to ourselves – it’s in those solo moments that many of us get our best ideas.
- Get OUT of the normal setting. If you’re an artist, get out of the studio. If you’re a “9-5 er” get out for lunch. If you’re a musician, step away from the instruments. Change up your scenery from time to time! Have lunch in the forest preserve and bring your camera. Head off to a park and read a book. Take your painting supplies to the beach. Take your guitar to the rooftop deck and play in the fresh air. Whatever your “normal spot” might be when you’re doing those scheduled creative tasks, get out of it and change up the feel of your location. You may find yourself inspired by new and different feelings, sights, sounds, scents and visuals.
- Get to networking. Find other artists to talk to and be inspired by. Start seeking out musicians with a skill you want to learn. Join writers circles and book clubs. In your daily life – find people with similar hobbies or a similar job. Networking isn’t just for business. When you connect with other like-minds, you grow. Especially if they have a skill that you want to learn! Use others as sounding boards, mentors, a “second set of eyes,” etc.
- Take a class. This goes without saying, but if you want to learn something new – go learn something new! If there is a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, take a class. Want to learn to oil paint? Want to learn to play the guitar? How about learning to be a better creative writer? Many community centers, small colleges and even independent studios have classes and workshops for kids and adults who want to learn new skills! Even if there isn’t a new skill you want to learn, signing up for a class can help you become better at a skill you already have. Get yourself off of your beaten path and learn something new. Then apply it, duh.
- Create a running portfolio. Every so often, maybe once a month or so, add something new you’ve worked on to a journal or blog. If it’s art you create – make a visual notebook. If it’s music, have a folder full of your recordings on your computer. If it’s writing, keep a notebook. Even if it’s something as simple as pen doodles, keep a live progression of your skills. Add new pieces and works you enjoy to your portfolio and notice how your skills develop over time. This will give you a full look at what is working, what inspires you, what skills you should develop – and it can even help you find your niche. For example, if you find that you are commonly including paintings of sunsets in your portfolio, maybe that’s a skill you should keep developing and maybe even turn it into a side income. In addition to the works themselves, write down your feelings, struggles and a quick narrative about the piece so you can keep track of how the project not only came together, but how it made you feel along the way. A great way to do this is to start a blog, but even a simple notebook with pictures taped inside will do just fine.
- Don’t be afraid to stop & start over. Nothing is more discouraging to me as an artist than when a painting or drawing doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, and I hate the result. The colors are off, the proportions of the face make it look like an alien – yes, it happens to all of us. And while sometimes I’m tempted to just throw it aside and say “nope, I just don’t have it today,” (and some days that’s exactly what I do), I have to fight that temptation. So the piece didn’t turn out how I wanted it. So what? If it’s an abstract painting, I can definitely work this into something different than what I had in mind. If it’s a portrait, scrap it and start over! There’s no reason to let minor setbacks throw you off your horse. No one said your first attempt at a piece was going to be your one and only. Many of my drawings have started off well and then somewhere along the way started looking…wrong. And yes, I’ve crumpled them and started over. Sometimes a painting will go horribly wrong. Instead of pitching the canvas, many times I’ll just paint the canvas black and start something else. It happens! And eventually, things work out. Just like anything else we try, the fortune is found when we refuse to give up.
- Throw away the rule book! This is my favorite tip of all time. And this may really piss off someone who went to art school and learned ‘the right way’ to do everything, but ART HAS NO RULES. Are there tips, tricks, techniques and tools that are made to be used in certain combinations to get certain results? Well sure. But do you HAVE to use them as instructed? NO. Absolutely not! There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do ANYTHING when it comes to being creative. Think of all the people we consider “revolutionary” in the worlds of art, music or even in business. How do “revolutions” happen? By breaking the rules! By thinking differently! By being creative! There is no right or wrong way to do something if it makes you feel like you are maximizing your natural creativity. Use a tool differently than you were trained. Play your violin in a different way to get a different sound. Use non-art supplies in your artwork. Experiment with textures, sounds, colors, tools and ideas! Don’t worry if that poem you were writing “follows the structure of a proper haiku,” because if you think it’s beautiful, it will be beautiful with or without that categorization! Throw away the stupid rule book and let your mind explore!
It’s not necessary to be some kind of genius, some kind of slacker, a dreamer or a “person without a real job” to consider yourself creative. You were born creative. There is creative juice in your blood, and all you have to do is get it flowing. There is a part of your brain that exists for you to use this creativity – so wake it up! Start doing things that get your creativity running, and you’ll be amazed how it helps you with stress, mental clarity, focus, happiness and that vital “creative thinking” at your day job. Get creative, friends! It’s good for you!