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Creativity. Most people think you’re either born with it, or you’re not. But that isn’t true. You can cultivate creativity the same way you can learn to cook, run a marathon, or pick up another language.
I bet you’ve been trying to inject more creativity into your life and work for a while now. You see others do it. And they make it look so easy (again, back to “they must have been born that way” train of thought). But for some reason, creativity seems to elude you. You're stuck, fresh out of ideas- hearing Kristin Bell’s character from The Good Place shouting “YA BASIC” in your ear. (Or is that just me?)
Well not any more friend. Now, you'll have the same secrets that successful entrepreneurs and business owners use.
So give these tips a try and see if they don’t work for you too…
Stop thinking boredom is a bad thing.
Somewhere along the line, we’ve all gotten the memo to avoid boredom at all costs. This usually translates to picking up our phone anytime there’s a lull in activity.
Like- when you're waiting in line, or for a friend to show up for coffee. Or filling up moments between meetings scrolling through email/ social feeds. Let’s all put those dang phones down more often, K?
Heck, If you're feeling frisky, take it up a notch and leave your phone in your pocket or bag when you’re on the train or bus too.
We have programmed our brains to think that any kind of boredom is bad, so we fill it with endless scrolling. (And don’t worry, I’m including myself here too- stopping the scroll is a BIG challenge for me.)
In reality, boredom is actually a necessary function for developing strong creative muscles.
When we’re bored, our brains seek out other things to fill that gap- hence, our addiction to devices. But by reaching for our phones, we rob our brains of creative building block time. Instead of scrolling, feel the boredom, and open yourself to ideas in the form of curiosity and synchronicity. Let your mind wander down interesting rabbit holes.
WARNING: You will want to pick up your phone in every above scenario under the guise of being “efficient”. Checking email while waiting on a dinner date is multi-tasking, right? If that’s REALLY the case, then have at. I urge you to test how many times you’re actually getting any work done when you pick up your phone though . Also, the new screen time feature on the iPhone is very enlightening. (And by enlightening, I, of course, mean horrifying.)
Avoid chasing down new ideas in the moment.
Ok, this one seems a little counterintuitive, but hear me out. This simple shift has been a game changer for me. As a creative person, generating new ideas wasn’t a huge problem for me...until a few years ago. I would have a great idea and run full bore in that direction. But then, I'd have another idea, drop what I was doing, and take off in this new direction. And repeat, repeat, repeat. Nothing was ever getting completed or getting my full creative attention.
I burned up my creative fuel by letting my brain juggle too many ideas and projects all at the same time. And sometimes I'd even forget about great ideas until somebody else brought them up to me again. (“Remember when you were doing xyz...whatever happened to that?” Yeah, whatever DID happen to that?)
Operating this way made me less and less creative over time. And most people struggle with this same thing without realizing it. They've exhausted their brains and need a little "mind" project management.
I have a couple of ways to capture ideas in the moment now: trello boards and my good old fashioned idea notebook. David Allen calls it the “someday/maybe” pile and Todd Hermon calls it the “pile up zone.” No idea is off limits on my lists- any wackadoo notion I have goes there. And I understand that I’m not going to work on it right now because I’ve already prioritized my day or week for other things.
My brain is happy too because it gets to close a whole lot of open tabs. It knows everything is patiently waiting for me on the list.
Here are a few remarkable things about the lists:
1) Even when I’m not feeling creative, there’s a giant list of ideas and projects waiting for exploration. No more “pressure” to come up with something on the spot.
2) I actually come up with MORE ideas now. Before, my brain was cutting off my creative juices. It couldn’t handle the chaotic nature of keeping so many balls in the air. Now, there’s a system in place that allows me to come up with as many ideas as I want, whenever I want.
3) My relationship with some of these ideas changes when I allow them to marinate in the list. Ones that felt “meh” (or never would have made it on the list in the past) have turned into gems once revisited.
Create time in your schedule to think & dream
Literally, put time in your calendar for this. The first I heard/read about setting aside time for dreaming was in “the Big Leap.” I thought it sounded indulgent (and not in a good way.) But then, I realized how important this time is. When we're kids, we have so much thinking and dreaming time. That’s why being creative seems so easy then- kid's schedules have built in "imagination” play time. As we get older, we deprioritize free-form thinking time right on out of our schedules.
So yeah, scheduling time to think and dream IS indulgent, but in the very best way. The same way taking an extra long hot shower after camping in the woods with no running water for seven days is indulgent.
I like to journal, brainstorm with pen and paper, or map out long-term pie-in-the-sky goals with this scheduled time. Give your brain permission to dream and create for no particular reason. It will start responding in kind.
Take this thinking and dreaming party outdoors, or change your perspective by booking a hotel room or Airbnb for the day. Putting your butt in a different setting does wonders to get creative juices flowing.
Don’t ever think you know it all
Know what Einstein, DaVinci, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Nikola Tesla, Frida Kahlo, Bill Gates, Oprah, and Ben Franklin have in common? They’re all lifelong learners. They recognize there’s always more to learn, and couple that with a heavy dose of curiosity. Always exploring and learning new things.
Be open to trying new, unrelated things.
Not sure WHAT you want to learn about (see tip above). Well then, it’s time to pick up some new hobbies. And don’t be afraid to try out a slew of new things that seem like they have nothing to do with your profession or business. This is a chance to open yourself up to new possibilities, ideas and ways of thinking.
Learning new skills creates fresh synapses in our brains, which makes it easier to be creative in other areas of our lives. You might surprise yourself too by how much that new hobby of yours starts to influence your work- no matter how unrelated it may seem at first!
I’ve had countless hobbies and pursuits over the years and most of them have nothing to do with my business. (I’m talking to you silk screens and weaving loom). I'm not out there showing off or bragging about the results of these pursuits either- there not that good and that's not the point. The point is to allow creativity for creativity’s sake, so my brain is more creative in other situations.
To recap- we’re ALL born creative. Creativity is not a magical spell that’s only bestowed on a chosen few. Do some of us lose our creative mojo over time? Sure- but by following these tips, it’s fairly simple to teach yourself how to be more creative. And being more creative will help you uncover some of your best ideas.
So let me leave you with this last tip…
Take action now! Pick one of the tips from the list above and start doing it right away, even if you don’t feel like it yet. Then, leave a comment on this post about the one thing you’re excited to start doing today!
Get to it- you’re going to be so glad you did!
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