As a writer, creativity is my bread and butter. My livelihood depends upon my ability to think outside the box, to be open to new ideas and new ways of expressing them. And although you may not realize it, yours does too. Whatever the business or field of endeavor, success belongs to those on the cutting edge; those who are continually growing and innovating, and coming up with the next big thing.
Whether or not you consider yourself an artist, creativity is an important part of life. Human beings need an outlet through which they can express themselves, in order to feel fulfilled. But creative blocks happen to even the best of us. So what do you do when juicy new ideas elude you? How do you get out of the creative “dead zone,” and get back into the sweet spot where creation and innovation come easily?
Drawing on the advice of professional artists, the data of scientific researchers, and my own personal experience, I have put together these 10 tips to help you do just that.
1. Write every morning
Every morning, take a few minutes to sit down with a pen and a spiral notebook and fill three pages. Write about your dreams, or your breakfast, or the weather – it doesn’t matter. Inspired by Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) and her “morning papers,” the idea is to make yourself write whether or not you feel like it, to get words flowing even if it’s only scribbling down your own doubts and self-judgments (it often is). Even if you’re not a writer, this practice can help you. It takes the thoughts that are stuck, circling around in your head, and it gets them out onto the paper, clearing the way for new ideas and new insights.
Sometimes, no matter how much we focus and concentrate on the problem at hand, the solution just won’t come. Often, the best thing to do then is to stop focusing. Walk away from your desk. Turn everything off (TV, laptop, tablet, phone) and just relax, and breathe, and let your mind wander to seemingly unrelated things. Let the deep intelligence of your own subconscious go to work, and be amazed at what bubbles up to the surface!
3. Narrow the parameters
Nothing is more intimidating than a blank canvas – whether literal or metaphorical. With so many different directions you could take, and unlimited possibilities whichever way you turn, where do you even start? Sometimes, you have to narrow the parameters, and impose limits to work within. Often, this kind of constructive limitation can help jump-start the creative process, and get you off and running.
4. Bounce your ideas off of someone
Meet up with a friend to talk over your project. (Obviously, you’ll want to someone intelligent and supportive, not the kind of small-minded prat who will laugh at your dreams, crush your spirit, and tell you to “be realistic.”) There is an organic fluidity to conversation that enables new ideas to emerge more easily. Your friend might say something that sparks your creative process, or something surprisingly brilliant might spontaneously come out of your mouth, and leave you baffled at your own genius.
5. Go to the library or the coffee shop
Sometimes all you need is a little change of scene. If you are sitting at your desk, frustrated and getting nowhere, try heading over to your local library or coffee shop. The new atmosphere may help you to approach your problem from a different angle. Science has even shown that the right amount of ambient noise – like the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop – can measurably boost your creativity.
6. Go for a walk
If you’re stuck, get moving! Step outside, stretch your legs, and enjoy the fresh air as you stroll around your neighborhood. Studies show that creative thinking improves while walking, even if you’re only pacing back and forth. In fact, any kind of movement or exercise is proven to stimulate your brain and improve creativity and productivity. So even if you can’t head outside, you can always do some push ups, crunches, or simple stretches just to get your blood – and your ideas – flowing.
7. Play games
Have you ever been told that video games were bad for you? Well, science says otherwise. According to recent studies, spending hours playing games actually makes you more creative and better at abstract thinking, risk taking and decision making – all of which are essential skills to the entrepreneur and small business owner.
8. Try something new
When you can’t seem to squeeze any new ideas out of your weary brain, try giving it some data to work with. Mix up your routine and do something unexpected. Go to a restaurant you’ve never been to, and order something completely new and foreign. Go golfing or bowling for the first time ever, or go to the museum or the opera. By stimulating your senses with brand new experiences, you are giving yourself the mental equivalent of a creative shot of adrenaline.
9. Practice a new skill
Choose something you’ve always wished you could do, and start learning to do it. You could sign up for dance classes, teach yourself a second language, or take up playing the banjo. But whatever you choose, stick to it. Set aside 20 – 30 minutes a day to practice. Nothing develops new neural pathways quite like the repeated practice of a new discipline. And you’ll be surprised how your new-found talents will change your perspective on life in general, and inspire your work in seemingly unrelated fields.
Many of the most successful artists in history have traveled the world and lived abroad, drawing creative inspiration from their exposure to diverse places, cultures, and styles of music, food, etc. While not all of us have the means to go gallivanting around the globe, we can all find a way to step outside of our familiar surroundings and go exploring a bit. A weekend road trip can provide the opportunity to visit different cities and states, immerse yourself in new experiences, and get your creative juices pumping again.