One of my favorite things about watching my kids play is that it reminds me how much creativity lies within each one—we were born as creative people, whether we've cultivated that into adulthood or not. At ten, Phoebe becomes totally immersed in drawing, building and creating stories, and Henry, seven, continually surprises me with the connections he makes between ideas that would never have occurred to my adult mind. They're not concerned with learning how to be creative—instead, they embody it.
Their natural free play is in stark contrast to the productivity-focused mindset I'm usually in; even my leisure time is often spent socializing or being connected to electronics, rarely activities that require much imagination.
Featured image by Riley Reed.
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It's got me thinking about how amazing it would be if this creative spark were brought into our adult lives. Do we all have an inner artist longing to get out? I've been diving into the research and learning that reclaiming our creativity could actually be a big factor in discovering our passion, finding out what makes us feel most alive, and even being better at our work.
Read on for nine ways you can be more creative every day, and prepare to be majorly re-inspired.
Growing up, my favorite thing to do when I was bored was to grab my notebook and some markers, and just draw with no end goal in sight. I'd create rainbows, mermaids, solar systems—and I don't remember feeling any pressure to make them worthy of hanging on the fridge. I just did it for the sheer joy of creating! Later on, I took up collaging with a stack of magazines each evening, and in high school, I fought the boredom of band class by secretly sketching dresses in my quest to become a fashion designer.
The sheer act of engaging in making art of any kind fires up all kinds of connections in the brain, so don't fight the urge to doodle while you're on your next conference call. I've been taking time each weekend to dust off my sketchbook and spend some time watercoloring with Phoebe. It's been so refreshing for my mind and my soul to make art just for the fun of it.
Research has shown that physical exercise helps to force you out of left brain-dominant thinking and instead adopt a more creative mindset. Exercise also increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which sharpens mental clarity. Here's a fascinating article that claims aerobic workouts may help stimulate imagination and new ideas.
Reflecting on a 48-hour detox I did from all my devices, I remember one of my biggest goals for the experiment was to learn how to embrace boredom. Why, you may ask? Because research shows that being bored actually propels us toward deeper thinking and creativity. The theory goes that a bored mind searches for stimulation, which moves it into the daydreaming state, which leads to new ideas. Read more about the studies here.
Instead of filling every extra minute with productivity or scrolling through your phone, give your mind some breathing room. Let your mind wander, and who knows—you just might have the "aha moment" you were working so hard to achieve.
I often find that tuning into a powerful TED talk or listening to an interview with someone fascinating is a great way to shift my perspective, quickly and without a lot of effort. There are so many inspiring people out there, and nothing makes me more excited about creative thinking than learning from someone who is truly innovating in their field. If you need extra inspo, check out our list of feel-good podcasts that are practically designed to give you an instant mood boost.
Throughout my research, THIS is the single most common thread among super creative thinkers. People who are able to generate a lot of ideas (good and not-so-good) are much more likely to have a couple of brilliant ideas hidden in the mix than those who only come up with a couple of ideas to begin with.
Block out time for free writing and come up with as many ideas around a problem as your brain can generate, even if they seem silly. Since creative people are prolific idea-generators, remember that they typically have more misses than hits. As Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
Studies show that when we fully immerse ourselves in just doing what we enjoy—in other words, getting out of our own heads—it stimulates outside-the-box thinking and silences our inner critic. Tinker with toys, build something, get outside... and most importantly, think like a kid!
Carving out time in your day—even if it's only 10 or 20 minutes—to free-write can get those creative juices flowing in no time. Write about how you're feeling, your goals are for the day, something you're looking forward to in the future, or just some immediate thoughts that come to mind. Probing your mind in this way and reflecting its thoughts through a physical means, such as a journal, may just be your key to unlocking a more creative future.
I don't know about you, but nothing seems to get me out of a funk faster than some good old fashioned vitamin D. Spending time outside, whether during my morning coffee time, an afternoon walk, or dinner al fresco, sets my mind and body up for success. For me, fresh air is incredibly centering—ultimately opening up space for lots of creative thoughts and actions. If you're feeling stuck, I highly suggest spending a little time outside.
Cooking is another simple activity that gets your creative juices flowing. Try out a new recipe, or a non-recipe recipe, and let your mind wander as you follow the steps. Creativity manifests itself in various forms, but cooking is one that always unlocks my creative side. It provides you with space to put your own touch on things and even leaves you with a reward for your labor! Win-win.
This post was originally published on April 20, 2020, and has since been updated.