Creativity is an essential aspect of human nature. It’s as natural to us as breathing.
We’ve all had times when we’ve been in ‘the zone’ creatively — when the ideas are flowing, we see inspiration all around us, and solutions present themselves with effortless ease.
When this happens there’s nothing we need to do but ride the wave and have fun seeing where it takes us. It can feel like a grace-like state of being, leaving us invigorated, excited and buzzing with a sense of endless possibility.
On the other hand, when we lose touch with this creative side of our nature, we find ourselves blocked, stuck and stifled. It can be a struggle to move forward, and our motivation often drops off along with our inspiration.
Rather than getting frustrated and blocking ourselves further, this is precisely the time we need to recalibrate, shake things up, blast away the blocks and nurture our creative side.
Here are 12 practical and time-tested tips for resuscitating and kickstarting that natural creative flow.
1. Create the necessary time and space
In order to be creative, it’s important that we have the time and space to flex those creative muscles. It may be habitual to fill up every waking moment with activity, but creativity is something that must be nurtured, and that takes time. I suggest clearing some time in your schedule, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes a day. Guard that time and be aware of any tendency to procrastinate. Procrastination is the number one enemy of creativity. Ask yourself why you’re procrastinating (often it’s out of fear of failure or not being good enough) and commit to overcoming it.
2. Keep a journal
This tip comes from Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”, which is well worth checking out. Every morning without fail, get up and write three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. Cameron calls these ‘morning pages’. The content is completely up to you. These three pages can be about absolutely anything — from problems, grievances and annoyances, to ideas, inspiration, plans for the day and all kinds of random and rambling thoughts. You have free rein to spill your mind onto the page. Essentially this works as a kind of ‘brain drain’, freeing up mental energy, relieving tension and enabling you to tap into your inherent creativity. Try it for a month and I guarantee you’ll be amazed. It’s well worth getting up 10-15 minutes early to do this. I’m willing to bet that after a few days you’ll be hooked.
3. Seek inspiration — fill your artistic well
Cameron also encourages us to go on a weekly ‘artist’s date’. This simply means taking time out to give ourselves fresh creative input and inspiration. Creativity needs to be nurtured, and this can be done by making a specified time to go do or see things that inspire you. This might include a walk on the beach, visiting an antique shop, an old bookshop, going to an exhibition or even just having a latte in your favourite coffee shop while reading a magazine. It’s best to spend this time on your own, so you can give full attention to what you’re doing and not get lost in idle conversation and distraction. Creativity thrives on fresh input; on images, sounds, sensations and new ideas and experiences, so be sure to keep the well filled.
Stop watching TV! Or at least limit the amount you watch. While it can be an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so, especially after a busy day, if you’re spending entire evenings (or perhaps days) zoning out, it’s probably time to take a break. Generally, television is not designed to spark or foster creativity. It often does the opposite. I’ve also found it essential to limit the amount of time I spend on the internet, whether social networking or aimlessly surfing the net. This frees up time, space and energy which can then be channelled creatively. Every so often a 24 hour media/TV/internet fast can be immensely refreshing. It also helps offset that dopamine addiction so many are struggling with in this hyper-connected digital/smartphone age. Why not give it a try?
5. Take a walk
Even just a short walk has a way of rebalancing the mind and reinvigorating the senses. Walking is not only the best form of physical exercise but can also get the endorphins flowing, elevate your mood, free up creative blocks and ignite inspiration again. It doesn’t really matter where you go, although I recommend being in nature if at all possible, for nature has a harmonising and energising effect, particularly if you spend a lot of time indoors. Why not go for a walk without a destination in mind and see where you find yourself (a creative walk!) or take a camera and be on the lookout for interesting photo opportunities, which will help you keep you in the moment and paying particular attention to your surroundings.
6. Be quiet
It’s hard for creative ideas and insights to emerge when the mind is continually filled with thoughts and bombarded by stimulus. Creativity needs space to flourish, much like the sun needs a gap in the clouds to shine in all its glory. So sit quietly for a while. Learn to meditate, or just simply relax. In our fast-paced culture, our minds are conditioned to constantly seek input and stimulus and many people find it impossible to sit still for more than a few seconds without needing to do something (dopamine addiction, again).
Try to overcome this urge. Sit still and just look around. Observe with vivid clarity, bringing your full attention to whatever your eyes rest upon. Even if you’re in a room you’ve been in a million times before, try to notice little details you’ve never before seen. As Pierre Tielhard de Chardin noted: “The whole of life lies in the verb seeing”.
Another thing that can open the creative channels is to take a nap, especially if you’re feeling stuck and uninspired. Often a short nap is enough to shift our thinking patterns and tap us into heightened creativity. Napping certainly worked for some of history’s greatest creative minds, including Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali.
7. Learn to bypass the inner critic
I’m willing to bet you’re already familiar with your inner critic. It’s the part of you that’s constantly judging, analysing and criticising your work — and everything else besides. The inner critic does have its function and place, but given free rein will sabotage your creative efforts before you’ve even begun. The first stage of any creative endeavour is simply to create, to get ideas onto the page or canvas as freely as possible.
If your inner critic is continually criticising every single word or brushstroke, you’ll end up blocked in no time. So learn to send the critic on an all expenses paid vacation to Bermuda until you’re ready for it. Create freely and without censor and don’t fear making mistakes (see the next step). When you’re ready for the next stage, which is analysing, editing and polishing the work you’ve done, that’s when you can let the critic do its job. But remind it to do so kindly and constructively. Check out this post for more tips on dealing with the inner critic.
8. Be fearless
Let go of the need to be perfect. There’s no such thing.
Relinquish your fears of inadequacy and your determination to create something that’s ‘worthy’. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, because that’s often the best way to learn. The need to create something ‘great’ can make it hard to create anything at all, so just surrender to the process and learn to enjoy it. Play around with ideas, words, paint or clay. Allow yourself to innovate, to think outside of the box and let go of any fears about what other people may think. As the old saying goes, fortune favours the brave.
9. Explore music
Music has a way of loosening up the mind, allowing you to access heightened levels of creativity. It has to be the right kind of music, though; with some exceptions, mainstream radio stations are unlikely to be of any great help. Explore and experiment with different genres, including classical, world music and ambient. See what inspires you and compliments your creative process.
10. Observe, question, experiment
The key to innovation is to observe, to question why things work they way they do and experiment to see how you could make them work better. This is a basic framework used by inventors and innovators in numerous different fields.
11. Hang out with creative people
Creative people generally love being around other creatives. If you don’t have many artistic friends, then consider joining or forming a group. Share work, discuss ideas, exchange experiences, and reflect on what inspires and excites you. Creativity has a kind of resonance. It’s contagious! So simply being around other creative people and innovators of any kind can kickstart your own creative flow.
12. Take inspiration from the greats
Are there any creative geniuses whose work or lives you’ve always been fascinated by? Why not adopt them as a creative role model? Learn all you can about them, read biographies, view or read as much of their work as you can and learn how they functioned creatively. There’s probably a whole lot you can learn from their achievements, their methods of working and indeed the mistakes they made along the way. Your creative role model doesn’t have to be someone who died centuries ago. It might be someone who is still alive and who you might be able to get in touch with. Having a creative mentor is a surefire way to spark your own creative fire.