You can learn how to be more creative. Creativity is mostly skill, not just a gift, and this skill can be developed. Start with these 10 proven ways.
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
— Erich Fromm
Most of us think of creativity as the ability to paint a stunning picture, write a bestselling book, design a beautiful building, or compose moving music.
And that you are either born creative or not.
But these ideas are myths.
Natural talent is not the major component of creativity, so you don’t need innate talent in order to be creative.
Most creative people will admit that their creativity is 10% talent and 90% hard work — the practicing and polishing of their skills.
Albert Einstein took this a degree further, stating that “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work.”
Creativity is, in fact, a skill — not a gift — that can be learned by anybody, at any age.
How To Be More Creative
There are many proven ways to actively develop your creativity.
Some of them are easy and can be practiced every day.
" Some of the most creative and innovative people in history were doodlers, including Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Federico Fellini, and Steve Jobs.
Others are more difficult and require a commitment of time, effort, and willingness to learn.
You don’t have to do them all.
Pick those that inspire you and give them a try.
Here are 10 proven techniques to help get your creativity flowing.
Matthew Killingsworth, PhD, an expert in the nature of human happiness, contends that mind-wandering (daydreaming) is an ability unique to humans that “allows us to learn, plan and reason in ways that no other species can.”
When you daydream, your mind is unconstrained.
While you can’t change your physical reality, you can go wherever you please in your mind.
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You might have already noticed how daydreaming sparks new ideas.
Most of us, at one time or another, have come up with a great new idea while taking a walk or a shower.
Srini Pillay, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, coined the phrase positive constructive daydreaming (PCD) to describe an optimal form of daydreaming.
He explains that it involves letting the mind wander, but “on a leash.”
You don’t want to use that time ruminating over old worries or grudges.
Here’s a four-step process that Pillay recommends to get the most from your daydreams:
1. Set aside a time every day to daydream.
2. Reduce outward distractions and sensations. (Closing your eyes can help.)
3. Relax and do nothing or engage in a low-key task like knitting or pulling weeds. Repetitive tasks can inspire new ideas too.
4. Don’t judge your ideas, just let them flow. Sometimes good ideas arise from bad ones.
A doodle is “a rough drawing made absent-mindedly.”
Some of the most creative and innovative people in history were doodlers, including Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Federico Fellini, and Steve Jobs.
Dozens of American presidents have left behind a history of their doodles, including Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.
Historical doodles, especially those made by artists, are studied because they provide a window into the psychology, as well as the personality, of the doodler.
The most thorough investigation of doodling involved the analysis of 9,000 doodles submitted by the public.
When people doodle, their brains can subconsciously solve problems or generate original ideas.
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For many, especially artists, doodling is indispensable to the creative process.
For others, doodling is simply a relaxing or entertaining activity that also encourages creative thought.
An easy way to be more creative is to take a piece of paper and, while listening to music or a podcast, draw whatever comes to mind.
Doodling is one of the easiest and simplest activities you can do to boost creativity.
3. Admire Surrealism
Surrealism, a 20th century art movement, “explored the hidden depths of the unconscious mind.”
The Surrealists rejected the rational world and searched for a new reality, which they discovered in the imagination and in dreams.
They created surreality by combining something familiar with something strange and showed ordinary objects in extraordinary ways.
The basic assumption of the movement was that creativity can be unleashed by letting go of the conscious and giving free rein to the unconscious.
In our daily lives, we usually seek to avoid or eliminate uncertainty.
But to be creative, you need to seek out uncertainty instead.
Admiring surrealism encourages you to question all that is real and to look at the world from a different perspective.
If it’s not convenient for you to view surrealist art in museums or art galleries, you can find it online at Google Arts and Culture.
4. Create Art
Of course, creating art also has a significant positive effect on creativity.
Creating art helps you relax, reduces stress, and improves critical thinking skills and concentration.
While you might think that creating art means painting, drawing, or sculpting, you don’t have to produce fine art to reap the benefits of creating.
Creative hobbies of all kinds — coloring, knitting, quilting, photography, woodworking, gardening, and even do-it-yourself home repair — also fit the bill.
All of these activities require you to use and expand your imagination.
If you currently don’t engage in any creative pastimes, a simple way to start is with coloring.
All you need is a blank drawing to color and a set of colored pencils, pens, or markers.
You can buy coloring books of all genres or print free images at websites such as Super Coloring.
When creating art or crafts, don’t obsess over whether your creations are any good.
Keep in mind that it’s the process of creating that’s important, not the end result.
5. Learn a New Language
If your native tongue is English, you may believe that there is little point in learning another language since English is spoken worldwide.
And yet, there are many people, especially in Europe, who speak multiple languages, and it isn’t always out of necessity.
Learning another language expands your horizons and gives you a new way of seeing the world.
It exposes you to new cultures and customs which can have a positive impact on your creativity.
When learning a language, your way of thinking changes, allowing you to be more open to new ideas.
Divergent thinking is a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
Learning a foreign language has been found to enhance the four divergent thinking abilities: fluency, elaboration, originality, and flexibility.
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6. Write Anything
The act of recording your thoughts can significantly increase your creativity.
Writing encourages you to think more deeply which generates novel ideas.
Author Terry Tempest Williams worded it beautifully in Why We Write:
“I write to make peace with things I cannot control. I write to create a fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change.”
It doesn’t matter what you write; any kind of writing can boost creativity.
You can write for yourself or write for others.
A simple way to write for yourself is to adopt journaling as a daily habit.
If you are comfortable sharing your writing with others, start a blog.
7. Play Video Games
Researchers at Michigan State University found a link between video game playing and greater creativity.
When they examined nearly 500 pre-teens, they found that the kids who played more video games were also more creative when drawing pictures and writing stories.
But how do video games actually enhance creativity?
According to the academic research book Video Games And Creativity, playing video games has the following effects:
- better concentration
- better neural processing and processing efficiency
- better problem-solving skills
- better social skills
- brain changes that lead to behavioral changes
- enhanced motivation
- enhanced spatial skills
- improved performance
- improved mood, greater inspiration, and better self-esteem
Strategy games are particularly helpful since they help develop an imaginative outlook.
Not sure what qualifies as a strategy game?
How Stuff Works has compiled a list of the 10 best strategy games.
8. Balance Order and Chaos
Too much physical clutter can make you feel stressed out, overload your senses, and make it harder to think creatively.
But the right amount of clutter can help you think and solve problems more creatively.
Steve Jobs famously lived in an austere home, yet pictures of his home office reveal that his workspace was a mess.
Other brilliant people with messy desks include Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Everyone’s tolerance for disorder is different.
You’ll have to find a balance between chaos and order that helps you think creatively, without sacrificing productivity.
9. Read Absurdist Fiction
Our brains, which have been called “meaning making machines,” are driven to make meaning from any experience we have.
When you experience absurdity, which can be described as “a meaning threat,” your brain is stimulated, delivering a creativity boost.
One predictable way to experience ideas that your brain has trouble making sense of comes through reading absurdist fiction.
This kind of fictional narrative presents characters in situations where they are unable to find meaning or purpose in life.
Good absurdist fiction should make you question existing concepts, truths, and values.
Immersing yourself in these stories requires you to use your brain in new and different ways.
It makes you think more deeply, while stimulating your imagination.
If you’re interested in reading some absurdist fiction, check out these masterpieces:
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller
- The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
- A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
- Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
10. Be Curious About Everything
Start being curious.
When you discover new things, learn interesting facts, and investigate the world, you spark your creativity and increase your imagination.
Children are naturally curious and imaginative because they want to understand the world around them.
Curiosity often subsides as we grow older.
But you can encourage your curiosity by always asking questions, especially the simple question “Why?”.
This simple question can spark amazing ideas.
How To Be More Creative: Take the Next Step
Creativity is a skill, rather than a gift, that anyone can develop.
Everyday activities such as doodling, daydreaming, and playing video games can enhance creativity.
Doing something new to stimulate the mind like reading absurdist fiction, learning a foreign language, or engaging in a new hobby will also help.
Stop accepting the status quo and start asking “why?” to keep your mind curious.
Use any or all of these ideas to start expanding your creativity.
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