5 Ways to Unleash Your Creative Potential
We’ve been fed a myth that creativity is innate; you either have it or you don’t. That simply isn’t the case.
Creativity is a learned skill — just like riding a bike, coding a program, or speaking a foreign language. The only difference is that creativity is rarely taught, and that’s unfortunate.
Becoming a more imaginative person will make you more productive, innovative, and intelligent. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in. You could be a teacher, a programmer, a financial analyst—whatever! Everyone can benefit from becoming more creative.
Fortunately, flexing your creative muscles is a skill you can start learning at any time, at any age. Playing pretend isn’t just child’s play! Simply follow these strategies to get those creative ideas flowing:
1. Practice Shifting Perspective
We tend to hang out with people who dress like us, talk like us, and think like us. While it keeps us feeling safe and comfortable inside our echo chamber of like-minded friends, it kills creative thought processes. In a survey of creative professionals (marketers, media experts, and communications gurus) conducted by global PR firm Ketchum and media brand Fast Company found that 95% of participants agreed that interacting with others who challenge their beliefs and assumptions is a crucial part of any creative endeavor. Although 71% of these respondents believe their organization respects that diversity, 85% note that there is room for improvement.
Being able to imagine others’ perspectives and predict their reactions can be a powerful creative skill. Try this exercise: Imagine a topic that interests you but that others may disagree with you on. It can be a serious political issue, such as immigration, or just a personal preference, like a fondness for dogs over cats. Write down all the reasons why you believe your opinion is correct. Once you’re done with that, get a new sheet of paper, and write down all the reasons why the opposite is true. Try to come up with just as many reasons to support this new position as you did for your original one.
Let’s use the cats vs. dogs example. Maybe you’ve argued that dogs are better than cats because they’re more loyal, you can take them on more adventurous outings, and they offer better home protection. Now you’ll have to argue the opposite and come up with three reasons why cats are better than dogs. Maybe you’ll write that cats are more independent and self-sufficient, that they do better in small apartments, and that they make for great YouTube videos.
No issue has one correct answer, and there’s often good points made by both sides. So stop seeing in black and white, and learn to understand other people’s points of view. In addition to making you more imaginative, it will help you to build better relationships with people from different backgrounds and improve your debating skills.
2. Free Write
Free writing is an exercise that requires zero writing talent or experience. Anyone can free write.
Simply find a topic (you can use an online idea generator or simply brainstorm a subject that interests you), and write down everything that comes to mind. Set a timer for yourself (10 minutes is a good length of time), and don’t stop until the alarm sounds. The purpose of the exercise is to write without censoring yourself. Don’t worry about grammar, how your ideas will be perceived by others, or connecting everything together. In fact, let your mind take you on wild tangents away from the original subject if it so desires.
You could also try an idea-fusing exercise developed by British neuro-scientist Paul Howard-Jones. In his experiment, Howard-Jones asked participants to write a short story incorporating three words he provided to them. He gave one set of participants a set of words that were very similar, like “brush,” “teeth,” and “shine.” He gave the other group a set of unconnected words like “cheese,” “tree,” and “horse.” The group with the unrelated words came up with the more creative stories. It forced them to find new connections between seemingly disparate ideas, which resulted in more interesting results!
However you choose to free write, just make sure to let you mind make connections as it goes. Give up control, and let your imagination run wild.
3. Get Physical
Not only will exercise help you earn that beach bod, it can also make you more imaginative.
Exercise encourages the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain that’s responsible for long-term memory. According to new research,the hippocampus may also be involved in allowing people to imagine new situations. Pretty cool, right?
Experts also find that getting up and moving can also help you when you get stuck on a problem. Because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, it sharpens your focus, gives you more energy, and improves your memory. Not to mention it’s a great stress-reliever!
So next time you’re feeling uninspired, try going for a jog, doing some bodyweight exercises, or taking a dance break. Your body and your brain will thank you.
There is an endless number of small problems that arise in everyday life. Maybe you have a bad habit you’re trying to break, like obsessively checking social media. Maybe you have a task at work that is taking you way too long to complete. Maybe you’re just trying to find that one perfect hair product to give you that soft and effortless ‘do. Whatever it is, finding fun and innovative solutions to problems can make you a more creative person.
There are tons of exercises to help you improve your problem-solving skills, so let’s use the social media problem as an example and use the exercises to find a way to quash the habit.
Exercise #1: Imagine a Better Future
Imagine that it’s one year from the date you solved the problem of your social media addiction. How do you feel? What are the positive effects? Write down your thoughts.
Exercise #2: Think of your Dumbest Idea
What is the absolute worst solution to this problem? Maybe it’s blowing up your laptop with a stick of dynamite. Maybe it’s giving your phone to a stranger to stop you from checking Facebook. Anything you think of next will look brilliant in comparison.
Exercise #3: Role Play
Imagine you’re somebody else. How would they solve the problem? If you were Mark Zuckerburg, for example, you could simply use some of your wealth to hire an assistant to post to social media on your behalf and give you a brief run-down of any exciting news. Does this solution make sense for your life? Probably not. However, maybe some part of that solution could apply to you. Maybe you decide that you want to use an online software to schedule social media posts in advance so you don’t get distracted.
Exercise #4: Visualize the Outcomes
Pick a solution that makes sense to you. Let’s say you decide that one resolution will be to turn your phone off completely during working hours. What are the pros of that decision? Social media will not be as accessible, and you might be able to better concentrate without the constant chime of notifications. What are the cons? People may have trouble reaching you if there’s a personal emergency. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Can you come up with a solution to any new problems that may arise?
Obviously, these exercises are not all useful in finding the most efficient solution, but they will help you to develop your creativity and become a more imaginative problem-solver.
5. Learn Something New
There is no such thing as a completely original idea. Even people who we see as creative geniuses were inspired by other people. Pablo Picasso’s late work was influenced by Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh was influenced by Paul Gauguin. Gauguin was influenced by Paul Cézanne, and so on.
Creativity does not happen in a vacuum. That’s why you must take steps to open yourself to new knowledge and experiences. Travel, take an online class, find a mentor. All these steps will help to expose you to new ideas that you can apply to your own situation.
If you find a topic that particularly interests you, try to become an expert in it. With any creative endeavor, it helps to know all the rules before you break them. Take writing for example. Great writers know grammar inside and out, but there will be times that they ignore formal rules in order to make an impact.
The same can be said of any profession. Take time to learn the rules so you’ll know when to break them.
With the rise of automation in more technical fields, the future of work lies in creativity. While machines may be capable of a higher level of precision and speed than humans, it would be much harder to replicate the human imagination. Strategy, problem-solving, and artistry are all skills that we’ll need in the coming years to continue the work that simply cannot be done by bots.
How do you practice creativity? Have you tried any of these techniques? Let us know in the comments!