How to Train Your Brain to Be More Creative

How to Train Your Brain to Be More Creative

“Opening up the flow of creativity is like discovering that you’ve been driving a car with the emergency brake on—and suddenly experiencing what it feels like when you release the brake and can drive freely.” — Tom and David Kelley

Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, and isn’t limited to artistic abilities. Creativity can be anything from learning a new skill that will advance your career to trying out a new dance class. For example, have you ever cooked a new dish and been thrilled by the results? Even in that small way, you unleashed your creativity and enjoyed the benefits.

If you feel like you’re not a naturally creative person, or your creative skills are just rusty, it can be a little bit intimidating to start trying to “be more creative”. But the good news is, it is easier than you think to start!

Like you would train for a marathon, you need to exercise your creative muscle. When you do, you’ll start developing new ideas and thinking outside of the box. Unleashing your creativity will keep you focused on learning productive skills and adding activities that bring joy and value to your life.

First, create space in your daily life

This forces your mind into a state where it can be creative. We often fall victim to overindulging in time wasters (some we can control and others we can’t)—binge watching shows, browsing on our phones, and our daily commute. Or our overbooked schedules leave no room for creativity.

Start by blocking out creative time in your planner. Whether it’s in the morning, noon, or night, find a time that you feel most productive. Treat this time like any other important appointment. Don’t let other work or people creep in — the only way to get the time you need is to prioritize it.

Next, create a designated creative space

This will help you be more creative at home and in the office. Don’t overthink it, keep it simple.

  • Lighting is everything to create the perfect ambience—let natural light flow in or use soft lighting.  
  • Clear the clutter around your workspace
  • Surround yourself with items that help you feel more relaxed—inspiring quotes, a small plant/fresh flowers, wall art, a cup of tea, etc.

Switch up your creative space when you get bored. Try working at a local coffee shop or going outside if you’re normal spaces aren’t feeling inspiring.

There is a writer in all of us

Now that you created the time and place to be creative, we are ready to start exercising your creative muscle. One of the best ways to do this is to start writing daily.

Not a writer? You don’t have to be! This is all about practicing engaging your mind and expressing your thoughts — they don’t have to turn into anything bigger than just ideas on a page.

Writing is a great outlet and way to enhance your creativity. Here are just a few reasons why it is such a great thing to add to your routine:

  • Writing is an emotional release that helps you organize your thoughts more clearly. This will clear your mind of negative thoughts and stress, making you more happy.
  • By starting to release your negative thoughts, you’ll start to see yourself in a new light. A clear mind will make you feel empowered to take on new challenges.
  • Writing helps you develop new ideas. You’ll then be able to consider/understand your ideas more fully and bring them into reality when you think them through thoroughly enough to record on paper.  
  • Daily writing keeps you focused and and present. When you have to think of things to write about every day, you are forced to look at your life, your goals, your thoughts, your surrounding, and everything for inspiration — this helps you stay grounded and start drawing ideas from the simple things around you..

New to writing daily and not sure how to start? Free write about anything and everything:

  • ideas (good and bad)
  • skills you want to learn
  • something or someone that you are grateful for
  • what happened during your day
  • what’s bothering you at the moment
  • the great meal you cooked
  • how you’re feeling about work
  • something that made you smile

Have fun with it. When you get stuck, write whatever comes to mind even if that’s “I don’t know what to write.” Sometimes taking the smallest step is all you need in order to really get going.

And some days you don’t get going at all. That’s okay! It happens once in a while. The important thing is carving out the space every day and committing to showing up. If you feel really stumped one day, make an effort to write something, but don’t beat yourself up over it if it isn’t as good or as long as what you normally do.

Consistency in practicing good habits is what will take you far.

Free writing doesn’t have to be perfect or make sense; it’s simply a matter of clearing your mind to generate new ideas.

On days you don’t feel like free writing and need an extra boost of inspiration, here are some alternatives:

  • Read Let it Out: A Journal Through Journaling by Katie Dalebout. It’s filled with 55 journaling prompts and helpful tips. Bookmark your favorite journaling prompts to use on days when you’re not feeling inspired.
  • Download the Writing Challenge app. In a set amount of time of your choice, you have to write a story with the given prompts. For example, you might get a prompt telling you to write a story that “has a character who always steals things.” You write until the timer is up, then repeat the process. The app is ideal for days when you have writer’s block.

If you have never written daily before, start off by writing 10-15 minutes each day. Keep track of your progress in your planner and see if you can work your way up to 30 minutes a day.

Your notebook is filled with great ideas and thoughts

Every week or two, read through your daily writing notebook and highlight any ideas and thoughts you see that you’d like to expand on. Don’t try to do this while you are writing every day, since this will distract you from the goal of simply getting your ideas down on paper.

Instead, get your ideas down then review them later with a more tactical, strategic frame of mind.

As ideas stand out to you, you can begin to formulate plans to expand those ideas and bring them to life. For example, perhaps you wrote about:

  • Wishing you had more money. Expand on this: do you want a promotion? Or do you think a new field would offer better earning possibilities? What are the steps you would need to complete to get a new promotion or job? Are these steps realistic right now? Are there other ways to earn more money that you haven’t thought of?
  • Wishing you had time to exercise or always feeling tired. Expand on this: what activity have you always wanted to try? Kickboxing, pilates, running, etc. Is your schedule really holding you back from these activities? Or are time wasters to blame? What is one step you can take every day to add a little bit more exercise into your life?
  • Something you always wanted to try. Like: I wish I knew how to paint, I’ve always wanted to take a dance class, or I want to eat better. Expand on this: ask yourself, what’s stopping me from doing these things? What are some ways that you could try out this new skill? Taking a class, or talking to a friend who has this skill?

Turn your ideas and thoughts into reality

Now that you are thinking strategically, it is time to turn the thoughts and ideas you highlighted in your notebooks into reality. Spend some time plotting out the steps you would need to take in order to put your new ideas into action.

  • Look for the very smallest steps that will move you in the right direction, like watching videos/tutorials and reading blogs to get inspired. Don’t bite off more than you can chew too early; that will only make you discouraged and likely to stop.
  • Talk to people who have done the kinds of things that you want to do. Reach out to people who write online (they are more likely to write back than you might think!) and connect with any friends or peers who can offer you insight.
  • Read books that will inspire you and help you take action. If you have a long commute, listening to an audiobook is a great way to feel inspired to take action during time where you would normally just be sitting in your car.
  • Reflect on your progress and write down the things you’re learning and accomplishing along the way. What have you learned? How does it makes you feel? How do you want to expand on these skills? How have these skills changed your life? Is it adding value and happiness to your life?
  • Practice. Dedicate a set amount of time on your new skills/activities. Just like with your daily writing, create appointments in your weekly schedule that will allow you to commit to making things happen.
  • Try out a goal-planning system like The Hatch Notebook. The three step system helps you conceive, incubate, and hatch your ideas. Sometimes we need a little more structure to take our ideas further, The Hatch Notebook is perfect for that.

Your leisure time is also ideal to nurture your creativity

After a commute home from work it’s easy to get stuck on our phones or watching TV. No need to cut out guilty pleasures completely, but start making an effort to be aware of the time spent on these activities. How many hours are you watching TV every night? What if you spent just one of those hours journaling or making progress on a goal instead?

Your downtime is an opportunity to begin working and practicing creative thinking. This will help to expand on the skills/activities of your choice.

Instead of:

  • Watching reality TV, try watching a TED talk.
  • Listening to music while driving, try listening to an audiobook.
  • Browsing your phone on your bus ride, read a book or blog by someone who has a career you’d like to have.

Get out of your comfort zone  

Surround yourself with people who are creative and who inspire you. Find those skills you want to build upon and seek out people who will empower you to be more creative yourself.

Don’t let your brain fall into a rut from doing the same things all the time. New activities force it to stretch, which makes it easier to be more creative (because it has practice taking in and considering new ideas).

Ideas for getting out of your comfort zone:

  • Take a new fitness class. Many studios offer free classes to new clients, so you can try new things with a small commitment. If you want to train for a race, seek out a local training group.
  • Learn how to meal plan or cook for yourself. We all fall into food ruts, especially when we are busy. Cooking as a great place to practice being creative, because you have to eat anyways!
  • Do a weekend art workshop or find workshops on skills you want to enhance. You don’t have to be a professional painter in order to try out a class. Check local community centers and schools for one-time classes that allow you to try something new without making a huge commitment.
  • Check out the events calendar for a local museum to see what kind of classes and learning programs they offer (many of them are free). You might surprise yourself with what inspires you!

Make time for activities that bring joy and add value to your life

When you start unleashing your creativity and find creative skills and activities you love, you’ll want to make the most out of your leisure time. Soon, those time wasters won’t be as appealing to you as your creative time and you will find it easier and easier to get out of your comfort zone and have new ideas.

Your time is valuable, so make the most out of it. Let us know how you tap into your creative side!

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