We are all creative geniuses. Don’t believe me? You have a creative streak in you…you just have to hone it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a technical professional who values logic or if you think you don’t have an ounce of artistic ability—you do have creativity within you.
The question is, how do you hone your creativity?
What is Creativity?
Creativity is creating something original or unique by using your own talents and skills. Creativity can also be using your skills in new ways or taking your ideas and turning them into reality. Creativity can come in many different forms—through thinking, original artwork, music, clothing style, and even a way of doing things.
And above all else, creativity is something you can learn.
How to Be Creative
Stuck in a creative rut? I’ve got you!
Here’s a list of the best ways to break that hurdle and unleash your inner creativity…
100 Ways to Squeeze a Lemon
Back in my college days, we were given the task to brainstorm 100 different ways we could squeeze a lemon. After nearly half an hour of brainstorming, my grand total number of ideas was a whopping 7 (slightly exaggerating, but it was pretty bad).
All my brain could think of was:
- use your hands
- use a lemon grater
- step on the lemon (ew)
My creativity was stinted. I felt limited in my thinking and couldn’t break out of my mental boundaries. Creativity is about flexing new thinking muscles.
For example, if I think totally outside the box and begin to apply some creativity, I could…
- use a lemon as a bowling pin
- squeeze it in between weights at the gym
- put it in the ball pit at the local kids’ gym (yuck)
Do you get the idea? Creativity isn’t always about being realistic. It’s about breaking mental boundaries.
Action Step: Brainstorm using a creative prompt below! Try aiming for 100, 50, 25, or even 10 different ideas:
- uses for an umbrella
- alternate ways to use shoes
- uses for a phone without a battery
Jack of All Creativity
Think about the last book that you read. And the book before that.
Chances are you’ve read the same types of books:
- Aspiring entrepreneur? You’ve recently read about business, leadership, and finance.
- Fantasy fanatic? Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.
- Cat lover? Your last reads are all about cats.
Here’s where we get stuck in the “Bubble Trap,” where we’re constantly exposed to the same stimuli, the same knowledge, from the same authors, all touting the same stuff.
Sameness is a bottleneck to your true inner creativity.
To truly unleash your creativity, Robert Epstein, author of The Big Book of Creativity Games, says we should broaden our knowledge by taking a class outside our comfort zone or reading journals in unrelated fields.
Since all knowledge is interconnected, you’ll be more creative and more likely able to connect different ideas together with a wider skillset or exposure to different experiences.
- Read a life-changing book.
- Enroll in a course that is totally unrelated to your field of work.
- Go to a magazine stand and get a magazine in a totally new area.
- Go to the library and browse a section you have never been in.
- Feeling daring? You might even want to try ballet:
Eat With Creatives
I want to take this idea further—if you want to be creative, you must surround yourself with diverse and interesting people.
Remember the Average of Five Rule: you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Think of the people you spend the most time with. Are they contributing to your creativity or draining it?
Here’s the key: Spend time with people who are creative in different ways than you.
Hang out with people who have creative hobbies, dabble in interesting passions, or specialize in areas that are unique.
Action Step: Schedule a dinner, board game night, or virtual meetup with a handful of friends (for even better results, make sure they have a diverse background and varied interests). Lacking friends? Learn how to make friends as an adult.
When you think of Albert Einstein, you might picture a mad mathematician curled over his desk, working endlessly on solving equations.
But Einstein knew the power of imagination.
The Gedankenexperiment, or “thought experiment,” is a mental activity one can perform in order to distinguish potential outcomes from actions. Thought experiments are often used by many great thinkers and can result in solid conclusions to seemingly impossible problems—like how to travel at the speed of light.
Einstein’s first thought experiment happened when he was only 16. He tried to picture what it would be like to travel so fast that you caught up with a light beam. This is only one of Einstein’s many great thought experiments, which eventually led to the Theory of Relativity.
So how do you conduct your own thought experiment?
Thought experiments are quite simple. Here’s how to be a creative genius like Einstein:
- Picture a scenario. What’s your creative problem? Picture the problem in your mind. Try to solve it.
- Set your actions. What actions can you take to overcome the challenges? What’s inhibiting your creativity, and how do you remove it? List out your actions. It might be helpful to list out a mind map or jot down notes.
- See the result. What happens after you take action? How does it feel? Visualize yourself achieving the goal and the end result after you’ve unleashed your creativity.
Action Step: Perform a thought experiment whenever you’re facing a creative hurdle. You can even start by visualizing things you do every day with a little twist:
- Imagine doing a workout but lifting more than you normally do or trying new moves.
- Imagine cooking dinner with foods you have never tried.
- Imagine doing a stand-up routine in front of an audience.
Your Pocket Notebook
What’s in your pocket?
- your phone
- your keys
- your wallet
How about a pocket notebook?
Writer and author Austin Kleon carries around a pocket notebook to keep track of his daily random thoughts. This helps unleash his creative potential—whenever he’s in a creative rut, he’s always got a treasure trove of info to glean over.
But why not use the Notes app on his phone?
Because a pocket notebook never runs out of battery. And there’s just something special about pen and paper that a digital screen can’t replace.
Action Step: Grab a pocket notebook (or two!). Don’t forget the pen. When out and about and you think of something creative, jot down the idea on paper. You can even gather your favorite quotes from writers, lines from music, or inspiration from paintings. You never know what will be useful to you in the future.
Pro Tip: Not a fan of writing? You can also use your voice recorder app to record notes on the go. Or use a whole life-keeping system like Notion. Or even write down your ideas on a napkin at a restaurant. Get creative!
One With Nature
You probably don’t like sitting indoors all day. You’re not alone.
A 2010 study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that spending time in a natural setting may help with creativity. More specifically, there are 5 environmental factors that were found to boost creativity:
- complex visual details in the environment, such as paintings or art
- view of the natural environment, like sitting next to a window with a view of nature
- use of natural materials, such as wood
- fewer cool colors used, such as blue and purple
- less use of manufactured materials, such as plastic
Action Step: Do whatever you can to be next to nature:
- add some plant life to your office space
- go to places with open grass and trees
- set your computer desktop to rotating nature pics
- hang some paintings of nature
- add a new warm paint job to your walls
- sit next to the window or balcony
- do remote work at the park or open cafe
- listen to an ambient nature soundtrack
The more “connected” you feel with nature, the higher your creativity will be.
Pro Tip: Can’t add nature to your environment? Try going for a walk in the park if you’re having a creative block. One Stanford study shows that going for a walk can increase creativity by 60%!
The Silent Break
When it comes to taking breaks, noise matters.
For example, let’s say you take a break and listen to your favorite podcasts. You learn something new or find out something cool.
Does that help creativity?
According to a 2007 study, not really.
Excess noise is called “noise pollution.” Noise pollution is when your brain is constantly overconsuming new info from external sources and doesn’t have a chance to relax.
Thinking in silence can reset your brain and boost creativity.
Just like taking a break after a workout, your brain needs time to decompress from the workload. This means taking silent breaks.
Action Step: Generally, you’ll want to take a silent break in place of your normal break or during periods of creative slumps. I like to set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and sit alone. You can even meditate if you’d like. Bask in the silence and let your mind do its thing.
Start With an End in Sight
The fatal flaw of many creative people is that they never complete their projects.
No matter how much progress they make, they always find new things to change or add as they strive for perfection.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, emphasizes that nothing you create will ever be perfect.
Even if you think you’ve reached perfection, someone else could look at your creation and spot a dozen things wrong with it. That’s okay though, because the goal of creative pursuits is to create… NOT to perfect.
Action Step: Start every project with a strict deadline. According to Parkinson’s Law, people are inclined to use the maximum amount of time given to complete tasks. This is one of the key driving forces behind procrastination.
You may start working in a slow, distracted state, but as soon as the deadline approaches, you kick things into gear.
If you’re engaging in creative pursuits for fun or to learn a new skill and have nothing driving you to meet a deadline, you can make your deadlines days that you plan to share your work with a friend or family member. Tell them what you’re doing so they can hold you accountable.
A 2004 study led by Dr. Karen Gasper, a social psychology professor at Penn State University, found that sadness inhibits creativity. In the study:
- Sad or happy undergraduates were given a task with different ways to solve it.
- Sad undergraduates came up with less novel solutions to the task.
This might be because when we are sad, we’re more cautious about making mistakes and are more restrained. And when we’re happy, our brains are less restricted, allowing us to generate new ideas and be more creative.
Action Step: Feeling down? Happiness is a skill we can improve on—and it helps to work on it constantly! Read up on the 15 ways to make yourself happier (backed by science!).
Do You Love it Through the Pain?
When you’re creating something new, you’re bound to face plenty of obstacles.
The true test of whether or not you’re pursuing the right type of creative endeavor is if you still feel passionate about it during times of self-doubt, frustration, and failure.
In the book, Gilbert describes how through her years of struggling to become a successful writer, she never lost her passion for the craft. Writing is a part of who she is and no amount of difficulties will change that. If you’re pursuing the right creative pursuit, you’ll feel the same.
Action Step: Ask yourself, and truly think, if pursuing this creative goal is truly something you want. If it is, watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk for more about how she stayed inspired through her failures:
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Throughout Big Magic, Gilbert debunks the dangerous myth that to live creatively, you have to become a full-time artist who risks everything else in life to invest in your art.
While there are plenty of people whom that works for, it ignores the fact that you can have a full-time job and stable relationships, be involved in other activities, and still be highly creative.
The key is to make being creative a part of your everyday life. Here are a couple of easy ways to fit creativity into your schedule:
- Use a portion of the time you’d normally spend on social media and/or watching TV to work on creative projects.
- Block off time when you first wake up or before you go to bed as your creative time.
- Invite your friends to join you in taking classes or otherwise engage in your creative hobbies to make it a bonding experience.
Action Step: Do you want to earn a living off of your creative projects? Check out our article on How to Transform Your Passion into a Side Hustle for tips on how to get started.
The Dream Machine Technique
In 1993, Dr. Barrett of Harvard Medical School asked students to think of a problem they were trying to solve every night before going to bed.
Don’t sleep on this statistic—she found that 34% of students actually had a dream that had a solution to their problem! Dreaming has unleashed a lot of creativity:
- Jack Nicklaus had a dream that allowed him to correct his golf swing.
- Robert Louis Stevenson came up with the plot of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during a dream.
- Paul McCartney discovered the tune for the song “Yesterday” in a dream and was also inspired to write “Yellow Submarine.”
Dreaming helps us focus on our problems without the distraction.
This is where the Dream Machine Technique comes into play:
- Create a visual “box”—a cardboard box, an empty coffee container, your new iPhone box lying around—and post a label on it that says “Dream Machine.”
- Write down on a slip of paper just one or two main problems you want to solve in your life that need some creativity. It could be a business idea or even how to win over your crush.
- Put your problems inside the dream machine. Every night, take out your problems and contemplate them for 5 minutes before bed.
The Dream Machine Technique works because it combines visualization with dreams. By having a physical dream machine, our problems are not only contained in our minds. And utilizing our dreams, we’re able to focus distraction-free, unlike during our awake times.
Action Step: Create your dream machine and focus on it nightly.
How to Be Creative in Art
Are you an aspiring artist? Check out these handpicked tips especially for creators like you.
Is doodling likely going to create a masterpiece? No.
But doodling can warm up your creative juices, which CAN lead to a masterpiece later down the line.
Pull out a blank piece of paper and just play!
The big thing to keep in mind here is when doodling, give yourself creative permission. Don’t focus on the end goal—focus on the act of doodling whatever you want.
Action Step: Doodle onto a blank canvas. Go back to the basics—use crayons, colored pencils, and regular pencils to doodle whatever comes to mind.
If you want a bit more guidance, try painting Bob Ross–style.
If you don’t know, Bob Ross was a painter and TV show host on the American program The Joy of Painting.
And Bob Ross paints like Jamie Oliver cooks (i.e. pretty darn well!).
Action Step: Grab your acrylics, brush, and a canvas and head on over to one of Bob Ross’s many YouTube videos. Follow along and paint those pretty little trees like the amazing artist you are!
This one’s simple but effective.
Take a moment out of your day to stop what you’re doing and find inspiration in the objects around you.
You could be at a hardware store, grocery shopping, alone in your office, or even browsing the web. Is there anything that stands out?
Action Step: Schedule a timer to go off 3 times during your day. When the timer goes off, take one minute to stop what you’re doing and find inspiration. Combine this with your pocket notebook (tip above) to save your inspiration.
Pro Tip: Try changing your seat around—for example, sit on the opposite side of your desk. You might find something new or gain a different perspective.
How to Be Creative in Writing
As a writer with decades of experience, I know writing can be a slog.
There are times you might think your creativity is comparable to a rock. But don’t give up! Try this writing exercise to get out of a rut.
Writing stories, especially fiction, is hard for one big reason: you’re building an entirely new world from scratch.
So let’s take inspiration from an already existing world: Harry Potter.
Using the rewriting technique, we can find creative and new ways to develop a story without having to create a new world. All the hard work is done for you.
You can even recreate the characters: Gary Potter gets accepted into Hogwarts, where instead of Voldemort, he battles an army of angry Donuts.
You get the idea.
Action Step: Think of a storyline, characters, or universe you’d like to write from. Take similar elements but add your own twist and unique approach.
How to Be More Creative in Drawing
Are you a manga artist? A professional drawer? Or just a lunch break sketcher?
Try out these universal drawing tips.
Use Your Non-Dom
If you’re an artist, you likely use your right or left hand.
In this exercise, we’ll switch it up.
Using your nondominant hand is like learning to ride a bike for the first time. You’ll make a lot of mistakes and learn along the way.
But it works because you’ll be forced to slow down and think about drawing at a fundamental level.
Action Step: Draw an object with your nondominant hand. Schedule a daily, weekly, or monthly exercise routine. Watch the video below for a quick tutorial:
Some people might draw better when they attach emotions to their art.
You might even be able to “feel” emotions from a drawing.
That said, when you have emotions tied to your art, you might be able to feel your creativity flowing better.
Action Step: Try drawing something sentimental, such as a pet, family member, or childhood toy, in your next drawing. To step it up a notch, add a story to your drawing.
This article wouldn’t be complete without a list of creative hobbies.
Here are my favorite hobbies you can do during your free time to become more creative.
Try collecting stamps, coins, exotic trinkets, or souvenirs. You can even spice it up by gathering rocks or dried flowers from places you’ve been.
When you look back at your collection, you’ll have a unique and memorable way to remember your memories!
Resource: Get into stamp collecting with this beginner’s guide.
Join (or start) a Book Club
If you’re already into reading, why not make it a group experience?
Book clubs are a great way to pass ideas to others. Plus, you’ll be able to hang around creative individuals like yourself!
Watch Shark Tank
You’ve probably watched Shark Tank before.
And if you haven’t, this TV show is the perfect blend of business and creativity, where entrepreneurs pitch their latest inventions and products to a host of potential investors.
Check out these super-creative pitches from the show:
Learn a New Language
Do you speak another language? Research suggests that multilingual individuals are more creative than monolingual ones.
Other languages also offer different words and ways to express ideas.
For example, did you know the Japanese word wabi-sabi loosely translates to “finding beauty in and accepting the imperfect things in life”?
Repurpose Old Objects
You might have a lot of old “junk” lying around. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of the TV show Hoarders, you know what I mean.
Try taking some of those old objects and finding creative uses for them. You can even give your old car or bicycle a new makeover if you’d like.
Resource: Need some inspiration? Check out 50 Creative Ways to Repurpose, Reuse and Upcycle Old Things.
Dancing is a great way to express yourself physically as well as get some exercise at the same time. There are endless ways to dance:
- break dance
- folk dance
Resource: Try joining a local dance class or learning some dance moves on YouTube. I highly recommend starting here if you’re a beginner.
Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding.
Sure, you can make classics like the paper crane or frog. But you can also take it as far as you want—there are even origami conventions held for pros and enthusiasts.
Resource: Beginner to origami? Grab a sheet of paper and check out the video below.
Are you constantly doing the same old push-ups every day?
Try spicing things up:
- take an aerial yoga class
- learn a new martial art
- learn to dance on the treadmill
- get in the flow with qigong
Resource: Read on to find a list of unique sports. Try one out if you’re feeling adventurous.
Listen to Music
Research shows that metal fans and classical music fans may be more similar than we thought.
According to Professor Adrian North of the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, “Aside from their age, they’re basically identical.”
Resource: Create your own music playlist. Fill it with your favorite Mozart or Metallica songs!
You don’t have to be the next chef Ramsay to appreciate this one.
Creative cooking is a great hobby—just grab any recipe or find one online and add your own unique twist. It could be as simple as adding some cinnamon to a lemon cake or as extreme as adding bacon to homemade yogurt.
Resource: Get cooking! Find your favorite recipe online and try out something new.
Why is Being Creative So Hard?
Research has found that the fear of standing out is the primary reason why people don’t come up with innovative solutions or express themselves creatively. However, by not sharing your original ideas with the world or engaging in activities that ignite your creativity, you’re missing out on a powerful source of fulfillment.
Final Tip: Avoid Labels
As a bonus, I’ve saved the best tip for last: labels. There are many labels people give us from a young age.
Teachers, parents, and other influential figures try to place labels on us in areas where they think we will excel. They certainly mean no harm to us but are trying to steer us to where they think we will succeed.
However, the result is that we are labeled early in life as creative or not creative.
And these labels heavily influence those areas that we strive for. These labels do NOT define us, so we must understand a few very important things about creativity:
- Every person is creative. If you ask everyone to draw a house, it will look different for each person. This comes from our own creativity.
- Any choice you make in your life is creative, so embrace it.
- Creativity is a habit, not a skill. It is a process. If you use it more, you build it and become better. It is a conscious choice to evaluate each decision and put creative twists on them, a choice that eventually becomes a habit.