Everyday Ways to Be More Creative

Would you like to be more creative? Most people say they would; not because everyone wants to be an artist, but because they recognise that they have fallen into stale habits of acting, speaking and thinking. If you realise you’re no longer seeing the world in fresh ways, or if you simply feel you’ve become a little predictable and humdrum, you’ll benefit from having a more creative mind. So whether you want to come up with new ideas at work, develop a hobby or simply have more interesting conversations, here are some great ways to kick start your creativity.

Your brain contains billions of connections between neurons. Put simply, the ones you use most are physically stronger than the ones you use least, and they form the default path for nerve impulses. Imagine two towns, joined by a six lane highway that forms a loop and is a ten mile journey, and by a tiny straight back road that is a five mile journey. Most traffic will follow the longer route – it’s usually quicker because it’s constructed to be a faster road. So it is in your brain: the route you usually use becomes reinforced, and that’s the way you think. You’ve probably experienced the results of this when you see an optical illusion. In the moment of puzzlement, you suddenly feel like it’s a physical effort to understand; people say things like “That makes my brain hurt!” What you experience is your brain switching from the highway to the tiny and under-used back road.

Increasing your creativity exploits this feature of your brain. You find ways to get off the familiar highway and explore the back roads. It’s not as easy, but the good news is that you’re not going off-road. The connections in your brain already exist, they just don’t get used much. Even better news is that once you start to use those brain connections, they become reinforced too, and you find that alternative ways of thinking get easier.

You can start by making changes to everyday activities. Look at your morning routine, and introduce some variation. Get up 15 minutes earlier (or if you want a challenge on a work day, 15 minutes later). One day, have breakfast before you shower. Go without breakfast altogether, but have an extra mid-morning snack. Clean your teeth in a different order; many people who don’t even think they have a set order for cleaning their teeth are astonished how unsettling this feels. Dress smartly even if you’re not planning on leaving the house. Combine elements of your usual outfits to make a new look, put on different make-up, don’t wear your usual shoes, go without shaving.

Drive to work by a different route, or use public transport. If you usually travel by bus or train, use another method or route or get off the bus one stop early. Have your lunch somewhere different. If you usually eat at your desk, go outside; if you have lunch in a cafĂ©, take a sandwich to work. Try a dish you’ve never eaten before, or at least a different brand of your usual food or drink. Spend some time alone, or sit with someone you don’t know. If you don’t have a work routine, identify the routines you do have and occasionally do things in a different order. Don’t have a coffee until after 11am; switch to decaf or drink fruit tea for a day.

Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited before; cook from a new recipe or make up something from the ingredients you have in the cupboard. Watch a movie or TV show that wouldn’t normally interest you, whether it’s a documentary or a slasher horror (you might not want to do that alone). Read a book instead of watching TV; read a magazine instead of a book. Go to bed early, stay up late, wear something different to bed, listen to unfamiliar music while you fall asleep.

It’s possible, though sometimes surprisingly hard, to build small changes into your daily routine. Your brain has strongly reinforced ways of thinking, and it can feel like hard work to make even small changes. If it does, congratulations: you’re opening up unfamiliar ways of thinking! And remember, these are changes, not new routines. Your health is probably going to improve if you cycle to work and drink lots of water instead of driving and having five extra-shot lattes, but if that becomes your new routine it won’t necessarily do much for your creativity.

Another way to build up neglected routes in your brain is to use different senses. Human beings tend to rely most on visual information, but in fact all of your senses are working all of the time. Paying attention to different senses opens up unfamiliar ways of thinking. This is why mindfulness training has been shown to have benefits for creative thinking; actively thinking about what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch is a great way to use different brain connections. It may also explain why synaesthetes (people whose senses process the outside world differently) show more creative original thinking.

Use different senses to explore everyday objects. What does your toothbrush smell like? How about your hairbrush? What do you taste if you lick the back of your hand? How heavy do your clothes feel when you hold them and when you’re wearing them? How smooth or rough is your desk, your car seat, the fabric of your clothes? Use your fingertips to feel for tiny imperfections on surfaces that your eyes tell you are smooth. Close your eyes and walk around your home. Stop on the street and identify at least ten different sounds. Use words for senses: imagine trying to describe to someone how your home or workplace smells, what your partner’s voice sounds like, how your clothes feel on your skin. Cook for your senses: combine ingredients or foods on a plate not only by taste but also by smell, by colour and by texture. How does your food sound when you’re cooking, when you cut it, when you chew it?

Empathy is a great way to be more creative. Many imaginative solutions to problems have occurred when one person realised how the situation appeared to another person, whether that’s better product design for visually impaired people or autism-friendly film screenings at your local multiplex. One of the best spurs to creativity is simply to ask someone else’s opinion. They don’t even have to know much about your job or your hobby or the problem you’re trying to solve. You’re not asking them for a solution: you’re asking them for another point of view. If you want to be more creative at work, imagine how you would explain your job to a six year old, or to your grandmother. What questions would they ask, and how would you answer them? Imagine your life is being made into a movie. How would they film your day today? Which one or two telling incidents would they include, and what would be cut? Would there be a montage, and what would be the soundtrack? How would your life look to someone from another country or culture or period in history? If aliens invaded, how would you explain what you’re doing right now?

Spil© specializes in creative design strategies that help organizations unlock the power of brand equity. We believe that the only way to grow our business is to first grow yours.

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