Have you ever wondered how to be more creative? Maybe you thought, “I’m just not a creative person.” However, contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t something that only some people are born with. Every one of us has the innate ability to be vastly creative. But it’s a skill that has to be nurtured.
This post explores how to be more creative and shares ten activities you can start doing now to give your creative muscles a boost.
1. Let Your Mind Wander
In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Dr. Sheldon Cooper is trying to solve a physics problem but finds his mind blocked. To free up his creative thought processes, he starts (unofficially) working at The Cheesecake Factory—something he considers to be a mind-numbing task. Most of us wouldn’t choose a job in a busy restaurant as a way to relax our brains, but it works for Sheldon. He has his “eureka moment” after dropping some dishes and noticing the pattern of the broken pieces on the floor.
Letting your mind wander opens it up to inspiration and innovative thought. It’s why we often have our best ideas in the shower or right before falling asleep.
Here are some activities to let your mind wander that help you be more creative:
- Organize your desk or shelves.
- Color in a coloring book.
- Put together a puzzle.
- Play games.
- Fold laundry.
2. Try New Things
Research shows that variety helps us be more creative. Our brains normally look for patterns to help make sense of the world. By using patterns and routines, our brain gets more efficient—and sometimes a bit lazy. It’s why we go on autopilot when we drive home.
But when we experience something unexpected, it forces our brain out of autopilot and stimulates more innovate thinking. Simply trying new things will help train the brain to think in new ways. This doesn’t have to be as dramatic as, say, taking up skydiving. Even small activities, if they’re unexpected, can produce big boosts to creativity.
Here are some ideas for trying new things to be more creative:
- Take a different route to or from work.
- Change up your morning routine. Switch up the order, or get ready in a different room. Use a different coffee cup, or sit somewhere different to eat your breakfast.
- Take your laptop and work from a different place—outside, in a café, or even on the floor of your office. Get a new perspective every now and then.
- Rearrange your office or even items on your desk.
- Try out a new recipe or eat at a new restaurant. Or order something different from your usual.
3. Play Music
Music has been shown to help with mood, memory, cognition, and creativity. Playing a musical instrument has the most benefits for the brain, but even listening to music can help with “divergent thinking”—which is the basis of creativity.
How much benefit you see—or even whether there is a benefit at all—depends in part on the particular type of music you listen to. This can vary from person to person, but many studies have found classical music to stimulate creative thought.
Here are some ideas for using music to boost your creativity:
- Before beginning a mind-taxing activity, listen to a song that makes you happy. Focus your full attention on the music.
- While working on a complex task, try listening to instrumental music—preferably classical or another style without words.
- Sing along to your favorite tunes.
- Learn to play a musical instrument. If you already know how to play one, get it out and play more often.
- Make up a simple song to help you remember new information.
4. Move Your Body
Movement releases endorphins and increases blood flow, which helps to improve our mood and sharpen our minds. Studies have shown that engaging in physical activity helps people come up with more innovative ideas than they would being sedentary.
Here are some ideas to get moving and improve creativity:
- Stand up and walk around during phone calls. (But please stay still if you’re on camera.)
- Go for a walk or jog.
- Do a workout.
- Invest in an under-desk exercise cycle like the one I have.
- Dance like nobody’s watching! Seriously—move your body loosely without worrying about what you look like. (Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes was probably a superb creative thinker. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch this clip.)
5. Make Art
Too many people let a lack of perceived talent or creativity hold them back from doing artsy things. But the simple truth is, creativity begets creativity. You can become more creative by making yourself do creative things. Give yourself permission to be bad at it. It’s the process that matters, not the product.
Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:
- Sketch a picture.
- Sculpt a piece of clay.
- Experiment with using unexpected colors in a coloring book.
- Decorate a cake.
- Arrange flowers in a vase.
- Knit or crochet.
- Create a mosaic.
- Write a poem.
- Compose a song. (Even if you don’t read music, you can make up a tune in your head.)
- Paint on a canvas.
6. Connect with Nature
Many studies have shown that connecting with nature improves our physical and mental wellbeing. It stands to reason that we’re better able to think creatively when we feel well and are happy. But also, when we spend time in nature—or even look at images of nature—we are better able to focus, pay attention, and reflect on problems.
Here are some ideas for boosting your creativity with nature at work:
- Change your desktop background and screensaver to images of nature. Choose something that makes you happy. (I use pictures of lovely trees like this one I got to see in person recently.)
- Place photos of beautiful scenery around your desk.
- Keep plants in your workspace.
- Play sounds from nature while you’re working.
- Take short breaks to look out the window or at photos of nature. For example, one study found that children who paused for 40 seconds during a test to look at a green roof performed better than children who looked at a concrete roof instead.
- Take a walk in a park or other green space on your lunch break.
7. Ask "What If?" Questions
Asking “what if?” prompts you to think about alternate scenarios and forces you to see things in a new light. Any great innovator started with a “what if?” question. For instance, Ray Kroc revolutionized the fast food industry by considering, “What if we could duplicate the success of the McDonald brothers’ restaurant by turning it into a franchise?”
“What if?” questions can help you solve work-related problems. As an example, you could ask, “What if we did step 3 before step 2 in our XYZ process?”
But you can also use “what if?” questions to stretch your creative muscles for completely non-work-related, maybe ridiculous ideas. Some amazing works of fiction have been created by asking questions like these:
- What if a human man washed up on an island inhabited by people who were six inches tall? (Gulliver’s Travels)
- What if farm animals rebelled against the farmer and tried to create a society in which all were equal? (Animal Farm)
- What if the Underground Railroad were literally a train that ran underground? (The Underground Railroad)
- What if magic really existed, and a mistreated orphan boy found out he was a wizard? (The Harry Potter series)
You might not have any interest in writing a novel, but asking yourself “what if?” questions—the sillier, the better—can open up your mind to possibilities, improving your creative thinking skills.
8. Keep a Journal
Journaling has many benefits for your mental health and focus, and it can be a powerful way to improve your creativity, especially when you make it a habit.
Here are some ideas for using a journal to boost your creative thinking:
- Record your answers to “what if?” questions.
- Use creative writing prompts like these.
- Write down your ideas as they come to you.
- Freewrite about a problem or idea. Set a timer and write for three minutes without pausing. Try to stay focused on the topic at hand, but allow yourself to jot down whatever comes to mind.
- Make lists.
9. Brainstorm by Yourself First
Brainstorming with others can be extremely beneficial. After all, two brains are better than one, so ten brains must be best, right? The problem is that when we try to brainstorm as a group first, without letting people think over the problem in advance, we’re less likely to come up with truly innovative ideas. Another issue is that the loudest people in the room are the only ones who are heard. Furthermore, we fall into “group think”—in which we are limited by the ideas presented.
Allowing yourself (and others) time for independent brainstorming before getting together as a group can generate more out-of-the-box thinking. That’s because when you’re in a group, your brain’s filter is on, but we don’t filter ourselves as much when we’re alone. To put it more scientifically, researchers have found that suppressing the area of the prefrontal cortex that’s responsible for self-control helps people think more creatively. A facilitator may tell a group, “there are no bad ideas,” but that won’t stop us from self-editing when we’re with others. When we’re alone, we feel more free to explore all our ideas—even the bad ones.
10. Schedule Down Time
Scheduling and creativity may not seem to go hand-in-hand, but the fact is, if you don’t allow some down time in your schedule, you will either fall into a routine (which inhibits creative thought) or be too stressed and overworked to feel inspired.
Be intentional about giving yourself some time each day to be creative—time that can be spent trying any of the suggestions in this post. And when you end up with “extra” time—such as when a meeting ends early—try to use the time in a way that’s good for your mind, body, and spirit.
To sum up, here’s a graphic that recaps the ten activities in this post. And don’t miss the resources below the graphic if you’d like to learn more.
What other ideas do you have for boosting creativity? Share them in the comments!
Resources for Learning How To Be More Creative
- Allowing the Mind to Wander Aids Creativity
- Can Exercise Make You More Creative?
- Creative Writing Prompts for Writers
- Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?
- Idea to Value Podcast: Interview with Dr. Simone Ritter: How Variety Sparks New Ideas
- Idea to Value Podcast: This part of the brain is the source of improvisation
- Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation
- Music and Creativity: Awakening the Muse
- Nature Screensavers from Screensaver Planet
- Nurtured by Nature
- Sometimes, It’s Better to Brainstorm Alone
- The Genius of Asking ‘What If?’ Questions
- Video: Relaxing Nature Sounds for Study, Yoga, and Meditation