Do you ever find yourself banging your head against a brick wall trying think outside the box?
You’re not alone. It happens to even the most creative folks at Apple, Google, Facebook or the New Yorker. That’s life!
FEAR NOT… there are powerful ways to kick your brain into action and push the creative thinking process along. I’m sure one or two of these ideas can give you a good boost.
1. Start With Research
Whatever your task, you're going to struggle to come up with a creative idea if you don't know what's already out there.
Read up on the subject as much as you can. This not only gives you background knowledge, but it can also act as a trigger for your brain.
The more you’ve seen, the more creative you can be, so take as long as you need to do your research.
2. Dedicate Fixed Times For Creative Work
Many people think the best ideas come when your focus is away from the job at hand, which is true in certain situations. But generally, that’s not how it works.
You want a creative thinking PROCESS. Leaving it up to luck isn’t enough. Especially in the brainstorming phase, you need to get serious and set aside specific time.
Clear your schedule for 1, 2, 3 hours, come into it mentally and physically prepared, and spend the time with your focus dedicated to the process.
One of the most rewarding moments in the creative process is when you have worked through “writers block” and got the ideas flowing. Trust yourself, commit the time, resist distractions and self doubt, and it will happen.
3. Write, write, write!
Writing forces you to process your thoughts on a whole new level. Not only are you recording your ideas, the act of writing triggers the brain to think more deeply on the subject.
When you write something down, you take vague and fleeting moments of thought and solidify them into concrete, real ideas… shaped by words and sentences.
You get a chance to walk around an idea. To poke and prod it. To ask questions. To come to conclusions. To diverge and develop your idea.
During your brainstorming sessions and beyond, jot down everything relevant that comes into your mind. Take the pressure off and see where it takes you.
You can use paper, a computer, your phone notes, a whiteboard, write on a window...
It can be tidy or messy. It can be disjointed. It can be mind maps, bullets, incomplete sentences. It’s a very personal thing, so go with whatever works for you.
Whichever way you decide, you’re building a log of ideas, and giving yourself the mental space to develop those seed ideas as you go… without the pressure of figuring the whole picture out in one go.
An extension of this topic is journal style writing. It doesn’t even need to be about the problem at hand, you could start writing about life, how you’re feeling, what worked well today, or copy a quote and write what you think of it. The process of collating and solidifying your thoughts OVER HERE, will build skills that help your creative mind OVER THERE.
**I feel like I could write a whole book about the myriad benefits of writing as a habit!
4. Talk, Talk, Talk
Talking through your ideas can be a hugely powerful step for creative thinking. Especially if you’re struggling with doubt.
Just like writing, talking about it deepens your understanding and opens up other possibilities. No matter how hard you try solidify your thoughts, sometimes verbalizing is needed to steer you in the right direction.
Talk to yourself or to other people. Talking to others has the added benefit of getting their input, which can be very useful. Just make sure you choose someone whose opinion you value if you’re going to invest a lot of faith in what they say.
Something that works for me is to record myself talking through ideas (by myself) on my phone. It works for me, and can be a good source for transcription later, or simply a useful process for shaping an idea or perspective.
5. Exercise to trigger creativity
Exercise changes the chemical make-up of your brain, and encourages creativity.
Run, swim, do yoga, go to an exercise class, have a weight session at the the gym, or do Zumba (something I discovered recently with my wife).
There’s a scientific perspective on the power of exercise, called “transient hypofrontality”. This is where the brain is distracted from cerebral tasks, and adopts a completely different style of thinking - often bringing new solutions to the surface.
I often find myself at the gym, having to stop my workout to write down an idea or solution that just “appeared out of thin air”.
Next time you’re stuck and need to think outside the box, find something you enjoy that will get the blood pumping and take you out of the headspace you were in previously!
6. Go for a walk
I know, I know, it’s similar to “exercise”… But it’s not. IT'S DIFFERENT
Going for a walk deserves a mention on it’s own because it is soooo powerful.
Walking was a vital part of the creative thought process for innovators throughout history. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Charles Darwin, Nietzsche all held daily walks as a vital part of their routines.
You can walk and think about the problem. You can walk and listen to a podcast or music and leave the problem to churn in your subconscious. You can walk and look at your surroundings, the colors, sounds, shapes and people, or tune into the feeling of your feet against the ground.
I don’t have a scientific explanation for walking, but I think it dips into many of the other categories as a beautiful creativity boosting solution. It works wonders for me and others I know anyway.
7. Inject Some Creativity and Focus with Mindfulness
Last but definitely not least, Mindfulness!
Tuning in to your breath, your body, your thought processes or your surroundings helps the mind in a multitude of ways.
My favourite thing about practicing mindfulness is that you can release the pressure of “trying to be creative”, and create space for natural creativity to flourish. It’s funny, but by letting go we grow stronger and more focused, we gain clarity and give our subconscious mind room to bubble away at solutions.
As I’m sure you know already, consistent mindfulness practice also has a ton of “behind the scenes” neuroscience benefits in terms of brain health, neuroplasticity, stress reduction, emotional and hormone balancing... but that’s a discussion for another blog post 🙂
Some form of mindfulness practice is always one of my favorite go-to solutions when I need to respark the flame of curiosity and creativity in my mind.
And it’s quite inspiring to constantly hear how many world leading innovators and leaders use some form of mindfulness to keep them on track.
So there you have it, a toolbox of techniques you can use to turbocharge your creative mind!
If you’d like one more secret weapon, take a look at 7 Minute Mindfulness.
The 7-minute audio sessions are designed to give you a quick mental reset, strengthen your focus, get your creative juices flowing, and set you up to flourish.
As well as the 7 minute audios, you get 2 accompanying books which take a deep dive into the power of mindfulness and how you can use it in your life.
Here’s what one writer reported about his imagination and productivity after using 7 Minute Mindfulness.
"After only 8 days, this programme has shifted my perspective and alleviated my stress levels.
I feel calmer, my mind is focused and I can concentrate better on my work. Also, my imagination is refired and this is important to me as a writer. I look forward to more from 7-minute mindfulness.
And, it has improved my recall for my studies. I would not manage without it now."
Have a great week!