When we think of creativity, we are drawn to artists and musicians rather than waitresses, football coaches, mechanics, accountants, and all the other people and professions that require creativity and might not even realize they’re creative.
An accountant sounds like a pretty uncreative profession, but consider the unique budgets they create, their ability to present complex calculations in a digestible way, or the fancy graphs they whip up in Excel.
Whether we’re planning a party, brainstorming gift ideas, articulating a business problem, or coming up with a clever line to use on a dating app, mastering creative expression is at the core of solving any problem we encounter in life.
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“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great”
1. No judgment
If you ask a room of people to write a lyric, draw a picture, come up with a business idea, or build something with legos, you’ll hear grumbles like “I’m so bad at this,” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” throughout the room.
The problem with this mindset is we’ve given up before we’ve started. Then, as soon as we do start, we’re picking apart every decision as we make it.
The key to creativity is to free ourselves from judgment and allow the unconscious parts of our mind to take over.
“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced”
Vincent Van Gogh
We hold ourselves to such high standards that it limits our ability to create anything at all.
Instead of stewing over the quality of our ideas or trying to do our best work, we should focus on creating — we can always refine it later.
2. Quantity over quality
Instead of focusing on the quality of output, focus on the quantity. Quantity exercises are excellent for creativity because they teach us that creativity is about expression — not results.
We instinctively self filter our ideas as they arise. Quantity over quality trains us to allow all ideas to flow — even the bad ones.
If you’ve ever been in a brainstorming session, then the leader will often say that “no idea is a bad idea.” Their goal is to get as many ideas on paper as they can because those ideas can always be polished later.
One of my favorite quantity exercises is the 30 circles challenge. In this challenge, you strive to fill in as many of the 30 circles as you can in 5 minutes. Try it for yourself and see how many you can complete — here’s a blank sheet.
The goal isn’t to have amazing drawings — it’s to fill all the circles before the timer runs out. This trains you to worry less about your artistic abilities and more about generating many ideas in a short amount of time.
3. Unplug from inputs
Mahershala Ali’s quote below sums it up perfectly:
“Social media has colonized what was once a sacred space occupied by emptiness: the space reserved for thought and creativity.”
In our modern world, we don’t go a moment without being entertained. Every dull moment is flooded with stimulus from our mobile device, ads, tv, magazines, video games, and so on.
Our devices and technology are great in moderation, but occasionally switching them off and sinking into a state of boredom can do wonders for our mind and creativity.
The board game Scrabble was invented by a bored, unemployed, Alfred Mosher Butts. The boredom of unemployment helped fuel Butts. “Well, I wasn’t doing anything,” Butts said. “That’s the trouble. I didn’t have anything to do; I didn’t have a job. So I thought I’d invent a game.”
Boredom can be the change that’s needed to allow your ideas to break through the noise.
Growing up in the middle of nowhere in rural Pennsylvania, we had no TV or video games, and I was homeschooled, so I had few friends for most of my early childhood. We weren’t Amish, but that’s not too far from the truth.
These years of my life might sound dull to most. But they were far from it. My lack of input led to some of the most creative years of my life. I found ways to entertain myself by taking toys apart, building with Legos and Lincoln Logs, drawing, and “inventing things.”
Seek moments of peace and boredom, and we just might find the creative spark we’ve been looking for.
When we read, we’re taking a walk inside the mind of someone else. We’re experiencing their thoughts as we read the words on the page (or screen). When we do this, we can see things from a new perspective and gain valuable insights, which can lead to great ideas. Ok, now get out of my brain!
Reading and consuming valuable information like you’re doing right now is necessary to allow our brains to generate connections and expand our horizons, which will overall make us more creative.
You’re already doing this one though, so I can move on.
5. Try new things
Similar to reading, the more information, and skills we know and understand, the easier it will be to generate creative connections between unrelated things.
In the past year, I tried improv, took a class drawing nude models, attended parkour classes, got scuba certified, traveled, and so much more.
I wasn’t expecting to become a parkour master or a nude model artist — I simply wanted to learn about something I knew nothing about.
Every experience gives us a better understanding of the world and can provide inspiration for us to draw ideas from in the future. I encourage everyone to try new things because we never know where our next splash of inspiration will come from.
Exercises to Develop Your Creativity
6. Daily creative practice
Having a daily creativity practice like drawing, writing, going for a walk with just your thoughts, building with legos, playing Minecraft, and so on will strengthen the idea-generating, creativity producing, awesome-stuff-making part of our brain.
“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”
In high school, my English teacher would have us do a 5-minute writing exercise every Friday at the beginning of class. The goal was to write for 5 minutes without stopping.
The teacher would say — “I don’t care what you write, you can write the ABC’s for 5 minutes if you want — just write” This creative practice allowed us to us to free ourselves from a perfect result — the goal was just to create.
During these exercises, I would often uncover ideas that I didn’t know I had. I quickly realized that you don’t need a stroke of genius to get started; the inspiration was discovered in the process. It was once I started going that I began uncovering ideas and new revelations that previously I had not known existed.
By having an exercise like this daily, we strengthen our creative muscles over time to the point where coming up with ideas doesn’t make us feel like a deer in headlights.
Exercises to Develop Your Creativity
7. Be inspired
Sometimes all we need is a little inspiration to get started or find a direction for our creativity. Don’t feel bad if you’re copying things either, finding your own natural expression will come with time.
Places to get inspired (subreddits):
8. Keep a notebook
There’s not much to this one besides the obvious: when ideas strike, whip out a notebook and jot it down. Yeah, you could use your phone, but that allows for distractions, and you can’t doodle, draw diagrams, or mock-up an interface in the notes app.
This year I started carrying a field notes booklet, it’s the perfect size to fit in my pocket, and its sleek design makes me look badass when I pull it out.
9. Take the time
When we sit down to brainstorm a concept or need an idea for the next piece of content for our social media campaign, we often get discouraged when we aren’t instantly struck with brilliance.
Taking the time means to give yourself the 10 or 15 minutes required to brainstorm and discover an idea. Random strokes of genius do happen randomly, but it’s a very glorified notion and is too rare to bet on. We can’t expect ideas to just fall out of the sky onto our laps.
The best way to do this is just to start and let the ideas come as you go. There is no way I could’ve known every word of this article before I started writing it, but once I started, they slowly came to me.
Starting somewhere, anywhere, will give you a foundation that you can build from.
Instead of waiting for the perfect idea to hit us upside the head, we should actively pursue ideas by taking the time to let our creativity flow.
10. Be patient
In line with taking the time to think and brainstorm, we should also allow our creativity muscles to develop over time.
No one cooks one meal and expects to be a chef, so why would we think after a few creativity exercises that we’re the next Douglas Bubbletrousers?
Patience is a virtue, and it must not be forgotten when it comes to forging the fires of creativity. Be consistent with your practice, and in time you will be able to find inspiration in anything.
Exercises to Develop Your Creativity
Via Danny Sapio