Four Steps To Increase Your Creativity
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” - Chuck Close
When you’re a creative professional, waiting around for inspiration isn’t always an option. In fact, it’s never really an option when your mortgage or rent payment depends on you bringing your most creative self to the job every day. So how do you make sure you are the most creative you can be? With science, of course!
Around 1960, psychologist Sarnoff Mednick defined creativity as ‘associative memory that works exceptionally well.’ Once you understand that creativity is just a type of memory, you can understand how to increase and improve your creativity.
Here are four scientifically proven steps you can take starting today to increase your creativity.
1. Get plenty of sleep.
Your brain needs rest to replenish all the energy spent working out all your world changing ideas. If your brain doesn’t get enough rest, it’s a ruthless prioritizer and it will divert any spare energy away from nonessential functions to preserve essential functions. Essential functions are things like breathing and circulation and all those pesky little things that keep you alive.
Guess what function is the least essential to survival, according to your brain? Creativity. It’s like the cable bill, the first to go when times get tight. Also, REM sleep is where your memory is repaired, so you want to make sure to get plenty of Z’s so that you can remember why you just walked into the living room holding an axe.
2. Take time to play.
Play is actually an essential brain function for nearly all vertebrate creatures. And contrary to popular belief, the opposite of play is not work. In fact, if you’re doing it right, play and work should overlap as often as possible. In reality, the opposite of play is depression.
So take some time to do something that’s fun and that recharges your inspiration banks. Go see an art exhibit, take a bike ride and race yourself to the top of the hill, get on the floor and wrestle with your kids and/or dogs/cats/turtles. Although my neighbors probably think I’m nuts, you’ll frequently find me outside playing tag in my back yard with my dogs in the middle of a work day. It’s a great five minute break that really kicks the mid afternoon slump right in the gonads. And I try to have a play date with a friend every couple of weeks too.
Recently, I resurrected an old tradition I shared with a friend years ago and started a play group with a few local creatives. We’ll meet up every other month and do something inspirational, followed by something decadent. No shop talk allowed. It should be fun.
3. Get bored.
When was the last time you were bored? Probably sometime before you got a smart phone, right? But have you ever noticed how all your best ideas come to you when you’re in the shower? That’s because you gave your brain a break from processing the endless data that’s always right in front of you and let it work on the things that it had set aside for later.
If you make a habit of putting your gadgets away for a few minutes and just letting your brain wander, you’ll be amazed at all the problems it will solve for you. There’s lots of ways to do this. One of my favorites is to just not turn on the radio in the car and drive in silence. I’ve written so many blog posts right in the car, at stop lights, of course (this is where a great voice dictation app comes in handy). But a walk will do the same thing if you’re a safer driver than me.
4. Keep a journal or sketchbook.
You’ve got to have a place to collect all the ideas you’re going to be having on your walks. So get in the habit of recording your ideas in a notebook or sketchbook, or heck, an app like Evernote. Think of it as a sourcebook. If you record all your ideas, no matter how fragmented, later when you’re in need of an idea, you’ll have a reference book full of ideas that you made for yourself. And they’ll be your ideas, not stuff you copied from Pinterest. Although Pinterest is a great resource, and I’m not knocking it.
In addition to recording all your inspirations as they come to you, try to get in the habit of spending five minutes a day (more if you can) just journaling or sketching. Creativity is like a muscle, and the more you flex it, the stronger it will get.
These four simple things that you can do every day are the keys to the creativity kingdom. They’re easy to do, and they’re even easier to skip. In fact, you’ll find that it’s a lot harder than you think to maintain these habits. But try it out for 30 days and you’ll see a difference in yourself that will surprise you.
And if you will, do me a big favor and next time you see me on Facebook after 10pm, please tell me to go to bed. That’d be great. Thanks.
If you’d like to learn more about the brain science behind creativity and memory, here are the resources I used for this article:
- Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown
- Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Amanda Summerlin is an adventure and destination wedding photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. She and her wife have four chickens, three kids, two dogs, and one cat. Amanda enjoys making neat pictures of nice people, drinking Scotch, traveling, and fly fishing, but not usually all at once.