Some people think creativity is a gift—something only bestowed upon the Vincent Van Goghs, Toni Morrisons and Annie Leibovitzes of the world.
But the truth is, creativity isn’t a gift—it’s a skill. And it’s a skill that anyone—painter, writer, accountant, stay-at-home dad, CEO, designer or anyone else—can get better at over time with the right kind of practice.
But what does that practice look like? How, exactly, can you be more creative?
Turns out, there are three networks in your brain that are responsible for creativity: the executive attention network (which is responsible for focus and attention), the imagination network (which is responsible for—you guessed it—imagination and daydreaming), and the salience network (which is responsible for making connections between the knowledge stored in your brain and your environment). And if you want to become more creative, you need to find ways to engage all three.
Luckily, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to practice creativity. Think about it like running: the ultimate goal is to be a better runner, but there are plenty of ways to get there. You can practice training for a race if you want to be a more competitive runner; practice tempo runs to be a faster runner; or just lace up your shoes and go when you need a post-run endorphin boost (which will certainly make you a happier runner). Different practices, but in each case you wind up a better runner.
It’s the same thing with creativity. There are tons of different approaches you can take depending on your desired outcome—and each approach will give you a different kind of creative boost.
So what, exactly, do some of those practices look like? What are some tangible things you can do to be more creative?
If you’re trying to make room for more creative projects in your life…
1. Put practicing creativity on your calendar
Make room for practicing creativity on your schedule just like you would any other important commitment—and then stick to it. And when I say “make room,” I’m being literal. Block off a specific chunk of time (like Tuesdays from 6:30pm to 7:30pm) and put it on your calendar. Then, when that scheduled time rolls around, follow through and work on a creative project. That might mean brainstorming ideas for a new book, putting a few hours into a new design, or even something as simple as coloring or writing in a journal—what you do doesn’t matter, as long as it’s creative.
Making creativity a priority and putting it on your calendar will activate the executive attention network in your brain and help you focus your attention on your creative projects—which is the first step towards becoming a more creative person.
2. Let yourself be bored
If you’re like most people, you wear “busy” like a badge of honor and schedule every second of your day with one task or another. But when you’re constantly busy, you don’t leave any room for your mind to wander.
If you want to be more creative, you need to let yourself be bored! When you’re bored, you daydream, which activates your brain’s imagination network. And studies show that boredom—and all that daydreaming you do when you’re bored—sparks creative thinking and can lead to a whole slew of new, creative ideas (and new, creative ways of thinking).
If you’re trying to get “unstuck” on a project…
3. Try approaching the project at an unexpected time
If you’re stuck on a project, you need to make new connections and start to look at the project in a different way. And one of the best ways to do that?
Working at the project at a different time.
Changing things up and working on projects at an unexpected time can help you think differently. This can activate your brain’s salience network—making it easier to make new, unexpected connections between your knowledge banks and the environment. In fact, a recent study found that you’re more likely to solve “insight problems” (which is psychology-speak for problems that require creativity) when you’re least alert—so, if you’re a morning person, you’ll be more effective at solving creative problems at night. This is likely because thinking creatively requires different areas of the brain—so while you’ll definitely want to tackle analytical problems when you’re at your peak level of attention and focus, more creative problems can actually benefit from a more relaxed mind.
So, in a nutshell—if you’re stuck on a project, try working on it at an unexpected time. This simple scheduling switch up can help you think differently—which can lead to just the creative solution you need to tackle the project.
4. Go for a walk
Sometimes, a change of scenery is all you need to think differently about a problem—and the best change of scenery to foster creative thinking? Getting outside.
Going for a walk (especially outdoors) is one of the best things you can do to boost your creativity and encourage new ways of thinking. It’s been shown to increase creative output by up to 60%—likely because spending time outside can activate all three of the brain’s creativity networks (you’ll engage the executive attention network because you’ll have to focus on where you’re going; you’ll be free to daydream, which activates the imagination network; and all the new stimuli in your environment will activate the salience network).
Creativity bonus points: if you want to supercharge your walk’s creativity benefit, pop in some headphones and listen to “happy music,” which research shows facilitates divergent thinking and delivers a potent boost to creativity.
If you’re trying to strengthen your creativity muscle…
5. Try something outside of your creativity comfort zone
If you’re already involved in creative pursuits but want to build your creativity muscle, step outside of your creativity comfort zone and try something completely new.
If you’re a designer, try writing a poem. If you’re a writer, try practicing a new instrument. The point is, there are a lot of different ways to be creative—and when you try something new, it can help your brain create new connections (hello again, salience network!) and inspire a new kind of creativity. Then, that new kind of creativity can help you be more creative in other areas of your life (so writing a poem can help inspire new ideas in your designs, or playing an instrument can help you become a better writer). Switching tasks has been shown to increase creativity—and when you’re switching between inherently creative tasks, it’s an even greater benefit.
6. Become an idea machine
When it comes to creativity, there are few people more well-versed on the topic that James Altucher. Altucher is a best-selling author, investor, podcast host and creativity powerhouse. And according to Altucher, the reason he’s been able to find such a diverse set of creative successes? His dedication to being an “idea machine.”
Every morning, without fail, Altucher sits down and writes down 10 to 20 new ideas. They don’t have to be good. They don’t have to lead to any big business idea. The only criteria is that they be new and interesting.
Forcing yourself to write down new and interesting ideas on a daily basis engages all three of your creativity networks—the imagination network (since you’re thinking of completely new concepts), the executive attention network (since you need focus and attention to develop new ideas), and the salience network (since you’re looking for new connections between concepts you already know). This will help you develop new, creative ways of thinking—and see new connections you weren’t able to see before.
Carve out time every morning to work on your new ideas—and, most importantly, don’t worry about whether your ideas are good or not. The simple practice of sitting down and thinking creatively every day will flex that creativity muscle and help you become a creative idea machine.
Practice to be more creative
Creativity isn’t something that’s reserved for geniuses. It’s available to everyone, no matter who you are or where you’re at in your life—all you have to do is practice.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start developing your creative strengths—we can’t wait to see what new and amazing things you come up with!