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10 Tips to Help You Increase Your Creativity

Hello lovelies,

As you know, no matter what your field or expertise is, the challenge of creating on a deadline is universal. Whether you are painting oil on canvas, hand crafting a set of living-room chairs, or building a Start-up, creativity is one of the most important secrets to success. As someone who has been teaching art classes for more than seven years, I can tell you that the same creative issues come up over and over again for both professionals and students alike. Ultimately, no matter what you create, it comes from within—from your true authentic self. Why not do it better?

The following tips are ones I apply to my own personal creative process and have passed on to thousands students to enhance and evolve their processes. These tips work! You don’t need to do each and every one of them every time. Try them all and choose which ones feel the most natural.

1. Animal, vegetable, mineral?
Do you remember the animal, vegetable, mineral game from when you were a kid? It was something my sisters and I used to play all of the time. One person would picture something in their mind, and the other players would ask yes/no questions until they guessed what the person was thinking. If the other players couldn’t get the answer in 20 questions, then the person holding the idea would win! At a certain point, we stopped playing because my sisters and I got so good at asking the right questions, that the game no longer felt challenging. Boring!

There too lies the key to defining your creative process. Asking the right questions is key. If you are designing a logo for a new soda company, you need to know as much information as possible about the product, the company, the company’s target customer, and any other competitors. So, how do you figure this out? Ask yes/no questions about the product, the company, the company’s target customer, and any other competitors.

A good first question might be, “Is Pepsi a direct competitor to my soda company?” If the answer is yes, analyze Pepsi, their design esthetic, colors and advertising verbiage to better understand how Pepsi markets to your target customer. Continue to ask this question and analyze every company to which you answer “yes”.

Once you start answering yes/no questions, it gets easier to define your creative needs and direction. Yes/no questions work just as well when you a creating a painting. “Am I trying to evoke a romantic feeling in the viewer?” “Is it Winter time in the painting?” “Is weather even a factor?” Is the sky really blue, or blue green, or rich blue in the middle that fades into a soft muted grey-blue on the edges?”

If your questions are getting too complicated, dial them back to a simple “yes” or “no”.  The trick to this technique is to truly immerse yourself, your mind, your being into the creative project at hand and ask really good questions. A five minute meditation before hand is always helpful! It gets easier with practice and time, I promise!

2. Do something else creative.
During my sophomore year of college, I experienced a major creative block! Everything…I mean everything that I touched seemed to somehow turn to crap. It was awful! I am a pretty intelligent young woman and creativity was something in me, that always just seemed to flow. It never occurred to me that it could dry up. Yet, there I was, actively working towards a creative degree, shipwrecked on The Island of Bad Ideas.

So, this is what I decided to do. Instead of beating myself up, I decided to go to the Campus Art Center and take a pottery class. It was a low stakes, not for a grade, remember why I like art, again, pottery class. It allowed me to just do. Within a couple of class sessions my creativity had taken a complete 180. Not only was I able to create  again, but the things I created were better than they had been in a long time. I saw a clear correlation between the low-stakes pottery class and the subsequent end to my creative block.

I am not particularly skilled or talented when it comes to pottery. but, what that pottery class allowed me to be creative for creativity sake. I didn’t have to worry about a grade or a critique or a client’s needs. There were no target customers or fears of re-taking a class. It was just me and my lump of clay, that I could do with as I pleased. It opened me up! Once the creative juices were flowing again in one arena, they flowed easier in every other arena.

Work an activity into your schedule that is both creative and low-stakes. It can be anything: Redecorate your bedroom. Play an instrument. Make sandcastles–then destroy them with glee. Take two and a half minutes to dance to your favorite song. Bake an assortment of cupcakes, making sure to taste test every flavor. Go out on a sunny day to pick wildflowers. Arrange a bouquet when you get back home. Do something creative that is easy and doesn’t matter if you fail. Trust me, this will super charge your creative batteries.

3. Create your zone.
Many times, when creativity is needed most are the same times when deadlines are the tightest and expectations are extraordinary. That extra pressure can be helpful for some, but my experience is that those intense expectations often lead to a kind of creative paralysis.

One of the most important things you can do to help your creative process, is to create your “zone”. My zone starts with my desk. It is personalized and cute and efficient.  Efficiency is important in a workspace, and will mean different things to different people. Set up you space in whichever way which allows your work to flow with the most ease.

Once my workspace is ready, I decide whether to sit or stand. I set out a pitcher of water, and choose what I want to listen to, ambiance is essential, and I need either music or conversation going on around me to relax and focus. This is my zone. Your creative space may look similar to mine or completely different. They key is to be comfortable and to avoid the need to step away every five minutes.

It is equally important when creating your zone, to understand what distracts you or pulls you out of “Productive Mode”. These days, social media is a huge distractor for many. If you are one of those types and are creating on a computer, I recommend setting up an app that will turn off your social media or your favorite shopping sites during the work day. These apps are especially good because they require you to restart your computer in order to override them.

Phone calls and emails can also be distractions. Schedule two times a day to check your e-mails, once around lunchtime and again at the end of the day. This allows you to catch all of your morning emails at once and answer any final pressing questions before you call it a day.

For phone calls, you can of course turn off your ringer. Most smart phones have the ability to customize the ringer for specific numbers. If you are a mom, maybe you turn off your ringer to everyone but your son’s daycare provider. Distractions really do matter. Try hard not to let distractions pull you out of your zone when it’s time to create. Set up your perfect zone and immerse yourself in it. You will love the creative results.

4. The wheel exists!
Everything you create is influenced by things you have already been exposed to. I am sorry to say this, but nothing is truly original anymore. Once you fully accept that, it will help free you from feeling like you must be so perfectly original. The wheel exists, don’t waste your energy trying to reinvent it!

So, how do you create something “new” in a world void of originality? The first thing you need to do is research and reference what is already out there. You can even use existing ideas as a springboard to your original twist on a chosen concept. For example, if you are designing a website, start looking at your competitors websites. Ask “what is working” and “what is not working”? Maybe even begin designing your site to be similar. Do Not Copy….I repeat Don’t copy a referenced idea. Use some of the strongest concepts to get yourself started, then freely adapt the design into something different.

If you want to write a book that makes you feel as good as you did when reading Harry Potter, don’t copy the plot. Instead, analyze how JK Rowling developed your favorite characters. Look at the different experiences that shaped the characters and use that as a starting point for how to develop the characters in your own story. Never copy, but DO reference. You have already been influenced by other projects, so instead of copying them loosely, understand that you are referencing them and honor the original.

5. Eat with mindfulness.
According to Scientific America, your brain uses approximately 20% of your body’s calorie intake every day. To put that into perspective, if you consume 1800 calories a day, your brain is using 360 calories to fuel your creative juices. But not all calories are created equal. I’m not telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat. That is not my area of expertise and there are way too many philosophies out there to compete with! I am simply pointing out that how your brain and your body perform is directly correlated to how you treat yourself. Your physical and mental health matter when you are nurturing creativity.

To perform at your best, you need to be mindful, aware of how the food you eat and the exercise that you get, or don’t get, affects your brain. Check in with yourself about an hour after you eat. Does your brain feel clear? Do you feel energized? If not, then it might be time to rethink what you just ate. Or maybe it is time to do a quick stretch?

A simple change to my lunch habit made a big difference to my creative output. During lunch breaks, I used to find myself often selecting a diet soda alongside my meal. When I started to pay attention to how I felt, I noticed that when I drank diet soda, I would feel bad an hour later. I began to alternate between ice tea, water, and a stevia based soda, sometimes. That super small change in diet really made a huge difference in how I felt after lunch. I functioned much better without diet soda in my system.

Listen to your body. Try to connect what makes you feel really good and what doesn’t.
You will be more creative and feel better physically and mentally if you practice mindfulness. It sounds like a far out idea, but all it is, is paying attention. Mindfulness is just checking in with your self and being aware of how you feel. It is essential to the creative process.

6. Do something terrible.
I got the best creative tip from a writer and former coworker (Thank you Jim!). “The absolute worst thing you can do” he said,” is nothing.” “Doing nothing is worse than doing something terrible.” So when you are feeling blocked, or just don’t know where to start, do the absolute worst idea you can come up with. Make it so bad that there is nothing else to be next, but better.

What is great about this, is it changes your threshold. You no longer have to create something amazing, you get to create something terrible, hopefully, horrible to the point of being funny. When you start creating something bad, on purpose, it gets the creative juices flowing and helps reinvigorate that “make it happen” attitude.

Creativity results from the act of doing, so if you can’t think of something good, think of something bad. Do it and let the act of doing, open you up to a better idea and greater creativity!

7. Morning pages.
Sometimes it’s called free writing, or journaling. I call it Morning Pages. Morning Pages are especially good for clarifying goals and removing brain clutter (You know, that incessant conga line dancing through your head, consisting of your kids’ teachers, your in-laws, and that damn Jr. high School bully that still disrupts your dreams. I just want to get to class Amber, leave me alone!).

Begin with a blank journal and a pen, then give yourself 20 minutes to write. Don’t think. Just write whatever pops into your head. Do not use a computer, or allow yourself any electronics or distractions. Just write, pen on paper, and do not erase anything.

What you create during Morning Pages should be raw, and totally unusable in terms of written material. For me, the first two to three pages are usually a mess of jumbled personal and emotional thoughts. I clarify goals, reset expectations, and prioritize. Many times the writing is totally illegible. But, then something magical happens, once that first jumble is out of my head and onto the paper, I am better able to focus on the important writings.

Morning Pages are most helpful for me when I am overwhelmed and need direction. This routine has helped me uncover truths, clear out brain clutter, and most importantly make amazing creative connections so obvious, it was difficult to believe I hadn’t figured them out sooner!

8. Go for a walk.
When you really need to solve a creative problem, one of the best things you can do is take a walk. Turn off the ringer to your phone, leave the iPod behind and just walk. The combination of exercise and fresh air will work miracles on your brain. I often need the first five to ten minutes to unwind, but after that my brain is be able to really focus on creative solutions.

Many creatives experience similar effects from swimming, bike riding or even going to the gym (For the best results, avoid a gym with loud music and/or TV screens). Many creatives find such an amazing, positive correlation between exercise and creative productivity that they schedule regular fitness into their weekly to-do lists.

As a working person, I know that time can be a hot commodity! Our world is relentless at times and the idea of scheduling in exercise isn’t always realistic. But we are Creatives, who get paid for being creative. We can’t afford a creative block! Take a quick walk directly after lunch. It doesn’t have to take long and you do not have to go far, ten or fifteen minutes is enough. After eating, I often feel lazy and ready to nap. Taking a walk reverses the drowsy mental state that can come from eating a meal, which leads to better creativity in the afternoon.

9. Perfectionism paralysis.
This tip can get rather philosophical. It makes me think back to college classrooms and in depth discussions about Plato. Most simply put, No one and nothing is perfect! There is never a perfect moment, never the perfect person and never a perfect project.

Perfectionism Paralysis happens when you cannot finish a project; it is never quite done because it is never quite perfect. Do yourself a favor and let go of trying to be perfect. Perfectionism holds people back and it will hold you back too. Professionals and students alike have found themselves stuck in the “Perfect Trap”. Perfectionism Paralysis Is very closely connected to a fear of failure. Perfectionists are afraid of rejection. They want to catch every imperfection before the world can point them out. Wether you are a writer who cannot quit critiquing and rewriting, or a fashion designer who continues to pulls seams and rework embellishments; it is really easy to get caught in the “Perfect Trap”.

Of course you want to be good at what you do. You want everything you lay your hands on to be brilliant and amazing. But, at some point you also have to trust that you have done your research; you have put all you have into the project, and you have to let go. In my experience, most people experiencing my art or designs, don’t even notice the things that I feel still need to be fixed, the things I may have literally lost sleep over.

It is completely unfair to be told to just not be afraid. Your project may effect your livelihood or your reputation. So instead of me telling you, not to be afraid, I will ask you to try this: The next time you are stuck in the depths of your Perfectionism Paralysis, I want you to think realistically, of the worst thing that will happen if you release the project as it is. Nine times out of ten, you will realize that your worst case scenario is both extremely unlikely to happen and not the end of the world if it does! Once you’ve gotten through the worst case scenario, then think of more likely negative scenarios. Then think of the more likely positive scenarios. Finally, allow yourself to meditate for a moment on the best case scenario!

If you are feeling Perfectionism Paralysis, but have yet to do anything about it, I recommend referring back to tip “#6 Do something terrible” or “#2 Do something else creative”. All ten of these tips are designed to help creativity flow efficiently, but those two work best for digging yourself out of the “Perfect Trap” Your project isn’t going to be perfect. Don’t let that stop you from being creative.

10. Easy before importance.
One of the most common ways of getting stuck during the creative and developmental process, is by becoming so overwhelmed with the scope and/or direction of a project that you somehow end up doing nothing at all. It is the same Paralysis as a perfectionist but this time it effects how you begin your project, instead of being unable to finish it.

Don’t make your life harder than it needs to be. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, create a project list and prioritize. Sometimes the most important task on your list can be the source of your project anxiety. So, start with the easiest task, check it off and move to the next easiest task. It feels so good to conquer your to-do list, and when you are feeling trapped, a list helps you to dig out by putting one foot in front of the other. Once you knock some of the simpler tasks out of the way, it becomes much easier to tackle the more challenging items on your list.

There is a school of thought that says: “ Always tackle the hardest tasks on your list first.” I can understand that, if you are juiced-up about a project and not experiencing any blocks creatively. Starting with the biggest, most complicated or most difficult tasks allows you to make huge strides towards a completed project.

But if you are already overwhelmed, then that may not be the best approach. Starting with easier tasks allows you to build your confidence. The goal is to avoid feelings of insecurity and frustration. Those feelings are counterintuitive to the creative process. Start with the easiest task and work your way down the list. This allows you to focus your intent and move towards your goals.

Good luck on your creative endeavors!


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