People say to me a lot, “I wish I was more creative,” as if they need some sort of secret handshake or supernatural powers to tap into the creative vein within themselves. The truth is, becoming more creative is actually a fairly mundane process. Just like any skill, repetition is key. It’s not exciting or sexy, but working on a creative endeavour of any sort is all about showing up consistently day after day and doing the work. There are, however, a few key steps you can enlist to stack the deck in your favor a bit. Incorporate these into your life and your creativity will explode.
1.Get more sleep – This is my number one tip for anyone who feels like they aren’t reaching their creative potential. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans get 20% less sleep than they did a century ago. We are chronically sleep deprived and have found all kinds of ways to self-medicate through it; coffee, energy drinks, soda. But the truth is nothing takes the place of a good night’s sleep. Studies have proved people who are well-rested are more creative in all areas of their lives – whether you write, play music or need to figure out a solution to a problem at work. I cannot stress it enough. Make a full night of rest your top priority and your creativity WILL explode.
2. Take a walk – Or go for a run, swim some laps, ride a bike. Regular exercise boosts creativity in a number of ways. I find when I am stuck, a good brisk 45 minute walk puts me in an almost meditative state. Usually about 25-30 minutes into it, the incessant chatter in my brain slows down, thoughts start to organize themselves and the answers I need appear. It’s okay to listen to music while you do it (although I would suggest at least once a week forgoing the iPod in favor of Mother Nature’s soundtrack), but stay away from recorded books or podcasts. They take up the brain space you need. Also, tuck a 4×5 notecard and a pen somewhere. You’ll need to write down the ideas you come up with as soon as they pop into your head. Most of them won’t stick around until you get home to record them. (Unless you are swimming; then a notecard on the side of the pool might be a better choice…)
3. Create a routine – All the artists out there are cringing right now. Yes, I know you want to create when the muse appears. Yes, I know the creative process can be wild and unpredictable. Yes, I know it sometimes seems that creativity is born out of chaos. Trust me, routine will save your creativity. Show up at the computer to work on your change-the-world idea at the same time every day, pick up your guitar as soon as your kids fall asleep and warm up with boring scales when you don’t have a song you’re working on. Make a deal with yourself that you will shoot 50 pictures a day and do it no matter what. Stephen King writes every single day: his birthday, Christmas, while on vacation. Building a routine into your life will give your creativity a vessel to inhabit. You will train yourself to access your creativity at a moment’s notice within the routine. It is more freeing than you could possibly imagine.
4. Get rid of distractions – You know what your distractions are. I know what mine are and they suck my time away on a regular basis if I don’t purposefully banish them. They have a siren’s call that’s hard to ignore and they can be wily. They will try to convince you that you can work even if they are there, much like your son will tell you he can absolutely do his 30-page research paper while watching a Dr. Who marathon. Distractions lie and you have to actively disengage from them. If the television calls to you during your creative time, unhook the cable box. If it’s Facebook or email, close out those programs and disconnect from internet accessibility. Move to writing long hand. If it’s laundry that distracts you, come on over here and — oops, I mean, get out of the house and go to the library, a coffee shop or a friend’s house.
5. Be okay with less than perfect – Anne Lamott in her famous tome on writing, Bird By Bird, refers to “the shitty first draft.” She reminds us that everyone creates crap the first time through. Don’t get hung up on it. There is always time to go back and edit, improve, add, subtract, rework, whatever you need to do. That time is not while you are creating. I don’t care if you are writing page 375 of your novel when it suddenly occurs to you that your lead character isn’t a middle-aged, balding science teaching from Des Moines, but rather a twenty-three year old, fiery red-headed space cowgirl from Mars – you don’t go back and change what you’ve written. You keep moving forward as if this has always been the case. You can go back and fix it later. Right now, what is important is keeping the flow of creativity moving forward.
That’s it. Incorporate these five techniques into your life and I guarantee your creativity will rise to a whole new level. They are deceptively simple AND you will find that some of these actions require you to stretch yourself a lot more than you anticipate. You might find yourself resisting them, wondering how much of a difference can they make but I promise, the results will surprise you. Take your creativity to the next level, you can do it.