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Can’t Think of Creative Ideas Easily? Try These 5 Tricks to Become an Idea Machine

Can’t Think of Creative Ideas Easily? Try These 5 Tricks to Become an Idea Machine

You might not even consider yourself a creative person, but chances are, you have been in a situation that requires a little creative thinking. Maybe it was getting out of an argument, or presenting a fresh idea to your hard-to-please boss. Regardless of the situation, you had to dig deep into the right side of your brain and find a unique approach and artistic outcome. But sometimes, even if you do consider yourself a creative person, the ideas seem to be stuck in your head.

When writers experience it, it’s called writer’s block, and it’s an incredibly frustrating conundrum to find oneself in. Non-writers call it just-plain-stressful, and it’s true. One startling study showed that 75% of people felt they were not living up to their creative potential. So how do those 25% manage to feel fulfilled, creatively? Perhaps they have a few tricks.[1]

Common Obstacles That Stop You from Unleashing Your Creative Potential

If you have trouble tapping in to your inner artist, you aren’t alone and you aren’t untalented. Life is filled with things that can get in the way of your own creativity.

  • You’re afraid to fail. It’s a simple truth: none of us want to be failures. If we put ourselves out there, especially creatively, and we aren’t successful…well, it really makes it challenging to ever want to take that kind of risk again.[2]
  • You overthink. When you’re struck with inspiration, at first you feel excited and passionate about your vision. But then, that little voice in your head tells you that people won’t understand, and you should probably go in a different direction. Even though that voice is rarely right, it can be nearly impossible to ignore it.[3]
  • You’re going to be criticized. Look, creativity is personal. It’s because of this that any kind of feedback feels like an attack. When it comes to creativity, you have to be willing to find criticism helpful, not hurtful.[4]
  • You like following guidelines. If you’re given a menial task at work, it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought. You can easily follow a patterned guideline and feel confident that you know what the end result will look like. But when it comes to approaching or creating something in an imaginative, new way, you have no guidelines or helpful hints; it’s all you.

Creative Thinking Can Fast-Track Your Career Success

Yes, creative thinking can be challenging and even scary, but it’s important. In fact, Mark Cuban, billionaire software developer and judge on the hit show ‘Shark Tank,’ is confident that creative thinking will be the most important job skill you can have.

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Computers, and technology in general, continue to take over everything from processes multiple people had to do, to taking orders in a fast food restaurant. It’s scary to think about, but many jobs are no longer safe now that computers can write code better than the average student.

I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering. When the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data…critical thinking and liberal arts degrees will make a huge comeback. You can’t automate good writing—Facebook has already proven that replacing journalists with an algorithm can have problematic results. – Mark Cuban

While it may sound like a plot straight out of a sci-fi movie, the human race is officially in competition with artificial intelligence. Now, more than ever, we need to think ahead to determine how we add value. Think: What can I do that a computer cannot?

Thankfully, that answer tends to be thinking creatively. Computers and artful intelligence are programmed to be logical and accurate. Art and creativity is the exact opposite.

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Let’s Get Creative: 5 Ways to Get Your Mojo Back

Have Breaks and You May Find Your Muse.

I know, I know. I just told you that artificial intelligence is after your job and now I’m telling you to relax. But it’s not as counter-intuitive as it sounds. When you spend hours upon hours trying to churn out creativity and the next brilliant idea, you can create your own burn out. When you feel stuck and like nothing is coming to that artsy brain of yours, get up and go for a walk.[5]

If you allow yourself a change of scenery, your perception changes (not just literally, but figuratively as well). If you see something new, you may find yourself getting inspired. For me, simply walking past a building I’ve never seen before can get my thoughts moving. What’s the history? Who walked through those doors? If it’s abandoned, I want to know why. Suddenly I have come up with fictional answers to my non-fiction questions. By the time I walk back to my desk, I’m ready to write a short story or a poem. And all it took was a little fresh air and new scenery.

Surround Yourself With Creative People But Avoid Vicious Competition.

This tip comes with a disclaimer: do not allow this to become a competitive group. Accept each others’ creativity and embrace it! Do not try to be better or more creative than the other!

Regardless of your medium, having a group of like-minded people can do wonders for your right-brain. If you write, have a regular meeting in which you peer-review each others’ work and get inspired by other people’s views and ideas. If you’re a musician, go to as many open mic nights as you can. Network with singers, songwriters, etc. Even if they have a completely different sound than you, you may find bits and pieces of their style than encourage you to try something new with your own.

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Even if you’re only trying to be creative in your day-to-day life, finding groups of artists, or even taking some amateur art classes, can dramatically change your daily point of view. These interactions, no matter how uncomfortable they may seem at first, will help you to approach everything just a little differently. That’s the first step to tapping into your creativity.

Doodle. Sketch. Draw. Even If, and Especially If, You Are Not an Artist.

Any time I’m in a long meeting that I can’t focus on, I will let myself doodle little trees or flowers in the margins of the paper I’m supposed to be taking notes on. Granted, I am not encouraging you to get yelled at by your boss, but it turns out drawing, even if it’s just squiggly lines and shapes, can help you focus on something you would otherwise tune out. When it comes to tapping into your creative forces, letting the pen free style on your paper can lead to some really unique ideas. The key is to not have any kind of vision or end-goal for the image. In fact, bonus points if you barely recognize what you drew![6]

Play With Toys at Work to Stop Yourself from Feeling Bored.

I have so many odd toys and figurines on my desk that I am often the go-to for a coworker’s child after school. The kids usually think I keep the toys for them, but actually they’re for me! Having legos or any kind of building block-type toys on your desk is great for your imagination. When you spend 8 hours a day typing emails or working on spreadsheets, your whole body sort of zones out. This makes creative thinking a real challenge. But if you can break up your day by putting something together with your hands, it allows your brain the break it needs to think creatively and be present. Turn off that auto-pilot!

Disrupt All Your Patterns and Habits.

This may be the most challenging tip, but it’s also one of the most effective. When you live in the same place for a while, and you work in the same place for a while, you develop habits. You know when you wake up, you know when to start the coffee, you know when traffic is the best and the worst. You know the order you do things when you get to work or school, and you know the usual places you like to go for lunch or an afternoon cup of tea of coffee.

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Stop doing all of this.[7]

I’m not recommending you dare traffic and start leaving the house at crazy times, but I am suggesting you vary your habits. If you always put your coffee in your cup and then your cream, try it reversed. If you check your emails on your phone before getting to work, check them on your computer once you arrive at your desk. These are small shifts that can rock the rest of your day in other subtle ways, jarring the creativity within you and forcing it to surface. And who knows, you may find your new favorite restaurant in the process!

Go forth, and be creative.

To sum it all up, remember you aren’t alone. Almost everyone is struggling with their creative goals, and those same people are terrified to be judged or disappointing in their ideas and creative approaches. But creative thinking will define you, and soon! Just because you may find it challenging at times, don’t give up on letting the right brain take over! The creativity you allow yourself to find could just change the world as we know it!

Reference

More by this author

Heather Poole

Technical writer

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More About Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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