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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

Heather shares about everyday lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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