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7 Creative Habits of Highly Successful People

7 Creative Habits of Highly Successful People

Highly successful people have empowering creative habits that enable them to achieve remarkable things. Enhancing creativity can help you reach greater heights in your life, too.

According to a TIME Magazine poll, 91% of people say that unleashing creativity is vital to our personal lives and 83% believe it’s important for our professional development. But an Adobe survey shows that only 25% of us think of ourselves as creative. The good news is that we were all imaginative as children, and it’s easier to reawaken that dormant creativity than you’d think.

The ability to create isn’t just about producing great art or making scientific discoveries. It’s a skill that can be honed in any area of life, and involves learning how to view things from different perspectives, find fresh solutions to problems, and express ourselves uniquely.

Here are seven simple habits that can help you boost creativity and succeed in work and life.

1. Nurture Creative Dissent

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    Sir Richard Branson purposefully embeds “mavericks” into every Virgin company to ensure its success because he knows that yes men kill innovation. Likewise Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, says that groundbreaking movies such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc. were only possible because colleagues invited criticism from each other.

    Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. For many years I was a psychologist, singer-songwriter, creativity workshop leader, and innovation consultant, all at the same time. A couple of friends warned me, “You’re spread too thin. You need to focus.” They were right. In a stroke of insight one day I realized that my songs carry the same message as my workshops, so why not sing at my talks and talk about creativity at my concerts? My life became much more streamlined and audiences love the fresh approach.

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    Ask people you trust, “How do you see me limiting myself?” and listen to what they say. Be open to suggestions, and breathe!

    2. Follow Your Bliss

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      Paulo Coelho, author of the best-selling book The Alchemist, was put into a mental institution by his parents because they wanted him to be an engineer. Michelangelo was beaten by his father whenever he caught him painting because he was supposed to grow up to be a cloth merchant. Unfortunately, our true vocations and creative impulses are often crushed by people’s expectations of us.

      “Gina” was a frustrated receptionist who took my creativity workshop because she was unhappy. She refused to speak the first six weeks of class for fear we’d think she was strange. She finally told us she collected stuffed animals and watched Beauty and the Beast over and over again, and her boyfriend made her give all her dolls away. I encouraged Gina to wrap her arms around this child’s world rather than turn away from it because it wasn’t “normal.” Three months later she became a kindergarten teacher.

      Our creative calling often becomes clear when we embrace our passions instead of forcing ourselves to conform. What sparks your curiosity?

      3. Trust Your Gut

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        Apple founder Steve Jobs studied calligraphy after he dropped out of Reed College. He told Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, “When we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” Learning calligraphy and studying Zen Buddhism gave Jobs an aesthetic sense that still distinguishes Apple products today. “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny…”

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        To access creativity, become aware of your initial hunches instead of always obeying “shoulds.” “Lauren,” a bored technical writer, used to scribble ideas for movies in the margins of her tech manuals. It was clear she wasn’t your typical office worker; she often wore bunny slippers to our workshop. I encouraged Lauren to focus on those marginalized writings (her intuition). She ended up writing, directing, and producing an internationally-distributed film. Now Lauren’s flourishing in the entertainment industry.

        What would you do if you listened to the tiny voice inside?

        4. Boost Your Superpowers

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          Jimi Hendrix was not only blessed with a unique gift for playing guitar, but he practiced ALL the time. He wore his guitar when he boarded planes and made scrambled eggs for breakfast. He became a master guitarist because he constantly sought to bolster his innate talent.

          Like Jimi, you are an original just by virtue of being your true self. Sometimes your abilities are hard to detect, though, because they come so easily to you. “Emmy” was a coaching client who complained she wasn’t good at anything. I noticed she had a real genius for choosing clothes she looked beautiful in. “Anyone can shop,” she declared when I pointed out her knack for fashion. I urged Emmy to seek a sales position at a clothing store to gain valuable work experience and develop her eye for style. Soon she became a successful buyer for a trendy children’s boutique.

          What comes naturally to you? Make a commitment to discovering and enhancing your special skills, and you will excel.

          5. Overcome Failure and Setbacks

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            Oprah Winfrey was demoted early in her career as a news anchor because she didn’t have “the it factor” for TV. She went on to reinvent and rule daytime talk shows for 25 years. She told Harvard’s 2013 graduating class, “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” Facing adversity is part of growing into your best self.

            Sometimes we have to fail a few times to find our true creative expression. “Jane” was a Fortune 500 executive who wanted a creative outlet after work. At first she tried writing because her father was an author, but she realized she didn’t have a way with words. Clueless about what to do next, she started making potholders, which had brought her joy as a child. Then she tried drawing, and eventually discovered that painting was her true passion. Jane won an award for a portrait of her husband, who had patiently kept her dinners warm while she lost herself in painting at night.

            Just by virtue of showing up and trying again, we naturally improve and succeed. What would you do if you tried something new?

            6. Unplug and Recharge

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              The GMO of Foster Grant goes outside on campus every day to even out his jam-packed afternoons, and encourages his employees to do the same because he knows that creativity flows when yang (active hard work) is balanced with yin (gentle receptivity).

              A study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that taking breaks leads to greater productivity and higher quality of work than putting in long hours. Albert Einstein is thought to have developed the theory of relativity while riding his bicycle. Just strolling around your building for 15 minutes can get the creative juices going. In fact, research at Stanford shows that walking in particular boosts creative thinking.

              In cognitive psychology we call these breaks “incubation periods.” Other repetitive mindless tasks such as gardening, running, swimming, sweeping, and showering are also particularly helpful for allowing solutions to problems to pop into your mind out of nowhere. Remember Jane from our last story? She got the hunch to try drawing while walking.

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              If you’re stuck and need a little inspiration, take a hike. Literally.

              7. Take Inspired Risks

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                Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk co-founded PayPal, created America’s first viable all electric car company, and funded his own space mission to Mars. He also hopes to develop Hyperloop—“a cross between a Concord, a rail gun, and an air hockey table”—so that we’ll be able to speed travel from places like LA to San Francisco. “Don’t just follow the trend,” he urged in his Stanford commencement speech. “Now is the time to take risks… do something bold, you won’t regret it.”

                That goes for all of us. “Maria” was a police detective who wanted to retire early and travel the world. She thought she’d write travel brochures to support herself, but she didn’t enjoy writing. I could tell Maria really liked being a police detective; maybe she was just tired of California. By the time our class ended, Maria had sold her house to answer the call to adventure. Her belongings were in storage and she now lived in a small furnished apartment. Six months later she landed a job with the United Nations in Bosnia training the local police to adopt human rights procedures.

                What would you do if you had the courage to take a risk in your life?

                Are there more you’d add to the list? Do you have a creative habit that’s helped you succeed? Share in the comments below!

                Featured photo credit: Jarle Naustvik via flickr.com

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                Dr. Michelle Millis Chappel

                Michelle is a psychology-professor-turned-rock-star who has helped thousands of people create successful meaningful lives by using their superpowers.

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                Last Updated on October 22, 2020

                2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

                2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

                Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

                Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

                Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

                Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

                Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

                By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

                The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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                1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

                Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

                Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

                Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

                When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

                The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

                Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

                To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

                Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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                We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

                It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

                After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

                Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

                Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

                To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

                Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

                Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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                When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

                Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

                We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

                When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

                Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

                2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

                If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

                The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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                To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

                With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

                So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

                • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
                • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
                • Say no to all else.
                • Say no again.
                • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
                • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
                • Meditate.
                • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
                • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
                • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
                • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
                • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
                • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

                Final Thoughts

                These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

                Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

                More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

                Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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