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Are you as creative as you want to be?

Are you as creative as you want to be?
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Try these powerful ways to boost your innovation further

Bird

Some people doubt whether creativity can be learned, let alone taught. They assume it is some kind of genetic gift; you either have it or you don’t, and you can do little or nothing to change that fact.

Yet nearly all creative people have some things in common, and that at least suggests that encouraging those same traits and actions in yourself could help you make the most of whatever creativity you have naturally.

The “genetic” view of creativity may explain part of each person’s ability to innovate, but any gift has to be nurtured and released to make it useful. I think that a “naturally gifted” person who takes his or her creativity for granted, and does little to keep it sharp, may well be less innovative in practice than someone with less natural aptitude but more determination to develop.

With that in mind, I offer these observations on ways to extend and polish your own innovative powers, whatever they might be. By using such approaches diligently, you can indeed become more creative than you are today — and maybe more creative than you even imagine.

Keep topping up your tank

You can’t drive a car forever on a single tank of gas — not even a hybrid. You may eat a vast meal today, but if you don’t eat again ever, you’ll starve to death.

Creative people know that fresh ideas do not arise in a vacuum. Creativity needs raw material: it needs continual exposure to more knowledge and other peoples’ thinking to allow it to appear. First come knowledge and ideas as raw material; then you will also need the understanding and skill to take your creative impulse and express it for others.

Without sufficient input, creativity soon withers. That is why writers are usually voracious readers and musicians listen to a great deal of music beyond their own. They need input. And since there is no knowing in advance which particular fact, experience, or idea will be the one to set off a creative chain-reaction, they get all that they can.

An aspiring writer who doesn’t read is doomed to mediocrity from the start. A hopeful thinker of new thoughts will produce only banal repetitions, unless he or she constantly seeks out what others have thought before.

Seek out as many new experiences as you can

Not all the input creativity demands can come from book-learning and the classroom. New sources of experience and new stimuli are important to trigger ideas — especially when those experiences come in circumstances unfamiliar to us.

Whether it’s visiting other countries and cultures, trying new foods and ways of living, or just spending time with people outside your normal social circle, such jolts to your comfortable, well-known mental pathways can set you off in totally new and unexpected directions.

The more you cling to your comfort-zones, the less likely you are to be able to see beyond them, let alone stimulate your mind to produce new ideas.

Keep challenging yourself

Creative people are constantly putting themselves into situations that challenge them in some significant way: intellectually, practically, or in terms of understanding. They take risks that less creative people shy away from. They put themselves directly in the path of looming obstacles and go to the dangerous edge of that chosen field, where one slip may mean a bad fall.

As a result, creative people make enormous numbers of mistakes — and do so willingly. Perhaps 90% or more of their ideas turn out to be completely impractical — even wholly mistaken. It doesn’t matter to them much, if at all.

Like the prospector panning for gold, they know they have to sift through a whole heap of dirt to find that gleaming nugget of pure wonder. And they won’t be able to do that without going into inhospitable places and taking big risks — nor without pushing themselves close to the edge of what they can handle.

Ignore automatic criticism — especially your own

It’s a truism that a good many creative geniuses have endured long periods when the rest of the world judged them to be fools, wasting their time with crazy notions. Some spent their whole lives being despised, only to be recognized as amazing years after a pauper’s death. Some received their due praise only in old age. But they all kept going.

Creative people focus on the ideas, not the evaluation. They preserve their thoughts first and only later submit them to some kind of evaluation. They know too that what may seem at first to be useless may be an essential step towards final triumph.

And if they persist in the face of derision from other people, they are even more determined when it comes to ignoring their own, inner critic.

Many peoples’ creativity is stifled at birth by self-judgmental impulses. Indeed, that’s likely the greatest reason why the majority of people fail to use the creativity they have: any new idea is squashed instantly by negative thoughts in their own minds. They never risk being rated a fool by others because they dismiss themselves as foolish first.

How to make the best of whatever creativity you have

Try using these observations to improve your own ability to exercise whatever creativity is in you:

  • Gain all the learning you can in your chosen field. There is no such thing as too much input, so long as you don’t take it as gospel truth and convince yourself you can never have a new idea.
  • Keep seeking out fresh experiences. Don’t be content with what works today. When the creative person finds that something isn’t broken, he or she promptly breaks it to make a better one.
  • Keep challenging yourself. Never be content. When you can do something well, move on and try things you know you can’t to.
  • Make lots of mistakes cheerfully and never be embarrassed because you got it wrong. At least you now know what won’t work, so you can move on.
  • Don’t let yourself and your ideas be squashed by criticism, internal or external. If what you are working on is truly new, others won’t understand it — and most people scorn whatever they don’t understand. Your inner critic is usually the voice of convention, so the more it squeals in protest, the more creative you have just been!

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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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 Creating 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.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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