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Are you as creative as you want to be?

Are you as creative as you want to be?

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 April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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