Creativity breathes happiness and meaning into life—but what happens when you feel like your creativity is stunted? After all, we’ve all had those moments when the creative juices seem to have just run out. If it feels like your muses are taking an extended vacation, it’s time to start trying to lure them back. And there’s no better place to start than in your own thoughts.
Creativity is not fixed
Here’s the thing: your level of creativity, and your potential for more creativity, are not fixed. While some people do tend to be more naturally creative, creativity is actually a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened by anyone and everyone.
But like all exercises, knowing the correct form is key. Just like you might hurt your back if you don’t know how to do a proper pushup, you can exhaust or frustrate your creativity if you go about it with the wrong thoughts or the wrong mindset.
That’s why it’s important to know how to design your thoughts for better creativity, so you can invite and encourage creativity, rather than stifling it in discouragement or fear.
How to design your thoughts for better creativity
So how do you design thoughts that will ultimately improve your creativity? Changing your thought patterns (which are likely very much ingrained in your brain) isn’t always fast or easy, but it is possible. You have control over your thoughts, and with patience and practice, you can regularly think thoughts that bring out your creative side. Here are some tips that might help.
Expose yourself to creativity
For some people, all it takes to get their thoughts back on the creativity train is to expose themselves to the creativity that is around them. That could mean watching a movie, reading a book, listening to a song, or studying a piece of art.
Why does this help you design your own creative thoughts? A couple reasons. I know that for me, observing how much creativity there is in the world tends to help me have an abundance mindset. That is, I recognize that there is no limit to creativity; there is plenty to go around. People will never stop writing books or painting works of art, because there will always be creativity to be found and harnessed. Such a mindset reminds me that I, too, have access to that creativity. The only thing holding me back is me.
The other thing this does for you is provide inspiration. Most (perhaps all?) works of art have meaning beyond what is right in front of you. Take the Harry Potter books, for example. Is that series just about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard and must defeat another wizard? No. That’s the surface story, but beneath are messages of family, friendship, belonging, maturity, good versus evil, and who knows how many more. The point is, when you expose yourself to creativity, you are exposing yourself to these abstract ideas, which can help you better design the thoughts that will lead to your own creativity.
Use “Yes, and…”
A long-loved building block of improvisational comedy, the “Yes, and” technique encourages you to build on the ideas that are already there, rather than shutting them down to explore something else entirely. This is a principle that has been applied to everything from relationship building to business discussions, and it can be used to help you design your thoughts as well.
When you have a creative thought, don’t immediately shoot it down. Don’t allow yourself to think “But what about (x problem)? Or (y problem)? That will never work because (z problem).” Suddenly, you’re back to the drawing board, which is a very frustrating place to be, especially if you’re already struggling to keep your creativity muscles strong.
Instead, give your ideas time to breathe. Accept the idea (“Yes”) and try to build on it (“and…”). If you’re not sure where the idea is going, you’re doing it right! Just go with the flow, try adding to your idea a couple times, and see where it takes you. Even if you don’t end up with THE perfect idea, at least you’ll have stretched your creative muscles.
Creativity solves problems. Asking questions can make those problems clearer, and can help inspire creative solutions. Questions can guide your thinking, helping you approach the project in different ways, in the hopes that something ignites a creative spark.
Not sure where to start? Try the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, and why (and throw in “how” for good measure). Ask things like:
- Who needs to hear what I have to say?
- What is the key message I’m trying to get out into the world?
- Where have I seen a similar problem be handled well?
- Why does this matter to me? Why would it matter to other people?
These simple questions will likely inspire other questions more specific to your problem or project. As you ask more questions and explore possible answers, you’ll notice your creativity coming online more often.
You might have been scolded for it when you were in grade school (I know I was), but daydreaming has a time and place, and it definitely has a purpose.
When you daydream, you’re putting your brain to work. It’s making connections between ideas and memories that weren’t previously connected. “What if” thoughts meet “Remember when” thoughts, triggering “How would I respond” thoughts and starting the cycle all over again. Daydreams aren’t pure imagination; they also tend to involve decision-making, analyzing, and positive feelings like hope. All of these things contribute to creativity.
Give yourself time, space, and permission to daydream. Let your mind wander. Chances are, it will take you down paths that lead to more creative thinking.
Affirmations—short, positive statements—are powerful tools when it comes to designing your thoughts. By repeating affirmations to yourself, you’re allowing yourself to envision a different future. You’re training your brain to think in different ways. That means that if you’ve been stuck in thoughts that aren’t inspiring creativity, affirmations can help you design the creative thoughts you want to have.
Environment is important when it comes to fostering creativity. If you’re too distracted, too overwhelmed, or too uncomfortable, you’re probably going to be less likely to think creative thoughts. Being able to carefully observe your environment, so you can point to what’s working and what isn’t, is a powerful tool when it comes to becoming more creative.
The same is true with your thoughts. Observe the environment you’re in when you have your most creative thoughts. This includes your mental environment as well. Which of the techniques we’ve mentioned above work for you? When do you feel your most creative? How do you capture your creative thoughts, and could you improve on it? Observing yourself in the creative process, and analyzing this data, can help direct your thinking in more productively creative ways later.
Give yourself grace
If you’re struggling to be creative, thinking thoughts about how uncreative you are is not going to help. Many creative people struggle with perfectionism, which, while it seems good in theory (who wouldn’t want to create something perfect?), actually stifles creativity.
If you want to design more creative thoughts, make sure you’re practicing self-forgiveness during those times when you struggle. Recognize that no one is perfect, and no one is perfectly creative all the time. When you give yourself this grace, you’re not ignoring the problem; rather, you’re giving yourself permission to get over this hurdle and rediscover your creativity when the time is right.
Thoughts that give yourself grace might sound like:
- “I haven’t figured this out…yet.”
- “I am always learning and growing.”
- “This is just a minor setback.”
- “I’m not giving up.”
Creativity can be elusive, but if you’re able to design the thoughts that invite creativity, you’ll be more likely to experience more strongly and more often than you ever have before.
You’re in control. You are the designer of your life and of your thoughts. Creativity is always available to you. It’s time to find it.
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