Learn how to be more creative when it matters most.
“I gradually realized that I was seeing another example of creative ebb, another step by another art on the road that may indeed end in extinction.” ― Stephen King
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” ― Terry Pratchett
One thing I’ve learned very early on in my entrepreneurial life, is that you’re going to have times when your mind simply goes blank. Not a creative thought to be found.
Even experts lose their creative genius at times. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to support that as you age and mature, your creativity declines, unless you proactively nurture it and strive to be more creative on a daily basis.
At any rate, you’ll experience times when your creativity seems to utterly disappear. It could be from an accumulation of stress. It might be a result of being incredibly busy. You may simply be trying to solve a problem where you cannot visualize a good solution.
When you’re momentarily stumped on a problem, it can be very difficult to pull yourself out and start getting more creative again.
It is not just writers who suffer from short-term creativity blocks.
There will be times when you despair because your creative genius appears to abandon you. Fear not. There are many ways you can help yourself to come up with more creative ideas and eventually, solve your problem.
Through my own personal experiences with failure, I’ve had to (on many occasions) force myself to discover new and unique ways to get my creativity back. As an entrepreneur, if you hope to become successful in the world of business, there’s no other option. You must find a way to be more creative again.
Based on everything I’ve tried, and what works for me, here are 37 powerful ways for entrepreneurs to be more creative. They won’t all work for you, but if you test out some of these tactics, it shouldn’t take very long to get your creativity flowing again.
Here we go:
1. Gather New Ideas and Resources
Be on the look for new ideas and inspiration within your areas of interest, at all times. Read widely. Use the internet as a learning tool. Take an interest in what’s going on in the industry around you. Keep a bookmark folder on your browser or in your inbox, containing anything you find interesting that you feel you might refer to again. This is your rainy day fund, you never know when you’ll need some creative inspiration.
2. Return to Your Creativity Rainy Day Fund
Whenever you’re going through a creative burnout, take another look at all the ideas and inspiration you’ve been collecting. Review your bookmarks. Start sifting through the creative inspiration you’ve collected. Is there anything here that can be of use to you now? This process works wonders for me.
3. Move On to Another Activity
Often our best ideas come when we don’t even realize we’re thinking about a problem. If you move on to another activity, your mind will continue to work subconsciously on the problem you left behind. How many times have you frustratingly given up trying to remember something, only for the missing thought to pop back into your head later when you were least expecting it? This happens to me all the time, so embracing this subconscious creative process has become a large part of my workflow.
Brainstorming can be a highly effective way of coming up with new creative ideas. You could combine this with a mind map and start by writing your general problem in the middle of the page. From there, think of some very general areas to focus on, drawing these as offshoots from the central idea. You can then turn to each of these offshoots and build more conjoining ideas, and continue breaking these ideas down further into more digestible bits, until you’ve started to find what you’re looking for.
5. Reverse Brainstorm
If you have a problem to solve, then an alternative brainstorming technique, called reverse brainstorming, is to identify possible causes of the problem, rather than focusing solely on the possible solutions. Once you have brainstormed causes of the problem, you can then use these to help you more effectively brainstorm solutions that are more thoughtfully aimed at solving for the underlying causes of the problems.
6. Shift Negative Thoughts Into a Positive Mindset
It’s incredible how powerful something as seemingly simple as changing your mindset can help you be more creative. Tell yourself, “I can figure this out.” “I’m open to any ideas that anybody can come up with.” “I know there must be a way to solve this”, or “what better solutions can I find to this?” If you repeat these positive thoughts to yourself, rather than focus on a more negative approach where you’re the victim of the problem at hand, you are far more likely to get a rush of the creative inspiration that will actually help you solve your problem, and far less likely to throw away possible solutions that come to mind.
7. Think of Good Memories
You don’t need to restrict your positive thinking to just the problem at hand. If you can think back to successful, happy moments in the past, it will make it much easier for you to come up with inspiration right now. It is much simpler to come up with original thoughts now if you have happy memories of your creative successes in the past.
Meditation can be an incredible way to calm your mind. Some of the benefits of meditation are increased focus, patience, calmness, clarity, insight and perspective. A side effect of improving all these is greatly increased levels of creativity.
9. Clarify Your Values
We all follow a personal set of values, whether we realize it or not. We build our values system as we age, and this is very much how we look at life (and the greater world around us). Take time to reflect on your values. The act of analyzing your personal values system is likely to help you be more creative in the short term.
10. Take a Break from the Mundane
If you live a life of organized routine, you are probably highly productive and efficient. However, the organized routine does nothing to help your creativity. If your mind feels blank, break your routine for a day. Do things differently. Change the way you go to work. Meet new people. Eat new foods. Do something you’ve never done before. Just be different for a day. The “new you” is likely to come up with new ideas, as well.
11. Avoid Being a Perfectionist
As I’ve talked about very frequently, being a perfectionist is not only bad for your health, but also bad for your creativity. Perfectionists spend so much time focusing on getting the details correct, that they rarely take the time to pull all the way out and think creatively about new solutions that are outside of the comfort zone of what they’re good at. If you are worrying about perfectionism, your brain has little space left for creative thinking. Don’t wait for an idea to form fully before sharing it and working on improving it.
12. Watch a Stimulating Video
TED talks are an obvious place to start, but there are also many videos on YouTube that are sure to get your creative juices flowing. Just avoid allowing yourself to get distracted by videos of cute cats.
13. Read Biographies or Autobiographies of Inspiring, Creative People
Another way to stimulate your brain is to read about other successful creatives. I’ve picked up lots of these tactics, just reading about what worked for creative minds of the past, when they went through creative burnouts. How did they solve their creativity problems? Is there anything you can learn from their successes or failures?
14. Determine Your Goals
Goal setting can be an awesome, incredibly liberating process. For me, goal setting allows me to remove commitments and requests for my time, that aren’t directly related to my immediate goals. Spend time thinking through your long-term targets and then break them down into smaller bite-sized, shorter-term action items. You will find that the process of doing this will send your mind into creative mode, and will make abundantly clear what you should and should not be focusing on. Of course, you may already have goals – most successful people do – in which case, you should start measuring how much progress you’re making toward achieving your goals, and whether you should be coming up with future action items to get you to the next level after you nab what you started out aiming for.
15. Start a Journal
If you don’t already make a regular practice of journaling, starting to write in a journal can help you unlock some serious creativity. It does however, require self-discipline. If you give yourself the opportunity to reflect on the day’s progress and write out the problems you’re encountering, it’s a great way to stumble upon new ideas, as they pop into your head.
16. Listen to a Podcast
I’m an avid podcast listener, and I’ve had some of my most creative thoughts that I can remember, while sitting in the car and listening to some of the great interviews on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. His podcast is particularly great for boosting my creativity, because he brings on some of the most accomplished, brilliant, and creative minds the world has ever known. Give Tim’s interview with James Altucher a listen and you won’t regret it.
17. Stimulate Different Areas of Your Brain
We all have different strengths. Some of us learn best visually; others are audio learners while there are many kinesthetic thinkers who learn best by doing things. If you’re struggling to be creative using one area of your brain, try moving to another, even if it’s not an area where you’re traditionally strong. If you struggle to come up with a solution to your problem in a discussion, try visualizing a solution to your problem – or perhaps you could go through the physical process of constructing a model. This is one of my favorite ways to be more creative.
18. Draw a Picture
One particularly good form of inspiration for those who are more visually inclined, is to draw a picture. Many designers I know from CreativeLive, take daily drawing breaks to spark their creativity. It doesn’t matter so much what you begin drawing, it can naturally evolve and take a completely unpredictable path. Go into your drawing session with the acceptance that the end result isn’t as important as the process of actually taking time to doodle.
19. Physically Change Your Surroundings
A change of scenery may be all you need to encourage your brain to come up with fresh ideas and get more creative again. Take a day trip to somewhere that can stimulate your senses, venture down to a nearby park, or go for a walk and find somewhere new to do some work without any place in mind beforehand. A change of work venue may be enough to shift your thinking pattern.
20. Surround Yourself by Nature
Many people find that they get a creative jolt, simply by being present outdoors. Fresh air, birds chirping, sunshine, and other natural scenes to take in, are usually such a positive change of pace, especially for a city-dwelling businessperson. It’s no surprise that so many people find inspiration and creativity in nature.
21. Go Green or Blue
It’s not always possible to physically go into the countryside, especially if you live in a major city. However, some of the benefits of this can be gained from simply being in a green or blue environment. These colors are thought to help clarity and reduce confusion. If you are after even more creative, original thoughts, surround yourself with vivid colors, such as in a flower garden or an art gallery.
22. Organize and Declutter Your Personal Space
There are entire websites devoted to decluttering your life. Many of the decluttering advocates believe that by decluttering your life, you can declutter your mind. This definitely works for me.
23. Get Active with Exercise and Movement
Working out stimulates your brain, creating new neurons in the hippocampus region. Physical activity like going for a run, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or even doing some pushups and sit-ups, can stimulate new, creative thought patterns. Many people use their exercise time as a way to disconnect from work and find deeper inspiration.
24. Focused Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises may not be as energetic as most other forms of exercise, but they can be just as beneficial to helping you relax, destress and let your mind wander into new territories. Conscious breathing exercises, is a daily essential for helping me recenter and get focused back on my core priorities when I find myself straying away (or watching videos on Facebook).
25. Talk a Walk
Again a walk may not burn as many calories as other forms of exercise, but it gives you ample opportunity to move your mind away from thinking about your problems, and instead create a space for coming up with creative solutions.
26. Do Yoga
Yoga is another low-impact method you can use to relax your mind, ease stress, and develop more creative thought processes. Just be sure you’re engaging in a type of yoga that allows for a bit of relaxation, amidst the workout.
27. Get a Massage
There are few things that help my body relax and loosen tension, than getting a massage. It helps put me in such a calm headspace (not to mention the physical benefits) that I always find myself catching onto creative new ideas during the massage.
28. Let Yourself Daydream
Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t totally focused all the time. Daydreams often result in flashes of peculiar insight. Allow your mind to wander if you feel you really need it. Just make sure that you have a notepad handy to record any creative ideas – regardless of whether or not they’re directly related to the problem at hand – that result from your daydreams.
29. Consult Someone You Trust
You don’t need to isolate yourself if you’re in a creative rut. Some of these activities, like brainstorming, work very effectively if you bounce ideas around with other people. Asking somebody for their opinion is not a sign of weakness. Actually, you’re likely to get some of your best creative ideas by getting opinions from people who think differently than you. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers yourself, and build a network of creative thinkers around you.
30. Call a Friend or Family Member
Sometimes simply talking to a good friend or family member, even if it’s completely off topic from the matter at hand, can help relieve stress that’s blocking you from discovering the solutions you’re looking for. This is particularly the case if you haven’t spoken with them in a while. The amount of pleasure I get from catching up with a friend I care about, and haven’t spoken with much in a few months, is often enough to kick my brain into action.
31. Take a (Short) Trip to a Bar
Now I’m not talking about getting drunk here. You don’t want to have the most brilliant idea in the world, only to forget it in the middle of a hazy hangover, though there are some pretty impressive things that have been accomplished by people while being inebriated. However, a beer or two at your local bar should relax you enough to jumpstart your creative thought process again.
32. Have Family Time
Spending time with your family is likely to reduce your stress levels, and hopefully, provide you with more energy to put towards your creative thinking.
33. Listen to Stimulating Music
Many studies have shown the deep connections between listening to music and creative thought. Of course, there are many types of music, some more conducive to creative thought than others. Stimulating music can refresh your mind. Some people find stimulation from singing themselves, which is probably why so many people sing in the shower (including yours truly).
34. Play a Game
There are quite a few games that you can play to help develop creative ideas. Develop a game for a meeting where everyone gets to play and has an opportunity to present new ideas. If people find the activity fun, they’ll have a real incentive to push themselves to suggest new out-of-the-box suggestions.
35. Go to a Movie
Take a break at the movies, and shut your mind down from your work for a few hours. Don’t feel guilty about it. When you return to your work, it’s likely to be with a renewed focus. Oddly enough, just like listening to a podcast or watching a TED talk, I find that unexpected moments in movies often give me a spark of creative inspiration.
36. Intentionally Stop During the Middle of a Project
Similar to Ernest Hemingway’s approach to warding off writer’s block by finishing his writing sessions with stopping mid-sentence, it can be equally powerful to intentionally leave projects unfinished as you start to burn out creatively speaking, and return to them later with more intention – rather than force yourself to try and produce results your mind isn’t ready to create. Whether you take a break to re-energize, or head to sleep, giving your mind the opportunity to mull over the problem while you’re relaxing and doing other activities, can have immense benefits.
37. Go to Bed Early
It is a myth that you can improve your productivity by reducing your sleeping hours. A few extra hours of sleep are likely to refresh you, and you could very well wake up with fresh new ideas tomorrow.
Having tried the majority of these activities to get me back into being more creative, I can say that at the very least, you’ll be mentally refreshed by time you complete most of them.
For entrepreneurs, this means new ideas, inspiration, and insight that can revitalize the performance of your business. Don’t feel guilty for taking time away from your business in the short term, because the result of properly nursing your creativity will be a much-improved state of mind.