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“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
In the beginning, there is always a spark. All endeavors start off fresh, exciting, and full of possibilities. Unfortunately, sparks vanish just as quickly as they are ignited.
Rejection discourages attempts at anything new. Criticism keeps us from stepping out of convention. Inner fears kill any creativity we might have had.
The good news is that, with care and focus, we can learn to create again. By practicing and developing our sense of spirit, we can step outside the bounds set by both ourselves and others. By incorporating various practices, we can rediscover concepts and ideas.
Here are 7 ways to ignite that creative spark:
1. Make one change to your morning routine.
What if you could improve your day by pouring milk into your bowl before the cereal?
A research team, led by Simone Ritter at the Radboud University Nijmegen, found that unusual events can break existing cognitive patterns, thus improving flexibility and creativity. The events that sparked changes included drastic situations, such as coping after a loved one has died or studying abroad.
However, her research found that the events don’t have to be drastic. Changing patterns can simply mean making minor adjustments to your routine. Besides the above example, if you normally change into your day clothing before breakfast, try changing after breakfast. Or, if you make coffee, switch up the order you put in the ingredients.
One small change might be all you need to start the day off with an innovative mindset.
2. Travel somewhere.
When we picture travel, we tend to imagine faraway places with different cultures, landscapes, and foods. Getting away is a chance to relax, to explore a new environment, or even to reflect on where our work and life is headed.
When you immerse yourself somewhere new, you feel different. Your sense of smell, sight, and hearing are heightened. As a result, your brain synapses fire off, encouraging you to be more creative.
Traveling doesn’t mean you have to fly across the world, though. If you only have a weekend to spare, just going away for a couple days can be enough to give you the opportunity to pause your routine.
Along the way, you might chat with a stranger, try a new activity, or appreciate an awe-inspiring landscape. When you take the initiative to immerse yourself with new people, you view your life and the world around you with a fresh state of mind.
3. Go tech-free.
While computers, tablets, and phones are useful resources, they also have their drawbacks. For instance, we fall into what I call “electronic habits”. When we use a device, we tend to use the same programs, sites, and apps. These programs reinforce the same ideas and concepts over and over.
From time to time, it’s good to use old-fashioned tools for brainstorming. You can draw pictures on a board, or use diagrams to understand concepts. In my experience, pen and paper translate my thoughts into words more easily than typing them out on a computer. Companies have found that going tech-free helps employees find and share new ideas.
Setting aside time outside your devices can help you connect with your surroundings. This time can be spent catching up with people, going hiking outdoors, or fully enjoying the taste and smell of a meal. Try dedicating a period of time away from technology, such as once a week or a specific period every day.
4. Incorporate play into your day.
Play isn’t just for kids anymore. Spending time on a fun activity relieves stress, breaks the monotony of work, and can lead to your next breakthrough. It’s also why many innovative companies incorporate playful architecture and designs into their offices.
Whether you enjoy building Lego structures or working through a Sudoku puzzle, having toys nearby can be a therapeutic way to stretch your mental muscles and fine-motor skills.
Play can extend beyond mentally-stimulating games, though. It can mean participating in a sport or learning to paint, for example. I’ve found that doing creative activities helps me to connect ideas and solve problems.
5. See the forest, but start with the trees.
Did you ever work with someone who couldn’t “see the forest for the trees”? The person became so worked up over a minor decision that they forgot to consider a more critical element. Or, a colleague started working on a problem that shouldn’t have been considered in the first place.
Other times, we suffer from the reverse problem. We see the forest, but can’t work our way around the trees. For instance, you want to work on a great idea, but end up haphazardly pursuing all sorts of ideas instead. While you’re able to envision the final result, you just can’t seem to make any progress towards where you want to go.
Balance is key. Know the direction you want to reach, but start with the first step. The forest-tree approach applies to multiple aspects of life:
- Writing: Become a writer (the forest) by doing research for a single article (trees).
- Exercise: Get into shape (the forest) by putting more vegetables on your dinner plate today (trees).
- Travel: Take time off work to travel overseas (the forest) by asking someone who’s traveled somewhere for advice (trees).
While seeing the big picture is important for perspective, you have to start with the details to take action. Alternate between the two while you work towards your goal.
6. Reframe negative situations into positive ones.
Many events in our lives are outside our control. You go out for a camping trip, but then it rains. You make plans for an event, but your friend cancels out. You apply to a competitive program, but receive a rejection letter. Often, our aspirations don’t come to fruition.
Not all is lost. An event that seems unfortunate at first can be turned into an opportunity. A rainy day is a chance to do something indoors, like visiting a museum or reading a book. Getting turned down from a job might lead you to create something of your own.
When you change a negative situation into a positive, you go from disappointment to motivation.
7. Do one terrifying thing.
Comfort leads to stagnation, which leads to boredom, and finally to unhappiness. If you’ve been feeling comfortable for a while, it’s time to go the opposite direction and do something terrifying.
Why? Because terrifying things lead to growth. Ordering a meal in a foreign language helped me practice my efforts in a real setting. Emailing someone to ask for a meeting led to invaluable work experience.
But there’s something far more valuable gained besides the tangible results: self-realization. I learned that limitations are often created in our minds, rather than what is real. What we imagine to be terrifying isn’t so terrifying after all.
What’s the one terrifying thing you’ll try?
Reignite the Possibilities
It’s easy to fall into a routine. You become familiar with the mechanics of doing a task, so you repeat the steps over and over. Even if you want change, it can be surprisingly difficult to break out of the mold.
If this is the case, work in increments. Make one simple change to an aspect of your life that’s been static for a while. When you make small mental and physical adjustments, the increments snowball into something much more profound down the road.