How to be more creative – five tactics that work

Do you struggle to be creative? Or worry that you’re just not a ‘creative’ person? Find out why we all have the ability to be creative, and how you can hone your own creative powers.

One phrase I frequently hear people say is ‘I’m not creative’ (even my mum says it!). But they’re wrong. All too often we believe that creativity only lies in what we term as ‘creative’ pursuits – so if you don’t paint, write, play music, act or sing, you’re not creative.

But this isn’t the case. There are plenty of singers or writers who lack creativity, and lots of highly creative accountants and scientists.

We all have the ability to be creative

You see creativity isn’t about what you do, but more about how you do it. And we all have the ability to be creative in us (yes, including you!). We just need to learn how to use it.

Just like every other skill in life, we need to practice being creative to get better at it. And if you don’t think you’re creative, the chances are you just haven’t allowed yourself the opportunity to be, or don’t recognise occasions when you truly are, as it doesn’t fit your notions of what creativity is.

We can be creative in almost everything we do. From cooking – creating our own dishes or tweaking recipes – to painting a room or finding new ways to solve practical problems.

Often creativity involves using our imagination to find new ways to do things, or, just doing things because we love it.

Why creativity is important

But why is creativity important if you’re not planning to pursue a career in the arts?

Just as anyone can be creative, we all benefit immensely from a well-honed creative mind. It helps us solve problems, come up with brilliant ideas, plan more effective strategies, and in general find new and better ways of dong things.

So whether you’re a logical, fact-based scientist or an avante-garde designer, giving your brain the space and opportunity to be creative will positively impact your career.

Five ways you can be more creative

But how can you get to become more creative, and use this skill to help your career, freelance work or business?

As someone whose professional title was ‘creative’, and whose career relied on her abilities to come up with creative ideas every single day, I’m going to share with you five strategies that I know work.

1) Give your brain space

If you’re tying up your brain with continual problems to solve or worrying constantly, you’re not allowing it the freedom and space it needs to be creative.

Our brains need time and opportunity to harness our imagination and get it working. So try to find times in the day when you don’t need to do anything and let your mind just wander. This may feel a bit tricky at first if you’re a constant worrier or doer, but it will pay big dividends.

It’s no coincidence that most of my great ideas have either happened when in the bath or walking to the shops. With two children, a busy freelance career and Talented Ladies Club to look after, there aren’t many times in the day that I’m not problem solving for someone.

So my brain makes good use of a precious ten minutes on my own in the bath, or a 15 minute stroll to the shops. It helps that, after nearly two decades of working in the creative industry my mind is well trained to slip into creative mode, but you can easily train yours to do the same too.

When I do get these narrow windows of time, I just let my mind wander. I don’t try to guide it in any direction or actively ‘think’, I just follow my thoughts and see where they go. When you do this, your brain usually grabs the opportunity to solve a problem you’ve been mulling over, employing the heavy artillery of your unconscious and imagination.

And I always come up with a completely new approach to a problem – or even an exciting new direction to go in.

2) Do something just because

Most children are brilliantly, naturally creative. They pursue activities just because – without wondering whether they’re useful to them, will further their career, make them money, or even if they’re any good at them.

So instead of learning how to be more creative, maybe we need to unlearn how to be an adult, and try to recreate the childish joy in doing something you love, simply because you love it.

It’s not our fault we become less creative as we get older. With time to ourselves a luxury, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making every action count. Of ensuring that every minute of our day is filled with a meaningful task that helps us to get our housework/child-rearing/work duties done.

But with all this responsibility, somewhere along the way we lose our joy. And without joy, it’s not easy to be creative.

So if you want to unleash your natural creativity, start finding – and doing – things you enjoy. Don’t worry about why you’re doing it, or even if you have any talent for it. Just do it. Spend time immersing yourself in activities that make you feel good, and that help you to switch off from your life.

If you’re stuck for what to do, think back to when you were a child. What did you love to do? Bake? Make camps? Climb trees? Ride your bike? Make things? Paint? Sing? Read? Run? Dance?

It doesn’t matter how silly an activities feels, find something that you love to do and start doing it – and you’ll soon wake up your inner creativity again.

3) Get outside

It’s not easy to be inspired when you’re gazing at four plain walls, listening to the traffic outside. So try to find time to escape into the outside world – preferably somewhere beautiful.

And you can’t get more beautiful than nature. The natural world is perhaps the greatest creation ever, and for centuries creative people have found their inspiration in the views around them.

So find somewhere you love – a walk in the woods or local park, along a river or cliff tops, up hills… anywhere you can escape your day-to-day world and the walls that trap you, and let your mind fly.

If possible, go alone and just let your mind wander, without the distraction of looking after children or making conversation with your partner or a friend.

I live close to the sea, and in times when my mind is stuck or I have a problem that seems insurmountable, I walk or sit alone on the beach. It’s amazing how the hypnotic effect of the waves calms my mind, and the huge permanence of nature reminds me that I’m just a tiny, temporary dot in the world – putting my problems into more realistic perspective.

Being alone with the beauty and power of nature untangles my mind, allowing my imagination and unconscious to get to work and find new, creative solutions and ideas.

4) Be inspired

When I was an advertising creative and my work partner and I were given a brief, one of the first things we’d do was flick through advertising award books – not to steal ideas from other creatives, but to spark our own creativity.

You see, nothing fires up our creativity, more than other brilliant examples of creativity. Beautiful writing makes your heart sing, a touching song makes your soul soar, and powerful paintings or photography can move you to tears.

As a creative you are always in search of a ‘big idea’, and being impressed by the big ideas of other creatives always acts as a turbo boost for your own mind.

So if you want to ignite your creative mind, immerse yourself in the creative works of others. You don’t need to traipse out to art galleries or concerts if you don’t have time or opportunity. You can get inspired in your own home – even while you’re doing housework!

All you need to do is listen to music that invokes an emotional response, or podcasts of rousing speeches. Read books that open up new parts of your mind, or make you think, and search on the internet for images that make you feel.

Take inspiration too from the greats in your industry. What amazing people or achievements make you want to be better, do more? Who or what inspired you to choose your job in the first place?

It doesn’t matter what actually inspires you – you just need to find that thing or person and let it set you on a path to creative greatness.

5) Look after your physical and mental health

As far as our body is concerned, creativity is a luxury. So if it has bigger worries to deal with, it will direct your mind to those.

This includes stress – if you live in a constant state of fight or flight, you’ll find it practically impossible to be creative. Your mind will be entirely focussed on what it believes to be your survival, even if the situation isn’t in reality life or death, and will shut down any unnecessary functions like imagination.

So try to find ways to minimise any stress you may feel. Change or leave situations that are making you unhappy, talk worries through with people and seek support if you need it. (You can learn more about the effects of stress on your body here and get some tips to help you manage it here.)

One way to help inoculate yourself against the effects of stress is to stay physically healthy. Get a good night’s sleep, eat well, drink plenty of water and get regular exercise (even if it’s just walking every day). If you’re tired, in pain or feeling lethargic you’ll find it harder to focus on creative projects and free your mind from your practical world.

It’s also important to ensure your basic emotional needs are met. If not, you could risk becoming depressed. So take the time to nurture all your needs – only when we are reasonably physically healthy and stress-free can our minds be free to explore creative avenues.

How do you stay creative?

These are my tactics for boosting my own creativity, but there will be many more strategies that work for other people. So what are your creativity-boosting secrets?

We’d love to learn how you keep your creative mind fit and healthy, and apply it to your own work. So please let us know in comments.