There are some people who seem to have a never-ending stream of good ideas. Whether they’re at work, talking with their friends, or immersed in a side project, their minds are constantly flashing with sparks of genius.
And then there’s the rest of us. It’s not that you never get visits from the Muses—but, well, they seem to visit much less often.
Does that mean you’re resigned to a life of mostly normal thoughts, interrupted by the occasional great one?
Of course not.
Take matters into your own hands by trying one, 50, or even all 101 of these creativity-boosting strategies.
1. Take a walk
According to a Stanford University study, walking increases your creative output by approximately 60%. And you can reap this benefit rain or shine—because it works whether you take a lap outside or indoors.
2. Go for a run
Besides being famous writers, what do Thoreau, Alcott, Oates, and Murakami have in common? They all cite running as a source of inspiration. And fear not, the quality of the run doesn’t matter, so lace up your shoes and hit the pavement (or the treadmill).
3. Listen to music
When you were little, did your parents play Mozart to you to “make you smarter”? Good news: Research proves that any music (not just classical) will pump up your brain powers.
Meditating helps you move past all the little annoyances and worries that plague you every day, which leads to the perfect mindset for some creative thinking. This study confirms even people who have never meditated before can use it to be more imaginative
5. Ask for another person’s insight
If you’re stuck on a project, phone a friend. Best case scenario: they give you a great idea. Worst case scenario: they help you see the problem with fresh eyes… And you end up generating your own great idea.
There’s a reason many artists keep notepads by their beds: The best ideas often arrive when you’re not looking for them. Sit down in a comfy spot, let your mind wander, and see if inspiration strikes.
When you put pen to paper, the visual parts of your brain light up. Scientists hypothesize that you’re actually picturing the scenes you’re describing. As a result, doing a little writing can jumpstart your other artistic abilities.
8. Look at something blue or green
Maybe it’s time for agencies to start painting their offices blue and green, because these tones enhance your creativity. In fact, one study found that looking at blue made people generate twice as many ideas than when looking at red.
9. Sit next to a box
File this fact under “strange but true”: plunking yourself down next to a box can help you think outside the box.
10. Gesture with two hands
Those who talk with their hands have an advantage, as there’s a scientific advantage to gesticulating. The key is to use both hands; apparently, it’s more effective than one.
11. Drink Alcohol
Hemingway was ahead of his time (or the research, at least) when he told us to “Write drunk, edit sober.” Research proves that alcohol benefits the creative process, mainly by letting you focus on what you’d like while keeping the other stuff out.
12. Lie down
If you’re chasing a “Eureka!” moment, don’t do it upright. Researchers from Australian National University found people were more creative lying flat on their backs.
Stress is the enemy of creativity—so it makes sense that laughing, which distracts you from your troubles and relieves your mind, usually fires up your synapses.
14. Think of Things Differently
A rose by any other name is not as sweet, as it turns out. A 2012 study brought to light our “functional fixedness,” or inability to think of familiar concepts in different terms. For instance, every time you look at a wick, you see something that can be lit; however, if you think of it as a “string,” you’re opening up a whole new set of possibilities for its uses. The takeaway: Give the mundane objects in your life new, broader names.
15. Move your eyes
Shifting your eyes from left to right encourages “hemispheric cross-talk.” In other words, it helps the left side of your brain talk to the right—leading to a proven increase in your original ideas.
16. Get outside
After spending four days in the great outdoors with no technology, people scored 50% higher on creativity tests. Most of us can’t take a half-week sojourn in the wilderness; however, even a brief stroll outdoors sans cell phone will do the trick.
17. Use your hands
Creative people are known for the hands-on approach, whether they’re scribbling in a notepad, painting on a canvas, or sketching a web design on paper. Try out a tactile medium and watch your work take on new life.
18. Spend Time With Others
Imagine trying to hold a brainstorming session by yourself. It’d probably be a challenge; after all, there’s something about a room full of people with disparate backgrounds, skills, and expectations that can ignite genius ideas. So when you’re drawing a blank, put your mind together with some other people.
In addition to its numerous health benefits, exercise also pumps up your creativity. And good news, any kind of exercise works.
20.Try something new
Every time you do something novel, the center of your brain lights up. The researchers explain this mental activity aids learning, which in turn lets you draw unexpected connections.
21. Do Yoga
You might not know much more than Pigeon Pose, and that’s completely fine. Even following along to a yoga flow online can help unlock your creative reserves, as New York Times editor explains in his book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards.
As if getting enough sleep wasn’t important enough, study after study has proven it makes you more creative. With that in mind, try to hit between seven and eight hours every night.
23. Play Dance Dance Revolution
Games that cause “high arousal and positive emotions” boost your creativity. Basically, you’re looking for games like Wii Golf or Dance Dance Revolution that get you moving and put you in a good mood.
24. Immerse Yourself in Ambient Noise
When you’re listening to a moderate level of noise, your mind’s abstract processing activity goes up—and as a result, so does its creative activity. I recommend heading to a local cafe or bookstore to get the perfect dose of ambient noise.
25. Go Fishing
Thomas Edison loved to fish because, as he said, “The fish don’t bother me, and I don’t bother them.” If you want some uninterrupted time with your thoughts, follow Edison’s lead and grab a fishing pole (but skip the bait).
26. Keep Track of Opportunities
Many successful entrepreneurs make a habit of writing down every pain point they experience. Then, they use those annoyances to develop solutions. Try jotting down your daily struggles for a week and seeing what happens.
27. Just Start
Got an idea, but too worried it won’t be perfect? You’re not alone. Plenty of people never begin projects because they’re consumed with doubt about how those projects will turn out. Don’t let this be you: just start!
28. Hang out with other creative people
They say we’re the company we keep. This cliche might irk you if you consider yourself an individual, but hey, at least you can use it to become more creative.
Making art isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for the mind, as well. When you paint, you increase your flow and spontaneity, putting you in the perfect frame of mind for thinking up new ideas.
30. Have fun at the office
Does your office have a ping-pong table or video game room? If so, go ahead and start a game. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, says good old-fashioned fun opens up new neural connections.
31. Collect Things That Inspire You
Collections can serve as on-demand inspiration. Whether you collect stunning pictures ( or look at countless awesome cinemagraphs like me) , beautiful sea-glass, or hey, even Beanie Babies, your creativity will benefit from having a go-to source of inspiring items.
32. Go to your happy place
Simply being happier makes your thoughts more fluid, flexible, and ultimately, creative. With that in mind, head to your favorite spot (or if that’s impossible, any place that makes you feel good).
33. Go Camping
Speaking of happiness… Nature has a powerful impact on our mood. When we’re contemplating the natural landscape, we’re far less prone to “rumination”—and, spoiler alert, ruminative thinking usually brings us down and hinders creativity. Time to grab the tent and sleeping bags.
34. Look Up at the Stars
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can always take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the night sky. So, when your ideas tank is running on empty, wait till it gets dark—then look up.
35. Work When You’re Tired
Insomniacs and restless sleepers will love this factoid: According to research from Harvard University, tiredness and creativity go hand-in-hand. I wouldn’t advise purposefully staying up; however, if you’re short on sleep, take advantage of your fatigue and do some brainstorming.
36. Spend Time Alone
The lone wolf may be the most creative wolf, since solitude is an invaluable part of the creative process. Without some “you” time, you’ll be unable to process your ideas.
37. Get Rejected
Having someone turn you down feels pretty terrible. Yet there’s a bright side, as it also makes you more creative. Should you approach someone way out your league just to reap this benefit? Well, that’s your call.
38. Limit Yourself
Research shows tackling a mental exercise can hone your creativity. For instance, maybe you love to sing, so you try to write a new song with only multi-syllabic words. Or maybe you draw, so you challenge yourself to use a limited palette for your next project.
39. Reframe the Problem
Sometimes, it’s not what you’re working on—it’s you. If you’re in a creative rut, try switching up your angle on a problem. A new perspective may also generate some new ideas.
40. Put Yourself in Create Mode
It’s pretty difficult to create anything when you’re not in the right mood. Writer Gregory Ciotti, for example, can’t do research and put fingers to keyboard at the same time. So, make sure you’re only trying to accomplish one thing at once.
41. Be Positive
Sitting and thinking without getting anywhere is frustrating, but you’ll be making matters worse if you slide into pessimism. “Generally, a positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking,” said Ruby Nadler, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario and author of a Psychological Science study on the topic.
42. Reimagine Past Events
We owe Ciotti another hat-tip: He cites research that shows looking at past events and asking, “What could have been?” makes you more creative for small lengths of time.
43. Use “Other-Focused” Thinking
Tackling a difficult situation from someone else’s point-of-view is scientifically proven to make you more creative. To end your dry spell, therefore, pretend you’re looking at your work with a stranger’s eyes.
44. Browse the Web
A Quora user actually asked if this activity would increase their creative powers—and the answer is yup, definitely. From TED talks and cool infographics to blog posts and tutorials, there’s an endless reservoir of digital idea stimulators.
45. Watch a TV Show
TV might get a bad rap, but it’s good for your creativity, not the other way around. After all, it introduces you to foreign places, people, cultures, and ideas.
46. Watch a Movie
Along similar lines, a great movie can dramatically shake up your mindset. (Not to mention, if it’s a high-quality film, it’ll speak to your inner artist.)
47. Challenge Yourself
Give yourself a nice warm-up to your real work by taking one, two, or all five of the “creativity tests” used by many of the studies I’ve cited in this post!
48. Promise Yourself a Reward
At some point (even today), you’ve probably used rewards as motivation to tackle an unpleasant or laborious task. Well, a study published in the Creativity Research Journal shows even creativity isn’t immune to the power of a reward. Promise yourself something good, then dig in.
49. Assign Yourself a Deadline
… and come close to missing it. Your boss might not want you to know this, but frequent procrastinators are typically more creative.
50. Be in the Moment
Mindfulness and creativity are plainly linked. Take some deep breaths, clear your mind, and appreciate the moment you’re in.
51. Give Yourself a Break
The best ideas often arrive when you’re sitting still, doing nothing. Wait for a quiet weekend (or better yet, take a day off from work), and ignore your to-do list.
52. Get Heated
Interestingly, this Scientific American article explains why “a little bit of fury helps you think outside the box.” Watch a documentary that makes you mad, or take on an anger-inspiring task (like your taxes, perhaps).
You might be a little less surprised to learn that students who study abroad are noticeably more imaginative than those who stay home.
Even if your first ideas are horrible, committing yourself to sitting down and brainstorming can eventually surface a few worthy concepts.
55. Get Rid of Some Stuff
According to this study, the more things you have, the less creative you are. That’s because (relative) scarcity activates your “constraint” mindset. Let’s be real, your closets were getting a bit too full anyway.
56. Change Your Diet
Some foods will make your productivity jump sky-high, which is why I suggest munching on some dried fruits and nuts and getting to work.
57. Drink Coffee
As if we weren’t already addicts, now we have another reason to swill coffee all day long: caffeine makes you more creative.
58. Indulge Yourself
Self-indulgence is restorative, so go ahead: eat that dessert, make an impulse buy, or put aside your normal work to read a book or go to the movies.
59. Pick a Muse
The world is chock-full of inspiring people (and even more so when you include historical figures). If you don’t already have a muse, do some research and find one.
60. Violate Your Rules
Most of us have rules around what we create and how. (For instance, I usually write first thing in the morning—because that’s what I’ve done for years and years.) However, by switching things up, you can also disrupt your ideas.
61. Ignore Your Critics
When you were younger, you dealt with your enemies by saying, “They’re just jealous of me.” If only life was still that uncomplicated. Nonetheless, focusing on your detractors will only take up valuable brain-space, so forget them and focus on your work.
Sketching something is a quick, easy, yet effective way to get the ball rolling. Breakthrough, here you come.
63. Take a Nap
Since a quick snooze is great for your brain, you’ve got full license to pause what you’re doing and take a catnap.
As I mentioned, exercise is proven to induce divergent (that is, creative) thinking. If you don’t feel like getting your heartbeat pumping, opt for a nice stretch. Who knows, maybe your mind will stretch as well.
65. Use Dim Lighting
Apparently, working in a dark or shadowy environment triggers your cognitive processing style. You can draw the curtains and turn off the lights in your own office; alternatively, find a local coffee-shop and huddle in their dimmest corner.
66. Listen to Classical Music
It’s called the Mozart effect: Listening to classical music makes people more creative. Don’t worry, if you’re not into Mozart, there are plenty more composers where he came from—and they’ll all give you the same mental benefits.
A series of studies focusing on musicians suggested that creativity takes place after people pick up foundational skills. How do you get foundational skills? By practicing, of course. So whatever your specific craft is, pick up your instrument and practice.
68. Download Some Apps
There really is an app for everything. Check out The Guardian’s top 50 apps for creative minds.
69. Call or Visit Your Grandparents
Older people have a much broader thinking style than their youthful counterparts, researchers say. If you want to make your own thoughts a little less narrow, talk to your grandparents (or any senior citizens, for that matter).
70. Go for a Drive
One in five executives say their best ideas come to them in the car. If it works for the C-suite, it should work for you as well!
71. Mow the Lawn
Freshly cut grass releases chemicals that make you happier and more relaxed. In other words, a quick jaunt around the yard with the lawn-mower will put you in the optimal mood for some creative work.
72. Visit a Museum
Great art—even bad art—makes you more creative. Maybe you live someplace without many (or any) museums; if that’s the case, look through an online collection.
73. Make a Beach Trip
Many people call the beach their happy place, and science explains why: being near large bodies of water is calming, relaxing, and ultimately, great for creativity.
74. Start a Sketchbook
“The beauty of drawing in public, from observation (or of course going on an awesome photo romp!) is really becoming part of what’s around and noticing the charm in the details,” explains artist Jordan Kay. “It’s really important for me to set aside time to free sketch; totally without purpose and focusing on whatever’s in front of me.”
75. Keep Toys on Your Desk
New York University researchers say picking up a stress ball or completing a short puzzle can make you think more clearly and creatively.
76. Take the 30 Circles Test
You thought your last test was in college. However, this fun one from Harvard Business Review has creativity-enhancing effects (unlike your BIO 310 final).
77. Role Play
Scientists believe role-playing connects a number of different processes important to creativity, including cognitive, affective, and interpersonal.
78. Make Connections
Creativity is all about making unexpected leaps, right? If you want more of it, train yourself to form connections between seemingly unrelated objects and concepts. For instance, challenge yourself to find the similarities between a pair of scissors and a houseboat.
79. Try Inversion Therapy
It might sound fancy, but “inversion therapy” simply means hanging upside down. Because a little rush of blood to the head never hurt. If you’re wondering how to hang, may I suggest the monkey bars at your local playground?
80. Snack On Blueberries
By itself, this superfood probably won’t cause your next “Eureka!” moment—but its brain-boosting powers won’t hurt.
81. Answer Riddles
It’s a smart strategy to confound your brain when you need some novel ideas.
82. Make Music
When do professional musicians develop their highest-quality compositions? Not when they’re in their studios. A professor of musical performance studies at Cambridge University and his team found the best pieces often start forming when people sing in the shower or tap out rhythms on the table. Even if you’re not a musician, you’re capable of some shower tunes.
83. Talk to a Stranger
Research from New York Times best-selling author David Sturt proves talking to strangers can kick-start your inspiration.
84. Go to a Conference
It’s almost impossible to attend a conference and not walk away feeling like you just drank from a fire-hose of creativity.
85. Attend a Local Meetup
Shared-interest groups are fantastic sources of inspiration; you can connect with people who love the same things you do, or broaden your world-view by showing up at a new group.
86. Take a Shower
Psychologists say taking showers puts people in “default mode network,” a mental state in which you naturally develop insight.
87. Clean Your Space
Celebrated author and marketer Jeff Goins is convinced clutter hampers creativity. Whether you’re obsessively neat or a little on the messy side, cleaning your physical space also helps for clear your mental cobwebs.
88. Use Creative Thinking Cards
89. Stay Up Late
Remember all those times in college you spent talking with friends until the sun came up? No, you weren’t imagining things: you really did have better ideas during the night. So ignore your bed a little longer.
Writers are always people-watching. They’ve figured out how much you can learn by simple observation. Take a page from their book (ha), find a nice outdoor seat, and watch the crowds go by.
91. Add Clutter to Your Desk
Don’t touch those papers, because studies prove a messy desk doesn’t inhibit creativity—it promotes creativity.
92. Save Time in Your Schedule
99u founder Scott Belsky suggests setting aside 5% of your time for “slow-burning” projects (that is, the masterpieces that you create little by little.)
93. Break Out of Your Routine
The old is the enemy of the new—so stop doing the old! Pick one or two things in your routine to break and watch your creative powers grow in response.
94. Do Something Ridiculous
What’s holding you back? For many, it’s the fear of failing. You can overcome this obstacle by purposefully doing something ridiculous, which’ll help mitigate those feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness.
95. Hand-Write a Letter
Next time you’re trying to get in touch with someone, don’t pick up the phone or send them an email—write them a letter. The very act of writing helps you think more broadly, scientists say.
Good thing adult coloring books are a huge hit, because putting crayons or colored pencils to paper stimulates your senses and creativity.
97. Make a List
In Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury explains how making lists of random ideas helped lead him to his novel ideas. Let Bradbury be your guide: grab a notepad, and start jotting down anything and everything you can think of.
98. Set Goals
Counterintuitively, many creatives swear up and down you need to be disciplined. Try setting a goal, like “I’ll create two pieces per month,” or “I’ll write 30 minutes each day.”
99. Wake Up and Think
Rather than jumping out of bed and immediately getting ready for your day, spend 15 to 20 minutes lost in thought. Our creative abilities peak when we first wake up, so you’re guaranteed to get better-than-normal ideas.
100. Go Shopping
Not only does buying things give you a rush (which can help generate creativity), but you may draw inspiration from the well-executed branding and packaging all around you.
101. Compare Yourself to a Friend
A creative one, that is. A study in the January 2015 issue of “Digital Creativity: New Frontier for Research and Practice” discovered people generate more ideas when they’re paying attention to an artistic friend.
Check out these awesome TED talks on creativity:
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