We tend to think of creativity as the “muse” that inspires painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers to achieve their best work. In actuality, creativity is a vital factor in virtually every walk of life. Think of creativity as the force that shapes and directs raw talent. Whether your calling is business, medicine, law, teaching, ministry, politics, athletics, parenting, or any other pursuit, success depends, at least in some part, on your ability to think creatively and find innovative solutions.
But let’s face it, creativity can be a fickle thing. Sometimes that spark of inspiration just won’t ignite or suddenly flickers out right when we need it most (e.g., when an important deadline is looming at work). The good news is, waning creativity can be rekindled. If you feel your creative juices are starting to dry up, try these seven steps to help get them flowing again:
1) Learn your natural rhythms
We all have a time (or times) during the day when we are at our most creative—those hours when ideas just seem to flow and thoughts seem to connect more naturally. Whether that time for you is early morning just after the alarm goes off, mid-morning after the coffee kicks in, or at night after the kids have gone to sleep, try to take advantage of this productive period to the extent possible.
Taking advantage of natural rhythms may be easier for people who work at home and have more control over their schedule, but even within the framework of a conventional 9-to-5 job, there will be some hours when you’re more creative and productive than others. Strike while the iron is hot at these times, and use less productive times for work that demands less inspiration, such as catching up on emails, organizing your desk, or planning the next day’s duties.
2) Journal your creativity
You never know when a creative idea is going to strike. A possible solution to a problem you’ve been mulling over for weeks might suddenly occur to you at the breakfast table or on the expressway. Don’t assume that idea will still be in your head later—or when tomorrow’s Zoom meeting rolls around. Keep a notebook handy so you can record, and later recall, any creative thoughts or solutions that strike you at odd hours.
3) Sleep well
Nothing sabotages creativity quicker than a tired mind. What’s more, research has shown that a good night’s sleep—particularly REM sleep—actually enhances our ability to make abstract connections and find creative solutions to problems. Make a habit of getting eight hours of restful sleep per night—at the same time every night (including weekends and holidays)—and you’ll find that your mind is much quicker on the trigger when it comes to creative problem solving in all areas of your life.
Exercise is known as “mental floss” for good reason. In addition to reducing stress and triggering the release of endorphins (neurotransmitters that help relieve pain and promote a sense of well-being), exercise really helps to free the mind of those distracting thoughts that interfere with creativity.
5) Don’t be persuaded by past performance
When tackling a project at work, it’s easy to let the outcome of your last project—whether good or bad—affect your current performance. Nagging doubts like, “How can I possibly top what I did for that last client?” or “What if I make another mistake?” can really slow forward momentum or bring it to a screeching halt. Treat each project like a clean slate. Trust that bringing all your skills and creativity to the table will yield good results.
6) Get a second opinion
Talking over the problem or project with others—e.g., in brainstorming sessions with coworkers—or researching how others have solved a particular problem can often jumpstart creativity. Of course, you don’t want to steal other people’s ideas, but you can certainly use them as inspiration—even if you think the idea or solution is wrong. It may seem counterintuitive, but hearing ideas you don’t necessarily agree with is a great way to get your mind working on a fresh, creative solution to a problem.
7) Know when to cut your losses
Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, creativity still proves elusive. In these instances, it’s usually best to give your mind a break. Rather than forge ahead stubbornly with inferior results, put the project or problem aside for a short time and attend to other tasks that require less mental effort. Come back to the problem after you’ve had a chance to rest (and maybe even get a good night’s sleep), and creative solutions should come to mind more easily.