5 Creativity-boosting New Year Resolutions (you don’t need any others!)

Forget the New Year Resolutions about the diet, keeping fit, being more confident, finally reading War and Peace and all the others – if you decide to take up five simple creativity boosting resolutions instead you will probably cover the others too and have a happier, more fulfilling life. And before you scoff, this is not just a lot of empty words – these things have been shown to help you to feel better about yourself and the world around you. And all the useful games here help you to refresh, get inspiration and get out of a rut.

Tip: While these are all easy activities that boost your creative attitude, you will still need to work consciously on them at fist. But after a while they will become life habits.

#1 Slow down and notice more


Observing things and taking “a genuine interest in all the details of daily life” is what the great polymath, William Morris, called “the true secret of happiness”. This is the first step to mindfulness and a calmer approach to life. But significantly it is also the first step to a more creative attitude. This is because you are putting more detail into your brain from which your brain cells can then make connections to get better ideas. Creativity needs “fuel” to power it and that fuel is observation. Stop rushing to the future and have a close look at what is around you now.

Try the Soundscapes game: Sit quietly for ten minutes and list every sound you hear. When you re-read your list later you will be surprised how clearly it reminds you of that scene. This will focus you and allow you time to notice.

#2 Think divergently


Creativity is all about ideas and problem-solving. In order to do this you need to think more effectively and, indeed, systematically. Don’t go with the first idea you have, whether you just want to cook the dinner or whether you are planning your major business coup. Instead try some divergent thinking to give yourself a range of options and especially options that are, to use the well-worn cliché, “outside of the box”. Here there is no right or wrong answer – just lots and lots of answers. This is a really good technique to practise in order to sharpen your mind or to kick-start a dull Monday morning. It is also the technique that was devised to test how creative people are. (PS: There is no box!)

Alternative Uses game: Pick an ordinary everyday object, such as a paper clip, wooden drink stirrer, sheet of paper, a house brick. Once you have done quite a few you can use a random noun generator to give you more. The aim of the game is to think up as many different uses for your object as you can. These can be as weird or as nonsensical as you like. Don’t censor your ideas (that is the whole point). The only rule is that the use you choose is possible, even if improbable. The game is best done with a timer. At first set about 90 seconds as that really concentrates your mind. But as you get better set the timer for about five minutes.

When you have a real problem to solve, such as that dinner or what to wear at a fancy dress party or what to do for entertainment at the weekend, try this to help you think of new and different things.

#3 Do something different


Being open to risk, to uncertainty and to new things is the key characteristic that connects all creative people. And as I said above, having new experiences really boosts your creativity because it gives you new things to see and think about and therefore new connections in your brain from which ideas can be born. Doing new things often leads to direct inspiration for ideas. New places, for example, often trigger ideas and solutions to problems simply because your brain is on high alert making sense of the new and this can distract you from obsessing about your problem, hence letting your subconscious work on the problem and giving you an “aha!” moment. People often feel refreshed after a holiday or excited when they have seen a new film or exhibition. All of this is good for your creative juices. But doing anything different or doing the same old thing in a different way also helps.

Go somewhere different: it does not matter what kind of place you go to just make sure it is not the kind of place you normally go. I recently found myself researching in a food factory and prior to that at a bird watching reserve. Both gave me lots of information and inspiration to fuel ideas.

Eat something different: Without poisoning yourself, of course, try out new foods. Here, if you wish, you could insert you diet resolution but in a much more interesting and exploratory way by inventing your own new combinations of healthy foods. January is Veganuary for instance. But you could also think like a chef and invent new recipes and pairings of unusual flavours. For this activity – which I do often – I’ve tried jam filled falafel and nettles on pasta. Both of which were delicious, by the way.

Read something different: War and Peace? Poetry? Or a magazine you’d never usually pick up. Give something unusual a try. You could go out to a Poetry slam dinner and kill all three birds with one stone! In short, trying anything different is good for your creativity and makes a nice change.

#4 Get over failing


The big F-word of creativity! If you are not “failing”, you are not doing enough nor taking enough creative risks. Or to put it another way, don’t regard things that go wrong as failures but as experiments. A scientist who does not sometimes get negative or puzzling test results is probably not doing any testing at all. Scientists know how to reflect on the results and to learn from them. Babies and children do this all the time. But as we get older – especially in school – we learn that there is a “wrong” answer or incorrect way to do something. And we feel ashamed or stupid when we make mistakes. Don’t. If you never made a mistake you’d never learn anything or develop any skills or abilities. We can learn something very clearly when we get it wrong first time (or more!). The point is to reflect. Don’t feel self-blame or guilt: just investigate what went wrong. Indeed, so-called mistakes are often happy accidents. Take a new perspective on the whole concept of “failing” and try to regard it as experimentation, iteration and research. Seeing all your creative projects or everyday actions as ongoing “works in progress” also help to lessen the tension around “failing”.

Divergent thinking rehearsal helps here as you begin to lose your need to self-censor “ridiculous” answers. So does doing something different (especially if you elect to do an activity like wearing something different in public). But playing is the best and perhaps safest way to learn to fail/experiment with elegance and new knowledge.

Tinkering game: getting involved in any kind of tinkering, from just mucking around with Lego or a sand pit or paints or play dough. Try to doodle or build a simple house. Just enjoy the fun. Notice that when you make a mistake or do something wrong that it does not matter in this fun situation: instead it is part of the overall fun of playing. You just dismantle your Lego bricks and start again. This is iteration – trying things out and seeing what you think works. You don’t beat yourself up for putting a brick or paint mark in the wrong place. Tinkering is also very cathartic and help you to focus on a low-level activity that meanwhile allows your brain downtime to do its subconscious developing of your big ideas.

#5 Get a journal or start a blog


Noticing things and having experiences are enhanced by writing about them. Or drawing them. Or making a chart. It doesn’t matter which, though simply reflecting on what you have done and what you intend to do helps you to become more creative. Writing helps you to push your ideas further and to evaluate which ones are effective. Drawing helps you to observe more closely and to see what is actually there not what you assume is there.  Reflecting or journaling helps you to have metacognition, or the ability to understand and to take control of your learning and knowing about yourself and your world. Making lists and plans in a notebook also acts like your mind’s external hard drive. The human brain can only hold about four ongoing ideas in working memory (seven if you are amazing!), so if you start thinking about your shopping list you’ll forget some of your most creative thoughts. So, write it down to refer to later. There is no right or wrong way to reflect or plan but for many people the act of keeping a journal or blog is a rewarding creative outlet in itself.

#6 bonus resolution – read Creative Training


Reading Sancha’s Creative Training: How to be More Creative will help you to learn a comprehensive amount about being more creative, what it is, how your brain uses it, tips and tricks to be more effective, understand the techniques of famously creative people and generally prepare your mind and attiude to be “naturally” more creative. You will learn that there is no box (!) just techniques to get better ideas and solve problems more effectively.

Creative Training is part book and part course and is available as a PDF or as a Kindle or Nook eBook.

Image credits:

Cogs by Lisa Leo, Morguefile

#1 Slow down and notice more: Spider web by Sancha de Burca

#2 Think divergently: Fibonacci pattern by Gabriel Urrutia Galaz, Flickr

#3 Do something different: Poetry slam, Katoomba, by Blue Mountain Library, Flickr  

#4 Get over failing: Lego box by EmmiP, Morguefile

#5 Get a journal or start a blog: Journalling by Shimelle Laine, Flickr

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