The world is noisier now than it has ever been. Much of that noise is of the hysterical variety. In a world where the powers that be want you to be angry and afraid, how can you possibly find ways to spur your creativity and produce meaningful things which will last forever?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming more creative, as each of us will have different mental operating systems. You will need to experiment with different methods and be aware of how your body and mind function. This list is based on personal experience and sound cognitive science.
1. Take advantage of your most energetic time
Scott Adams talks about this in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big and I’ve mentioned it in other posts. There are certain times of the day where you will feel at your most and least energetic, regardless of what you do.
For me, that is after I get up in the morning. I am a morning person and always was. Many others are not. They might feel most energetic in the afternoon or evening.
A shortcut to discovering the time of your peak creative prowess is to think about the time of day you most like to work out and train. Do you do your training in the morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime, etc., if you have the choice? This will likely be the peak of your day, creatively.
Once you figure out what time is best for you, exploit it. Try to do the bulk of your creative work at that time, whatever it is, and ride the momentum.
2. Write everything down
Speaking of riding the momentum, we’ll abide by one of George Carlin’s maxims – write everything down. If you have an idea that proves more than a transient thought in your head, make sure you write it down. Even if you have a good memory, it probably isn’t as good as you think it is. Write it down so you don’t forget about it.
You will find that writing things down will also spur your creativity on its own account. Writing things down forces you to evolve on your ideas. Your creativity has a momentum of its own when you start writing things down. You will also further commit your ideas to memory. Maybe the ideas won’t pan out, but the ones that do will have withstood your scrutiny and so have an intrinsic strength to them.
Creative energy needs to have a physical outlet for its own durability. Write everything down – and physically, not just on a computer. The connection your brain will make with the information as your hand puts it down on paper will strengthen it further.
3. Expose yourself to a wide variety of creative inputs
Few ideas are truly original. Each idea probably has an impressive family tree, going back to antiquity and beyond. In his Tusculan Dispuations, Cicero makes the argument that learning is only a recollection of what the immortal soul already knows. Cicero’s thought process here came from Socrates and Plato, who were in turn influenced by Pythagoras.
If you want to spur your creativity, then, you should expose yourself to as wide a variety of media and thinkers as possible. You will likely wish to avoid the contemporary hysteria to save your sanity, but even here, there is likely some creative impulse it could spur within you. It has helped me with the dystopian picture involved in my upcoming The Red War book series, for example.
Don’t impose walls around your creativity, either. Don’t neglect to watch or read something that catches your eye because you think “it’s for children” or “it’s for girls.” If it catches your eye, explore it. You might wind up thinking of something far into the future because you remembered this thing you did in the past.
To be at your most creative, you need to give your mind complete freedom of navigation. Your mind should have no other considerations.
4. Optimize your activities and movements
Aside from the time of day, there are certain activities within your day that will make you feel more or less creative. Some people are more prone to freedom of thought when they sit down at a desk. All they need to do is stare out a window and maybe have a book or website to reference and they can go to the moon.
Other people, like me, think better when out and about. Navigating the free range gives them the energy they can ride to think of their best ideas and have their best insights. However, I need to be walking for this energy to flow. I can’t be in a vehicle, or I have other distractions.
Find out which activities and movements are most likely to make you think of new ideas. Afterward, do them when you want to get a new project off the ground. If you can, try to combine these activities with the time of day when you’re feeling most energetic. You would have a creative cocktail of sorts.
5. Take advantage of the Zeigarnik effect
We talked about this psychological phenomenon in our post about increasing your persuasive power.
The Zeigarnik effect, named for the psychologist that worked on it, is the propensity for humans to put greater priority onto unfinished tasks than finished ones. The example behind Zeigarnik’s initial discovery, which Robert Cialdini uses in Pre-Suasion, is a waiter who had a remarkably good memory when it came to bringing food out to crowded tables. He knew who ordered what, no matter how many orders there were.
However, once he actually served the food, he forgot who had ordered what. The task had been completed, so it was less important to him.
This is related to George Carlin’s advice of writing everything down. When you do, you’ve begun a task, and it will linger longer in your memory. Your mind will give it primacy, which will make you more creative overall. Even if the idea doesn’t pan out, you probably have something in the pipeline you can use for another project.
So start your project proper, don’t just write notes down about it. You will think about it more, during both your high and low energy points of the day, and regardless of your activity. Those other points will only add fuel to it.
Read Lives of the Luminaries to see how some of the greatest figures in history had moments of inspiration.