How to Unleash Your Creativity (Without Having to Pick Up a Paintbrush)

Have you ever reached the end of a gripping novel, gazed at a remarkable painting, or watched a musician at work in awe, wishing you had the creative talents others seem blessed with? I know I have.

Whereas I know that if I work hard, I can become a better runner, do well on my exams, or learn to cook the perfect roast chicken, improving my creativity seems a whole lot more complex. When it comes to creative careers, we tend to fall back on the assumption that the skill of the individual is all due to natural talent.

Creativity is a skill to be honed like any other. As a typical child, I used to be a creative soul, masterminding cities in the sandbox, finger painting an abstract masterpiece, and playing house with admirable gusto.

Now that I’ve left the sandbox behind, I justify my fear of being creative by telling myself that I lack the necessary natural ability. The problem with this is that it closes the door on new opportunities.

If you’re looking to tap into your imagination, here are four tried and tested ways to reintroduce the joy of creativity into your life.

1. Schedule some playtime

“Play” doesn’t have to mean donning fancy dress or getting out the building blocks—anything that you do purely for enjoyment counts. While children naturally explore their ideas through drawing or playing games, we can recreate the experience simply by allowing ourselves time to do the things we truly enjoy and leaving our minds free to wander away from the tasks of everyday life. It may feel counterintuitive to abandon a pile of paperwork to go for a long run or leave work in the middle of a demanding project journal or color, but this strategy reaps benefits in our professional lives.

When your mind is distracted with play, it has time to recharge and refocus, meaning that when you return to the task at hand, you’re able to tackle it with a fresh perspective. That “eureka!” feeling you have when you finally solve a problem in the middle of the night? That’s because your subconscious has had the space it needs to think.

How you choose to integrate play into your life is up to you. It could be as simple as making sure you take your lunch break to prevent burnout. I like to block out evenings where I don’t touch work and instead plan something nice for myself, like a paint night with friends. To really feel inspired, use weekends to take mini-breaks from your regular routine. Try a retreat where you read, write, or draw, join a casual sports league, or make a special trip to a museum and soak up some art.

2. Ask “why?”

As a former teacher, I’m all too familiar with the never-ending “but whys?” of curious children. While it might wear your temper thin, we can learn from children’s ability to not take anything for granted. By questioning why things are done as they are, we’re able to make room for the possibility of doing things in new ways.

You don’t have to be a struggling novelist to have experienced that feeling of being stuck in a rut. Even if your job is data entry, there’s still room for creativity by exploring more efficient ways to run your office systems, or even identifying a new, related problem that your team’s skills can solve. Maintaining a healthy curiosity and having the confidence to ask why keeps our work and even our personal lives fresh and dynamic, as we become more open to trying new possibilities.

3. Create something

Creativity is as much a mindset as an activity. I’m no Michelangelo, but I can spark the same thought process of discovery by taking an Italian class, joining my local volleyball team, or really nailing the food presentation at my next dinner party.

Learning a new skill and challenging the mind in a different way are opportunities for adults to get their creative juices flowing, without so much as touching a lump of clay.

4. Look for inspiration

In reality, inspiration very rarely strikes with nothing whatsoever to guide it. Reading often, using sites like Pinterest to create inspiration boards, and even walking around with your eyes on your surroundings rather than your phone are all ways to open your eyes to what’s happening around you and spark creative thought.

If creativity refuses to strike, websites like StumbleUpon are a great way to place new ideas in your path.

Creativity can be elusive, but if you wait for it to come and find you, you may find yourself disappointed. Indulge and grow your creativity by finding opportunities to enjoy yourself, learn new skills, and exploring new ways of doing old things. Who knows what you’ll think of next?

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