Cultivate Your Creativity

Here are 10 simple yet inspiring ways to spark your imagination and enrich your life

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Young woman laying on dry leaves and setting her imagination free

Everyone can benefit from exercising some creativity, even if you're not a Picasso, Bach or Hemingway.

1. The right frame of mind. 
Experiments have shown that the practice of simple relaxation and meditation techniques will increase the number of new ideas that people come up with. The key is to become relaxed and receptive yet remaining alert. Let your mind wander—it's likely to take you on a ride where you discover inspiration. Creativity coaches often tout the three B's: the Bed, the Bathtub and the Bus, as locations where people are able to reach the relaxed state necessary for inspiration.

2. What works for you? 
Paying attention to the factors that have contributed to your creative moments in the past can help you reach that state again. What time of day was it? What setting? Were you alone or with others? Was there silence or some background noise or music? If you can build a profile of your ideal creative conditions, then you can actively recreate the creative mood, instead of waiting for it to magically happen. Eric Maisel, author of several books on creativity, says that there is never a perfect time to create—"we are always caught up with distractions or our own personalities"—so "you just have to be creative in the moment."

3. Switch it up. 
Creativity sometimes needs shifts and changes to emerge. Use the different rhythms of the day and flexible schedules to motivate it. Sitting at a desk for hours on end rarely inspires—you need to change your environment and your energy level. Writer and educator Carol Grosman of Jerusalem, Israel, says that making space for creativity is challenging and takes conscious effort: "I need to create windows of time where I am alone. Then, I need to inhabit that time; sit down and focus. Then, a sculpture can reveal itself from a slab of rock."

4. First things first.
Creativity experts agree that first thing in the morning is the mind's most fertile time, because you have just emerged from a rejuvenating period of sleep. "Do your creative enterprise first thing in the morning, even before your normal day starts, because that is when we have the most neurons still available to us," says Maisel. Sleep is when the brain refuels itself and also processes problems and memories behind the scenes, so make sure you get enough. Scientists at the University of Luebeck in Germany discovered that if you wake someone who is deep in REM sleep, she will be vividly dreaming. During other parts of the sleep cycle, she is thinking in her characteristic way. A mathematician will be solving math problems, a musician will be mentally replaying a piece, and a writer will be working out sentences. Immediately after you emerge from sleep, your brain is fresh from this deep thought and practice. Pay attention to your early morning musings and the residue from your dreams because they can often bring unexpected insights.

5. Daydream!
George Hunter, founder of the BlueStone Institute for Healing Arts, emphasizes the importance of daydreaming. "When my clients carve out time to daydream and make art, it is amazing what opportunities come their way—whether job offers, new communication in their relationships, a new ad-venture, or relief from chronic conditions like high blood pressure and insomnia," he says. "With a vivid daydream, thinking becomes more productive because it gives your mind more raw materials and possibilities to work with in the same way a sculptor needs enough clay to shape."

6. Wonder-full.
Consistently looking for alternatives opens your mind to new possibilities. Develop the habit of always asking questions and never accepting something at face value. Whenever you can, go beyond your first thought, and wonder "What if?" or "What else?" and "How else?" If you run into a problem, pretend your usual solution isn't available. Say your PC crashes today; how else might you get your work done? One fun way to flex your creative muscles: Take an everyday object like a teaspoon and imagine as many other ways to use it as you can.

7. Rethink the familiar.
Break out of your routine. Your creativity can be sparked just by having something besides "the usual" for lunch, taking a new route to work, stopping off at a different grocery store or wearing a bold new color. When you do something out of the ordinary, you move from being on autopilot to a state of heightened awareness, alertness and vitality. Novelty also builds new neural connections, keeping your brain young and healthy.

8. Everyday expressions.
You don't have to go to extremes. Plenty of common activities help you to develop your creativity—by encouraging either innovation or a meditative state. They include playing with children, cooking, gardening, completing crosswords, and even shopping (but be careful to set clear limits on this activity!).

9. Do what you love.
This is another sure way to keep the fires of innovation burning. Maisel names three ingredients for creativity: "Curiosity, desire and passion. We must get in touch with what we love," he says. If you love cooking, you're going to find that you're inspired to invent new and tantalizing dishes when you spend more time in the kitchen. Any activity that  fully engages you is a realm in which you are likely to be a visionary.

10. Collaborate.
Spending time with people who are creative will certainly inspire you because creativity is learned by exposure. Vera John-Steiner, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico and author of Creative Collaboration, says that creativity is fertilized by strong social networks and trusting relationships. When people get together to bounce ideas off one another, the individual's creativity is usually magnified. The myth of the solitary genius artist is not the norm, because "creative work requires a trust in oneself that is virtually impossible to sustain alone," she observes. In your quest to cultivate your creativity, make sure to involve your friends and family and anyone else who inspires you.

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