If you’re working in a creative capacity, you’ve probably heard some of old, tried-and-true methods of sparking creativity. Things like going on a trip, creating a mood board or an ideas wall, or walking away from work and going for a walk seem to be among the top recommendations for getting back that creative fire. But when those standard methods of igniting the fire don’t work, what then?
Behold, the more bizarre, yet still effective methods of getting your creative juices flowing once again. A word of warning though: Some of these methods may take some time to bear the fruit you’re hoping for. However, if you invest in them, we’re certain you won’t be disappointed.
1. Stay up All Night
You might think that the best way to let creative ideas flow is to be in a rested state, but that’s not always the case. A number of studies have confirmed the fact that sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment, but anecdotally, some creative people have reported feeling like there were fewer barriers to divergent thinking when they were sleep-deprived. When you haven’t slept well, don’t expect to do well in activities that require a lot of busy work or hard-and-fast rules; but you may be able to come up with ideas or to daydream your way into a great idea in that state.
2. Focus on the Bizarre
A study published in Psychological Science found that when study participants were asked to encounter "meaning threats," in other words, things that don’t tend to make sense, they were better able to perform creative thinking tasks. In the case of the study, participants read an absurd story by Franz Kafka, and afterward, were better able to "perceive the presence of letter strings." With the introduction of the absurd, the participants’ brains went into an organizational mode. So the next time you’re struggling to unpack a difficult problem or to come up with a challenging creative idea, take a moment to look at a bizarre piece of art, or read some Kafka. It could help.
3. Step out of Your Comfort Zone
In the same way that absurd texts can help to turn people’s brains to organization and order, putting yourself in a situation that requires divergent thinking could also get your creative juices flowing. If you’re always going to and from work and you’re always doing the same things before and after, how do you expect to come up with new ideas? Whether it’s learning a new language, attending a new dance class, eating in an international restaurant or anything else that makes you feel uncomfortable, it could help open up parts of your brain that haven’t been used in a while. In other words, depending on the type of person you’re, find something new to do, which will help you step out of your comfort zone.
4. Forget your Past Creations
Another reason we tend to have troubles creating new things or coming up with new ideas: We’re always trying to make our next successes mirror the ones that have come before. It’s great that you came up with the winning marketing strategy at last month’s board meeting, but by continuing to rest on those laurels and to think in the same way, you’re stopping yourself from coming up with totally new ideas. It can be tough to shut off a memory or to un-remember that you had such a success, but it could be the difference between coming up with new ideas and continuing to churn out repeats of your old ideas. With each new project, try to start from scratch and to see the problem for what it is, in itself -not in how it’s similar to problems you’ve encountered in the past.
5. Just Do Something
When you’re feeling less-than-inspired, your first instinct may be to simply walk away from what you’re doing. Sometimes though, that’s the opposite of what you should be doing. Instead of walking away, try creating something. Anything. Your boss would much rather see you sitting down, creating a bunch of really bad ideas instead of no ideas at all. And in some cases, creating a bunch of really bad ideas might even spark something in another team member, or at least teach you what not to be doing. Some creative people need an hour or more of warm-up before the really good stuff starts coming out. So when nothing else is working, just do something, and call it the warm-up to the better stuff that’s about to bubble up to the surface.
6. Do Nothing
If it sounds like the exact opposite of the previous bit of advice, that’s because it is kind of. If you’re required to be in an office from 9 to 5 every day, you’re not going to get away with doing nothing at all, in which case the advice of "just do something" still stands. What you can do, however, is to build in time in which you don’t do anything at all into your day. Don’t schedule a workout, a session of TV binge watching, a happy hour or anything else. Just give yourself time to do absolutely nothing but allow your mind to wander wherever it wants. Sitting on the sofa, daydreaming works for some people, while other people start to get creative ideas flowing when they’re engaged in mindless tasks such as taking a shower or doing the dishes. The key to this method, then, is having a way to jot down your ideas as they come, without interrupting the flow of even more great ideas. Come up with your own system, but often creative people stock each room of their home or office with a small notebook, put up white boards or chalk boards; find what makes taking notes easy for you and invest in that. Another option is to have a voice recorder app on your smart phone handy, or even to have an old-school tape-style recorder on hand specifically for this use.
7. Tap Your Dreams
And speaking of a free mind and the free association of ideas, also tap your dream state. Plenty of creative people have used this method to help them come up with new ideas. Salvador Dali, the famous painter, would fall to sleep with a spoon in his hand, so that when it fell to the ground, he’d wake up abruptly and quickly jot down the things he was dreaming of. Psychologists also sometimes recommend that their clients pose a question before falling asleep, asking themselves to come up with the answer during the dream state. If you try it though, you’ll do well to have your notebook right next to your bed, as the ideas that come with dreams are often quickly forgotten upon waking.
8. Track Your Creative Times
It may surprise you to note that you’re more cyclical than you knew. Get a paper calendar and begin tracking your creativity. At the end of each day, or throughout it, jot down what you did that day, and try to quantify it. If you’re a writer, for example, note how many words you wrote. Then make notes about anything else that was going on that day, such as family events, social gatherings and the like. For women, noting when you get your menstrual cycle can also be a telling piece. Over time, you may begin to notice patterns emerging. Maybe you’re anxious and get nothing done the day before a family gathering, or you have your most creative bursts on certain days of the week. Knowing your patterns can help you to plan your schedule around the times when you can get the most done.
When the pressure is on you to create something, the weight of it can be pretty heavy. When you’re tasked with creating something on a deadline, the weight can feel almost crushing. But creative work is still work, and like every other type of worker, you need to find techniques for pushing through.