4 Easy Ways To Train Your Brain To Be More Creative
When I'm speaking at conferences or working with marketers directly to help them learn to tell better brand stories, one of the things I hear often is "I'm just not creative." Sales and marketing professionals tend to think of "Creatives" as a separate category of person, and thusly, they think of creativity is something they don't possess and something best left to others.
Part of the problem here is that we often thing of creativity and inspiration as this sudden spark or elusive muse that strikes whenever she fancies. When we do that—when we categorize creativity as this mysterious and uncontrollable thing— we remove our agency from it.
But coming up with content ideas, like anything, is a skill. And that means it can be practiced and mastered, by every type of person.
But practicing creative thinking as a content marketer doesn't mean you have to create fake content briefs and push yourself to come up with content ideas. There are a lot of interesting ways you can practice creative thinking in your everyday life, when you're not sitting at your desk. You can train your brain to see possibilities, to combine new ideas, and to think differently.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to practice creative thinking and work on growing my creative instincts.
1. Experience New Things
Many good ideas are the combination of two other ideas, what is commonly called "idea sex." But in order to have these types of combinatory ideas, and to create novel combinations, you need to have a vast inventory of ideas to combine, and always be updating that inventory with new things. The more ingredients you have, the more recipes you can create.
To increase your inventory of unique inputs, focus on bringing new and diverse ideas and information into your life. Challenge yourself to break outside your typical genres and topics when it comes time to consume movies, books, podcasts, articles and experiences.
If you normally read non-fiction, pick up a sci-fi novel. If you normally listen to business podcasts, listen to a fitness influencer's latest episode. If you gravitate toward rom-coms, add an architecture documentary to your viewing queue. If you're always ordering take-out comfort food fro your neighborhood diner, try heading to a local Ethiopian restaurant dinner tonight.
This is increasingly hard to do digitally, when algorithms on Amazon, Netflix, Seamless and elsewhere will serve us up more of what we already know and like, so you may find this easier to do when you step into a real life bookstore, to solicit recommendations from friends with diverse interests, and actively seek out unexpected themes and topics in what you consume.
2. Break Your Routine
This is an experience-based adaptation of the above. So often, we get locked in routines that keep us from having to "think." This is useful for reducing cognitive load, and saving time, but it's horrible if you're trying to challenge yourself to think differently.
To wake up your brain during unexpected times and places, look for the things that you do unconsciously throughout your day and try to bring some novel consciousness to them.
Use your non-dominant hand to get ready in the morning to raise your consciousness of each step. Take a new route or mode of transportation to work to turn that passive time to active thinking time. Re-arrange your living room or the apps on your phone to jolt yourself out of muscle memory. Try working from a different location to see how it impacts your process and productivity. Add in a phone-free or internet-free hour to your day to challenge yourself to find new ways to get work done...whatever works to break you out of moving through your day on autopilot.
3. Morning Pages or Creative Journaling
Sometimes a barrier to creative thinking and idea generation is a fear that what we create won't be "good enough." One way to combat that preciousness and protective instinct over your ideas, is to simply get more at-bats by writing every single day. Julia Cameron talks about the idea of Morning Pages—three pages of long-hand writing every single day—in her book "The Artist's Way." By adopting this practice, even for a limited time, you can grow more accustomed to creative output, without confines, and grow comfortable with the idea of creating.
One of the wonderful and important things about Morning Pages is that you're not writing for a public purpose. It's not being published, or sent to your boss, or saved for all of posterity. It's exploratory, versus utilitarian, so you can remove any anxiety you may have about writing "well" or "good enough." When you can train yourself to be more accepting and less critical of the things you produce, you'll find that you become more secure in producing and sharing in the first place. (Doing improv has the same effect, if you don't mind going through this process in the presence of others!)
If you find the concept of Morning Pages too open-ended to be productive, consider ordering yourself a copy of "Become An Idea Machine." This prompt-based journal challenges you with a problem or question for each of 180 days, asking you to come up with 10+ unique answers or solutions. It's set up like a workbook, with room for your answers, so you can track your progress and see as your creative muscle strengthens.
4. Creative Shopping
One thing I find therapeutic, as odd as it might be, is browsing stores, even if I have no intention of buying something. I love discovering new items I didn't know existed, and trying to think of ways to use them, often outside of their intended purpose. This turns an otherwise boring task into a creative exercise that challenges me to think in new ways.
Whether you make a special trip or combine this challenge with your regular shipping trip, give yourself an assignment, of sorts, before you step into the store. "I'm going to find 10 things I could use to hold pens on my desk." "I'm going to find 10 things I could make into a lamp." "I'm going to find 10 things not intended to be worn that I could make into fashion accessories."
This exercise is a lot of fun, even if you never follow through on the DIY assignment, because it forces you to think about everyday objects in new ways, and to think beyond what's expected. It's a helpful exercise for stretching the limits of what the world tells us something can or should be.
Want more help?
If you're looking for more help generating brand content ideas, check out our free story idea guide, which will walk you through multiple guided brainstorms.