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Are some people born more creative than others? Actually, yes. Science has found that genetics can play a role in creative thinking.
If you aren’t one of the lucky ones with a genetic disposition for creativity, worry not.
Your brain may not be hardwired for creative thinking, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to paint, play an instrument or write amazing short stories. What it does mean is that you can train your brain how to be creative.
Creativity, essentially, is a skill that can be developed and fine tuned — as long as you’re willing to do what it takes to achieve your goal.
Effort alone won’t get you there, however. Boosting your creativity requires a well-thought-out plan, a willingness to think in a new way and the fortitude to push yourself even when you’re feeling discouraged.
So, whether you want to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, paint like Vincent van Gogh or pen epic adventures like Michael Crichton, read on for some helpful tips to get you started on your creative journey.
Learning to Set Goals the SMART Way
If you want to succeed at any endeavour, setting goals is key. Goals act as a benchmark to determine if you have an efficient plan in place to achieve your aim.
It comes down to this: a goal without a plan is like making a wish when you blow out your birthday candles. It’s a nice dream, but one that’s unlikely to come true. If you truly want to achieve your goal, thoughtful and proper planning is a must. Who ever said creativity and organization couldn’t go hand-in-hand?
Putting together an organized and efficient plan is easier than you might think thanks to the SMART system. Let’s take a look at how this system works:
- S — Specific: To be specific in your goal setting simply means having a clear vision of what you want to attain.
- M — Measurable: Measuring your progress is vital to staying motivated. Setting objectives on the road to your goal makes it easy to celebrate each success and examine every setback.
- A — Attainable: Make sure your goal is actually possible to achieve. Setting realistic and attainable goals will keep you on the road to success.
- R — Relevant: Your goal should be relevant to where you are in life. That means not having too many goals at the same time, or pursuing something that doesn’t fit in with your overall life plan.
- T — Time bound: Setting a deadline to reach your ultimate goal gives you something to strive for. Failing to set a specific time to reach your goal leaves you lacking the inspiration you need to achieve your ambition.
Applying SMART to Your Goal
Let’s say you want to learn how to play the guitar. That goal may seem reasonable to you, but not focusing on something more specific could set you up for failure.
By implementing the SMART system, you can focus on setting a specific goal that you can measure and attain on a set schedule. Oh, and you should make sure it’s relevant for where you are in life. Let’s give it a try.
- S — Specific: I want to play Take It Easy (by The Eagles) proficiently.
- M — Measurable: First I will learn how to tune my guitar. Second, I will build up a vocabulary of basic chords. Third, I will practice chording by playing Take It Easy.
- A — Attainable: By focusing on mastering one song at a time, I won’t get discouraged. I will practice for at least 30 minutes every day. I will use a tutorial on YouTube for inspiration.
- R — Relevant: By choosing an easy song that I also really like, I am more apt to enjoy my practice time.
- T — Time bound: I will set a one-month deadline to master playing Take It Easy.
The only remaining ingredient to make your guitar-playing dream a reality is effort and diligence. Now that you know how to put an effective plan in place, it’s time to set your mind on learning.
Learning How to Learn
Learning how to learn can seem daunting, especially if it’s been a few years — or more than a few — since you’ve been in a classroom. Luckily, you don’t have to rack your brain trying to remember how you studied in high school or college.
Effective learning is all about efficient use of your memory. And no, that doesn’t mean you need to have a mind like a steel trap. Rather, it’s about studying in a way that enables your brain to remember what you’ve learned.
The first key to a strong memory is understanding concepts and ideas rather than memorizing content verbatim.
There is no one right way to grasp a concept. The trick to successfully understanding an idea or a theory is to find a method that works for you. You can employ mind maps, diagrams or other forms of imagery to help you in the learning process.
Once you understand the theory behind an idea, memorizing the specifics becomes much easier. Some of the best methods for prolonging memory are:
The spaced repetition technique subscribes to the less is more way of thinking.
To follow this method, you simply introduce intervals into your learning. So, rather than focusing on quantity, you instead focus on the quality of each learning session.
Revisiting information at regular intervals is effective because it changes the way your brain works. Your brain strengthens the connections between your nerve cells acting much like a muscle responding to exercise. There is no set interval time. The key is to find one that works for you, whether that is 10 minutes or 20 minutes.
As you continue to space out your intervals of learning, you’re strengthening the connections your brain is able to make. Eventually, your brain retains the knowledge for good.
So, if you’re a guitar player, spacing out your work on a particular chord would be more helpful to the learning curve rather than working on the same thing for an hour straight.
Chunking can help you to improve your memory by grouping information. Rather than having to remember a lot of details all together, information is broken down into sections or chunks.
The chunking process you use will depend on what type of information or ideas you want to memorize. You can either: break large blocks of information into smaller sections, identify a pattern or organize the information.
If you’re taking an art class to improve your drawing skills, for instance, you can use chunking to remember drawing concepts. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and get started organizing your information. For example:
- Identifying and drawing edges
- Setting proportions
- Understanding color
- Shadows and light
Under each section, you can then add specific details of what you need to learn. For instance:
- Identifying and drawing edges
- Hard — abrupt change in color or shape
- Soft — gradual change in color or shape
- Lost — can’t be seen (but you know edge exists because of other elements).
Chunking is not a miracle solution, but it can be a pretty effective memory improvement tool. Try incorporating chunking methods into your study habits and see if it’s a tool that works for you.
The pomodoro technique is a time management system that teaches people to work with the time they have rather than against it.
To employ this technique, you divide your work and breaks into regular short intervals. The theory behind it is that you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by the task at hand because you take regimented learning breaks.
For instance, if you wanted to learn how to paint — and you had set aside Saturdays for that task — you’d set a kitchen timer to 25 minutes. If you become distracted during your learning block, you write down the problem and then return to your lesson. When the timer rings, put a checkmark on your paper to show you’ve completed one block. You take a five-minute break to stretch, grab a drink or look at a magazine and then set the timer for another 25-minute learning slot.
When you’ve completed four pomodoros, you get a half-hour break. Once the 30 minutes are up, you can start another round or call it quits for the day.
No matter which method you choose, remember, effective learning comes with practice. Whether you choose to take an online course or simply hop on YouTube to take advantage of its many free tutorials, learning a new creative skill is a great way to put these new ideas to the test.
Learning How to Push Your Own Boundaries
Learning how to be more creative is all about testing ideas and pushing your own boundaries. It’s also about failing and learning from that failure.
Let’s face it, no one enjoys falling flat on their face — but it’s a vital part of stretching yourself and learning how to be more creative. The key is to not become frustrated and give up.
All too often, when failure is fresh, it’s easy to look at successful people and assume it all came easy to them. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Many of rock ’n roll’s biggest guitarists from Slash to Eric Clapton consistently invest time in practising and perfecting their craft.
The unvarnished truth is that unless you’re an idiot savant, learning a new creative skill is going to come with frustrations and failures. Rather than dread it, however, you should learn to welcome it. Here’s why:
- It Helps You Become More Resilient — Failure can actually make you more determined to succeed. If you don’t allow discouragement to set in, failure can give you the resolve to work even harder.
- It Keeps You Humble — Getting knocked down a few times before achieving success not only ensures that your ego stays in check, it helps you think about and learn from your own personal limitations.
- It Teaches Good Work Ethic — Failure gives you a healthy appreciation of how important it is to work hard for what you want. If creativity came easy, you wouldn’t enjoy your success nearly as much.
- It Teaches You How to Take Risks — Learning a new creative skill can be a major leap of faith — one worth risking failure for. When you want to reach your goal more than you fear failing, you’ll have learned the skill of taking reasonable risks.
- It Teaches More Than Success — Maybe it’s because failure stings so much, but the lessons it teaches are more apt to stick with you than what you learned from being successful.
Remember, it’s when you push the boundaries and do things outside your comfort zone, that real learning and creativity begin.
Realizing That Creativity is Inevitable
Creative people are not always born; many of them are made. In fact, more times than not, creativity springs from a determination to learn something new.
How to Boost Creativity
Cognitive researcher Valerie van Mulukom points to three main factors for boosting creativity: play, practice and experience.
Non-professional actors and children who make up and play in imaginary worlds are both more likely to have creative imaginations than people who engage less often in fantastical thinking.
While most adults don’t have the time or inclination for such play, van Mulukom says they can increase their creative thinking through the practice of watching artistic people at work. Taking a class or brainstorming in a group are both good ways to accomplish that.
Lastly, engaging in a new craft, no matter what it is, can give your creativity a major boost. And, the longer you stick with your artistic hobby, the more likely you are to come up with new and different ways to be creative.
Roadblocks to Avoid
As easily as new and creative ideas can pop into your mind, they can disappear just as quickly if you are in a poor work environment or engage in creativity-dampening behaviors.
The No. 1 enemy of creativity is stress, which is closely followed by the time constraints of daily life, perfectionism and fear of failure.
Creative people have also been found to suffer in their craft by getting sucked into a routine. Working in the same place with the same people every day can hinder creative ideas and different ways of thinking.
Diminished creativity can also be caused by a lack of sleep and reliance on technology. Being constantly plugged into social media and the Internet can be major distractions. If you want to boost your creativity, neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley suggests learning to welcome boredom and reducing how much you multitask. Tedium, he says, never fails to foster the generation of new ideas.
Putting Creativity Into Practice
While studies show that both genetics and environment play a role in how creative you are, one thing is clear: there is no replacement for experience and hard work. Add in a little bit of inspiration, and you’re good to go.
Action and creativity always go hand-in-hand. So, if you’re sitting around waiting for some amazing ideas to pop into your head, you’re going to be disappointed.
Studies have shown that certain activities and behaviors are key to increasing creativity levels. If you want to get your creative juices flowing, here are some great ways to get started:
- Brainstorm and jot down new ideas
- Avoid self-editing
- Keep a journal
- Listen to music
- Connect with creative people
- Take a class or an online course
- Try new things whether it’s an activity, a food or going to a new place
- Consistently learn about new subjects
While these are all great ideas, trying to do them all won’t be helpful. Think about which options appeal most to you and pick your top two or three to take for a test drive. If any of them are a bad fit, eliminate them from your routine and give something else a try. Eventually you’ll find what works best for you.
Some other things to think about for enhancing your ability to think creatively are:
Taking care of your mind and body is vital if you want to be at your best creatively. Being well-rested, exercising regularly, getting fresh air daily and eating well can increase creative thinking and new ideas. If you’re a spiritual person, taking time out to think, pray or meditate can rid your mind of the clutter that inhibits original ideas.
Being self-aware is also very important. Noticing when you are most productive can be key to your creativity. If you’re at your best in the morning, for instance, be sure to set aside time each day to focus on your creative endeavours, even if it means getting up a bit earlier. If you think and work best at night, make that your time to get creative and brainstorm new ideas.
Where you create is also an important piece of the puzzle. Choose a space that inspires you but also is devoid of distractions. If you play guitar, setting up your own mini studio at home is something that can really help your creativity. Being in a space that makes you feel both comfortable and motivated can even spur ideas for that new riff or chord progression you’re working on.
Science may have proven that creativity is hereditary, but that is far from the end of the story. Having a desire to be innovative and the determination to expand your mind are equally as important to increase your creativity.
If you’re willing to set appropriate goals, follow a well-thought out plan, rethink your learning habits and step out of your comfort zone, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more creative person.
What inspires you to be creative? Are there any new skills you want to master? Let us know in the comments below.