Let society say what they will about Millennials (y’know, that we’re all a bunch of lazy, entitled, narcissistic jerkwads suffering from arrested development, etc.); we’re also a generation that has turned passion projects into paying projects like no generation before it, and creativity has become invaluable currency in the workplace and beyond.
But when you’re constantly faced with the pressure to produce innovative ideas, it can start to weigh on you, and doing that everyday transformation from sleepy meatbag to outside-the-box idea factory can take a minute (or hey, let’s be honest: hours). Here are a few ways to get yourself there quicker, so you can spend more time making magic and less time wallowing in your creative ennui.
- Exercise your body and your brain will follow. A recent study showed that people who exercise regularly may experience enhanced cognitive behavior that is conducive to creativity; specifically, a study conducted by Leiden University showed that individuals who exercised four times a week were able to think more creatively than those who don’t.
- Act like a child. Seriously. Starting off with something that’s creative but only mildly so can help ease you into the process. We now live in an age where there’s a legit market for adult coloring books. And by “adult,” we mean that quite literally; some of our favorites include the Go F*ck Yourself, I’m Coloring book and this one, which is full of vaginas. Another option: this 3-minute exercise from IDEO, which consists of doodling inside of 30 circles within that time period. Coming up with stuff that is not a smiley face or a peace sign is more invigorating than it sounds. You can download and print the worksheet here.
- Listen to music and zone the eff out. Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music, explains that listening to music is one of the most effective ways to put yourself in “mind-wandering mode,” which is the brain state from whence most creative ideas come. The verdict is still out as to whether listening to music while you’re working ends up helping or distracting you, but what researchers tend to agree on is that listening to music you enjoy (and taking the time to actually enjoy it) can serve as a pathway to the creative treasure chests buried in your noggin.
- Immerse yourself in someone else’s brain. A common (though controversial) practice among writers is to copy their favorite passages or even full chapters or short stories verbatim. The idea is that physically reproducing something you find to be exceptionally artful or creative will help you understand the mechanics of a piece and potentially the thought process behind it, which can in turn inform your own work. Ditto for musicians learning a cover or artists recreating a painting or sculpture.
- Give yourself time, but not too much. A creative rut is generally a thing of our own making. Think about it: if you’re up against a strict deadline, there’s not much time for navel gazing and you get the job done because you have to. But when you’re working on a passion project or you’re a freelancer with a lot of flexibility as far as timelines go, the open-endedness that once felt like a luxury can become a liability. Hold yourself accountable by setting up a work-swap with someone where you agree to exchange work for feedback on a set date. That person will be bummed if you don’t follow through, which in turn will bum you out. Everybody loses 🙁
Bonus: A playlist of six TED talks from speakers in a range of disciplines discussing creativity.
This article was originally published on November 28, 2016 and has since been updated.