Creativity is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. For most of us, the end of year break is time spent away from work, attending family gatherings and, for the most part, neglecting creativity. Just like returning to the gym after some time away, re-starting your creative engine can be hard work, especially for us career creatives.
When I’m feeling creatively out of practice, there are a few ways I get my fitness back. They involve discipline, variety, tapping into the subconscious, and looking after my body. While these tactics reignite my creativity after a hiatus, the same things may not work for you; however, one or two might resonate. And, that can be creative gold.
- Be creative outside of work. One way to make sure your work stays fresh is by creating outside of your typical style or medium. If you’re a copywriter try poetry. A graphic designer, try sculpture etc. The influences you gain from working in different formats and genres can form a powerful new perspective to see your everyday creativity in a whole new light.
- You don’t always have to focus on output. You know that classic self-help quote, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? The same thing goes for creativity. Nourishing your creative fitness with high quality inputs is like eating healthy food. It could be a book, film, tv show, or podcast – but exposing yourself to well made art is an essential part of being creative. Chronic stress and pressure to deliver on the other hand is debilitating to creativity long term.
- Let your mind wander. Actively trying to solve a problem that doesn’t want to be solved can be time-consuming and demoralising. Sometimes you just have to walk away. Repetitive physical tasks that let your mind wander are a great way to disengage your brain and let your subconscious work on finding that next creative solution. Cycling and operating a bbq are two of my personal favourites.
- Revisit a problem just before bed. Another tip for tapping into the creative power of our subconscious brain is to think about the problem you’re trying to solve just before going to bed. Here’s the key though, don’t try to solve the problem then and there, lest you stay up all night thinking about it. Just set the intention to solve the problem and then drift off to sleep. I’ve had more than a few morning eureka moments by tackling creative problems this way. Just keep a notepad beside your bed so you don’t miss it!
- Get enough sleep. Getting back into a routine after those holiday sleep-ins is a crucial part of restoring your creative fitness. I considered myself a night owl for the first 26 years of my life. Becoming more disciplined around my sleeping routine, specifically having set waking and sleeping times, while always aiming for 8 hours of sleep, improved a lot of things. My energy, focus, creativity, and productivity all increased and I had a lot less mental fogginess at the start of the day. Trust me, sleep is your friend.
- Drink up. Not the fun stuff, but the stuff that makes up 60% of our body. Most people don’t drink nearly enough water and when you consider the benefits, there’s really no excuse. Getting the right amount of H2O is proven to significantly affect energy levels and brain function. It’s a no brainer. My goal is usually to drink about 4.5 litres per day to make up for what I lose during exercise.
- Improve your physical fitness. Speaking of exercise, once again science is all over this one, but engaging in medium and high intensity physical activity is proven to improve memory, information processing, and cognitive flexibility. All of which are crucial when it comes to producing high quality creative work. I recently completed a six week fitness challenge and the effect it’s had on my energy, mental clarity and mood have been a massive net positive at work.
Let’s face it, waiting for the muse to strike is never a reliable strategy. Professional creatives rely on our ability to be creative even when we don’t want to be and that takes fitness. Just remember, sometimes all your work needs is more work, getting all of your bad ideas out onto the page so the good ones can emerge. Hopefully, what these tips convey is that if we stay disciplined outside of our creativity, we’ll have more time, focus, and energy to explore all angles inside our creative pursuits. Good luck and make 2021 an extra creative year.