When a groove becomes a rut, it may be time to reconsider your tried-and-true ways of being and working. Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Creativity can be a powerful path to new ground and new vitality. Try these strategies to reboot, refresh, and keep your pilot light of inspiration burning.
1. Boost your mood
Positive mood can enhance creativity by giving us a panoramic view 1. To bring an energy slump back to baseline—or move the needle to heights—experiment with input and output that uplift you. You could get physical by going for a hike, taking a yoga class, or getting a foot massage. If cuddling’s more your style, pet a dog (or your animal of choice).
You won’t just feel better, research suggests you’ll also live longer 2. No pets of your own? Go to a shelter, a cat café or a bunny tea. When you want a big lift, fast, music and gratitude are two reliable ways to get there. Grow happiness in a jar by writing down and savoring your happiest moments each day. Or tune into Pharrell Williams’ 24 Hours of Happy online for an around-the-clock virtual dance party.
2. Cleanse your palate
Facing the blank page of a new project can be intimidating, no matter how skilled or experienced we are. Sidestep resistance by energizing your transitions with activities that are outside your typical work and play zone. Get the proven benefits of art therapy and doodling (mindfulness, relief, focus) by tapping into the Zen of adult coloring books 3. Or try reading a poem to pause linear thinking with a plunge into the true nature of consciousness.
A free subscription at Poets.org makes this easy by delivering a daily poem to your inbox. When you emerge refreshed from your poem or pattern, the blank page may seem far more welcoming.
3. Recalibrate your rhythm
We all have our own rhythm for getting work done. For most of us, the sweet spot offers the spaciousness to gestate new ideas, without compromising momentum.
Because procrastinators delay getting started, they may limit productivity—but increase creativity. In contrast, pre-crastinators (those who start and complete a task as soon as possible) may limit creativity by racing to the finish line. Whether you procrastinate or pre-crastinate 4, try the opposite.
If you’re slow to finish, set a tighter deadline for yourself—and meet it. Overcome with anxiety at the idea of letting a task go undone? Try pausing when you’re tempted to act. Notice what happens, then adjust your pace accordingly to arrive at your own best practice.
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4. Just say yes
Many of us hesitate to share ideas until we’re certain they’re good ones. The improvisational strategy of “just say yes,” 5 can help you leapfrog this bottleneck. It works like this. When brainstorming, respond to everything your partner says with, “Yes, and…” then riff on their idea by adding something new and taking the idea a little farther.
Then your partner does the same. And so on. In this context, wrong ideas don’t exist. Instead, you’ll have a continuous volley of collaborative thinking that liberates creativity instead of squashing it. The point isn’t perfection—it’s to get loose and get possible, together.
5. Play make believe
Play is often credited and practiced as a way of promoting entrepreneurial thinking 6. And playing make believe can relieve the pressure of the plausible. Try inventing “crazy” ideas that you’d never do to source innovative approaches you've never considered.
Let’s say you need a huge infusion of cash to bring a new product to market. Your crazy idea of “Rob a bank,” might help you arrive at “Pitch an angel investor.” The wilder your first-draft idea, the freer you’ll be to discover fertile ground beneath the surface.
6. Get in over your head
Instead of delaying doing something because you fear failure, dive into the deep end because you have no idea how. When you get in over your head 7 and take on what you do not yet believe you’re capable of doing, you can very quickly discover strengths you never appreciated and vulnerabilities you can tend and fortify. This is a powerful way to break through your own sound barrier.
And if your goal is evolution, there is no downside, no matter what your results. A key variable in this kind of experiment is a healthy relationship with fear. When you harness fear to move you forward 8, it can help you dig deeper, reach farther, and step into your greatest potential.
7. Let it go
So much of what we struggle to solve simply comes to resolution on its own, in the background, when we get out of the way. Clearing clutter is one surprisingly effective way to make more room for what we want.
Try simplifying your space, spending, or schedule, then notice how much better your relationships, work, and lifestyle become. You could also clear your mental cache with meditation—a practice that reduces stress and rewires your brain 9.
An app like Headspace makes it easy to get started. Or, maybe simplest of all, shift from solving to daydreaming to become receptive to new ideas and possibilities.
Your best work and best life depend on a fluid and resourced mind, body, and spirit. Investing even the smallest increments in your well-being today will pay dividends in energy, inspiration and output over time. The virtuous circle of “optimal you” starts here, today.