How to Prime Your Brain for Creativity

Creativity is not just about art, music and self-expression. It is also about seeing possibilities beyond existing constraints. People we think of as innovators and creatives see the world differently, finding opportunities and connections that the rest of us miss. They have honed the skill of looking at the familiar in an unfamiliar, generative way.

Creativity is not passive. While every human has creative abilities, like any skill, creativity is something that you can cultivate and develop. This week we begin with practices to prime the brain for creativity. Next week we will cover six ways you can boost your creativity.  

Here are 6 ways to prime your brain for creativity:

  1. Be Observant. Examine the world around you with a deliberately different perspective. This will counter your built-in tendency to habituate, or default to the familiar way of seeing and experiencing. One of our favorite exercises is to find a common object (a pen, a vase, etc.) and come up with as many ideas as possible for using that item. When facilitating a group session, one of our favorite exercises is for small groups to draw the concept they are learning about. It helps them communicate visually rather than verbally and brings forth new insights about the topic.
  1. Be Open. Intentionally expose yourself to new experiences. Your brain can’t make new connections if you’re not exposing it to new information. Creativity thrives on input! Continually challenge yourself to try out new things. Travel is a fabulous way to stimulate creativity because it creates the opportunity for new experiences and new people.
  1. Be friendly. Seek out different kinds of people. Contrasting opinions spark new possibilities and allow you to make connections you hadn’t seen before. Rather than settle into the familiar conversations with people who think like you do, push yourself out of your comfort zone. Go to events where there are people who are not like you. We attended a course on Flow for Writers with Steven Kotler. Attendees included the retired head of Seal Team Six (Navy Seals) the woman’s top back county skier and other fascinating people who were not the typical group of businesspeople we’d encounter at a conference. That pushed us out of our comfort zone and helped us engage in new perspectives on life while we learned about neuroscience, writing and flow!
  1. Practice. When you practice your creativity daily, you are developing your skills, staying inspired, and allowing the possibility for a breakthrough to emerge. Practice makes perfect because it creates progress toward a more creative mindset.
  1. Document. Track your ideas by noting them in an ideas journal. A written record allows you to reflect on what you have accomplished, and also serves as future inspiration. Donna has an idea journal where she writes snippets of sentences or word patterns that capture her attention. This serves as inspiration for many of these tips!
  1. Slow down and be still. Busy minds block creativity. Stillness clears your minds and gives your brain space to observe and reflect. Creativity occurs when new connections are made, and you need “creative thinking time” to allow your magnificent brain to do its work.

Your creativity is a worthy investment of your time and attention. It is a tool you can use to break through barriers in life, solve complex challenges and develop new concepts to improve the world. These priming techniques can help build your creative muscles.

Creativity is an essential component of effective leadership. Consider the leaders you admire and how they saw things in new ways and used their creativity to make the world a better place.

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