How to Increase Your Creativity

How to Increase Your Creativity Photo of Painted Garage Door
A garage door in Baltimore. Photo by Lynn S. Schwebach.

by Lynn S. Schwebach

Two friends recently asked me how I come up with such quirky ideas for my ink paintings, and I told them I have a “trippy” brain.

They were specifically asking about a painting that I had just completed where I combined ink-dyed eggshells, a photograph, and alcohol inks. One friend said, “I just can’t come up with ideas like that. That’s why I go to craft fairs—to get ideas. But after I talk with artists and they explain, then I understand.”

Going to craft fairs and talking with artists is certainly a creative way to approach learning about the creative process. And still, my friend claimed she wasn’t creative—a claim I have heard from so many over the years. Yet when I walk into these friends’ homes, I am astounded at the unique décor. Or I observe them teaching children, and I see their creative approaches of educating firsthand. Some tell me they haven’t a creative cell in their bodies, yet I watch them compassionately and empathetically respond to patients (as nurses, doctors and caregivers) in ways I would have never imagined, and I wonder how they don’t recognize this as creative problem solving.

Increase Your Creativity Photo of a Mixed Media Painting
A mixed media painting by Lynn S. Schwebach. Ink, dyed eggshells and a photo.

Researchers in the social sciences study creativity, and they stress that creative skills aren’t relegated to only those working in the arts. While the topic is complex, with environment, personality, cognition, and behavior all playing an integral part in developing creativity, all agree that everyone needs a healthy dose of creativity to survive.

So what interests me is how people nurture creativity—or seek out its unfolding as my friend does by going to craft fairs—to spark a way of thinking that almost everyone agrees helps us live meaningfully, purposely, and sometimes joyfully.

Through her research over 35 years, Ruth Richards of Saybrook University and Harvard Medical School, claims that all of us need creativity to not only survive but also thrive. She came up with the term “everyday creativity,” to explain how creativity helps us approach everyday problems, like malfunctioning cars in the middle of a rural areas where there isn’t any cellphone service, or problematic employees at work, or re-engineering home environments for aging parents so they remain safe. Researchers call everyday creativity “little-c creativity.”

“Our creativity may involve anything from making breakfast to solving a major conflict with one’s boss,” Saybrook states in her book, “The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity.”

But how should people nurture little-c or everyday creativity? I told my friend how I have more “trippy” ideas in my head for art projects than I possibly have time to complete. But that is how I have lived my entire life—and I work in the arts. As a child, I daydreamed all the time. Teachers described me as an unconventional student and a free spirit. So I have lived my whole life within a creative fog. But how do people who work in fields not typically characterized as “creative” ignite this way of thinking and living?

Here are some suggestions I gathered from various articles and creativity experts on ways to expand and increase your creativity:

  • Travel. Through many empirically based studies, researchers have found travel broadens the mind by introducing diverse, new experiences that forge new thought processes. It doesn’t have to be an expensive 10-day getaway—even a drive to some place different on a Sunday helps. See my article “Become a Traveler Not a Tourist,” for more on this topic.
  • Turn off and unplug. Schedule quiet time to unwind, and relax. Daydream. Draw. (Don’t worry what it looks like.) Listen to music. Meditate.
  • Play. Keep a basket of children’s building blocks, car toys, crayons, paper, glue and other art supplies in your living room. Carve out time in your schedule to simply “play.”
  • Dance. Not only is dancing good for creativity, but it’s great exercise.
  • Read. Books. A lot. Stretch yourself and read about topics you aren’t naturally drawn to, a subject that you know nothing about. Join a book club.
  • Go to craft fairs. Go to art shows, craft and art markets, museums. and art galleries. Observe. Ask questions. Look at how artisans make and display their arts and crafts.
  • Learn. Take a class online, at your local library, or community college. Learn a new language or simply a new skill like gardening.
  • Stretch yourself. Do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do, such as pierce your ear, your nose, or another part of your body. If you are too squeamish for a piercing, get your hair dyed a different color or cut in a different way. Buy a piece of clothing that seems “out there” for you. The point here is to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
  • Redecorate. Even those on the smallest of budgets can move furniture around, paint, or go to garage sales to find new ways to redecorate your house, apartment, or dorm room.
  • Walk. Get outside and walk or hike. Or go to a new neighborhood, park, or town and walk. A Stanford research study found that creativity increases while walking and shortly thereafter.
  • Listen to new music. Or go to a concert.  Try new musical genres, such as opera or a symphony. Or go to a rock concert if you have never been.
  • Cook. Try something new. Experiment and make up your own recipes. See my article, “Improvisational Cooking—Elliott’s Mango Chicken.”
  • Exercise. Motion is lotion. There are many articles and books written on the benefits of exercise for emotional and physical health, but creativity researchers also say that exercise benefits our creativity.
  • Work in a different environment. Try working in a different room, building or coffeehouse. Sometimes just taking your laptop and going to new coffeehouse, library or place different from where you normally work helps recharge your creativity.  My husband and I often drive to Boulder, Colo., (about 50 miles from our house) and work in a coffee shop, because Boulder has a completely different “vibe” than where we live. See my article, “Boulder is Bravely Creative.”
  • Paint. Paint your garage door with figures, signs, symbols. Paint your garbage cans. Paint a comic strip on your kitchen walls. (My grandfather did this!)  A friend of mine once painted sunflowers on her kitchen wall to remind her of a former neighbor’s front yard planted full of sunflowers. She is not an artist. She is a social worker, and she knows the value of artistic expression on our emotional well being.
Several Ways to Increase Your Creativity Photo of a Trippy Monster Ink Painting
A trippy ink painting by Lynn S. Schwebach. Available on Etsy.

I can’t promise your brain will turn “trippy” if you do all these things, but I will tell you that you might have fun, and your life will get a bit more interesting. But most importantly, satisfaction at a life lived solving everyday problems and dilemmas probably will give you a sense of accomplishment—especially if in the process you end up helping others. And that alone makes me want to dance—as it should you.

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