Wisdom//

20 Ways to Work Your Brain Smarter, Not Harder

Let your mind run free.

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

Creativity is the process of putting your imagination to work.

Unfortunately, even if your imagination is working hard, it might not be working as smart as it could be.

I’d like to help …

Creativity is the ability to see things in ways that others don’t — to think beyond what you’ve been taught, to ask questions until you get the answers you need to pull something unique from inside you.

Some people look at a tree and see a mass of green; others see leaves that will one day fall and need cleaning. A few see the tree as a thriving metropolis, a source of shelter and food for its community living within.

When we talk about creativity, we automatically think of the popular great artists amongst us: the painters, the writers and musicians, those who can take snippets from the world around us and turn them into exciting, enthralling, educating and entertaining works of art.

You can easily become overwhelmed by the awe they’ve left behind. But because creativity is simply the thought that precedes something new, everyone has the potential to be creative.

Creativity is innovation’s spark. It starts with a problem needing a solution, or an idea that may solve a problem we didn’t even know we had.

As a writer, that small creative spark can burn through your life. Let your creative voice breathe. Characters like Hercule Poirot, Scarlett O’Hara, Mr. Darcy, Gollum, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter have altered our social landscape. Writers have the creative power to write anything they want. They have no limits.

Every writer has a unique power in her pen, and everyone has the potential to create original characters with enduring appeal.

You are already creative, but now you must accept the challenges and keep yourself from paralysis when tested.

You’re not trying to be more creative, you’re trying to unlock your natural potential, establishing a creative frame of mind, nourishing your ability to ask questions, and using simple techniques to help train your mind to use both sides of your brain to think outside traditional parameters.

1. Switch Hands

What would happen if you decided to use only your left hand instead of your right? Wouldn’t that make life a little more interesting?

While you would suffer some temporary frustration, the sudden disadvantage would also cause your mind to start questioning routine tasks.

How do I turn the lid on the jar with my left hand?

Which side harbors the buttons on my shirt?

How do I reach the toilet paper?

How do I hold my mug?

How do I eat?

Once your mind starts asking questions about tasks you saw as automatic, your right and left side starts working together, forming the tinder for creative spark.

2. Use a Blindfold (Safely!)

Try training your mind by dressing with a blindfold [making sure you aren’t in a place where you could fall or hurt yourself]. Doing so will require you to use all of your other senses, actively engaging your imagination as you feel your way through the clothing, using tactile clues to decode your surroundings.

First, try getting dressed, laying your clothes on the bed, and seeing if you can manage to get your labels facing the right way the first time. Next, try choosing your outfit while blindfolded as well.

You’ll take longer to get dressed, but your mind will thank you for the exercise, and you’ll surely laugh out loud when you see yourself dressed like a sugar-crazed kindergartner.

3. Doodle

How many of you like to pick up a pen and absentmindedly start doodling with it while you are on the phone, listening to a lecture, in a meeting or just taking a moment to yourself?

You’ll likely end up creating something super cool! Doodling is your mind breaking free from constraints and initiating creativity in the midst of distraction.

Doodling is easy, but if you’re not an artist and you’ve ever tried to consciously draw something, you probably thought it was really hard, and you didn’t get the results you wanted, or were especially proud of.

That’s because your mind wasn’t running free. Doodling takes your mind off the leash. Fortunately, you don’t need a seminar or distraction to be unconsciously creative.

4. Look to the Sky

When you have a blue sky pillowed with clouds, take a closer look to see what shapes your mind will find. Watch as marshmallows in the sky magically morph into new and wonderful things, then create a small story from the scene unfolding above you.

5. Create Life Stories

Look outside your office window to see the people peppering the street below. Observe how people dress and the expressions they wear on their faces. Try to imagine what has happened in their lives in the moments before you saw them or what might happen to them later that day.

Listen to the birds in the park and try to imagine the conversation that they are having. Finding the magic in the quiet is one of the most effective ways to find and tap into your inner voice.

6. Find Your Inner Voice

The art of Meditation sounds far more ethereal than it really is. Being mindful of your surroundings, and learning to block the world outside so you can better hear the hum of the inner you is an excellent way to unlock and examine your creativity in a ‘safe’ environment.

Many people think they have to know ancient chants of spirituality, or have special rain-forest music going. Meditation doesn’t mean you know how to be at one with the universe. Meditation is simply the act of sitting quietly and being content in the moment.

Meditation is a mini-vacation for your mind, allowing you to relax and invite your inner muse to sing the song inside you.

That might mean something as simple as deciding to try the new coffee shop on the corner, read a story to your daughter, or take a moment to be grateful for the many good things in your life. In some cases, meditation can help you uncover the places in your life where you’re so that you can figure out ways to get more fulfilled.

Allowing your mind to roam freely for even a few minutes a day can open doors inside you, and eliminate barriers to change that are easier to gather as you grow older.

7. Read a Story Jeopardy-Style

Jeopardy is a great game because it’s about questions rather than the answers. Take this concept to your reading, and try getting through a story from end to beginning. This will arouse your natural curiosity:

Why is he crying?

What have they been through?

How did the ship’s captain not see the iceberg?

By doing this you begin to create your own theories as to what has happened, and why. Soon, you will have your own unique story to tell, and yours may even improve on the original.

Physical Exercises

If you’re like most writers, you probably just groaned, even if you did it quietly. You already know that sitting on your butt all day and staring at a computer screen isn’t good for you, that fat accumulates where you put the most pressure for the longest time, and you need around 15,000 steps a day to circulate essential nutrients through your bodies and at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to be healthy.

But guess what?

Aside from the obvious fitness and health benefits, physical exercise is an ideal way to help you become more creative. Each sport has its own benefits, but to get the most from your chosen sport, you must understand how it will advance your creativity potential.

8. Running, Jogging, Walking and Hiking

Unlike team sports, which involve you becoming an active innovator, individual sports tend to get you into more of a meditative state. Yes, you are becoming healthier and distributing essential nutrients throughout your body, and yes, your hormone and endorphin levels will all be balancing themselves, but the great advantage for writers is that the body’s distraction can put the mind into a state ideal for creative thinking.

Outside sports help you absorb the world around you.

The birds in the trees, the sun beating on your back, the sound of rubber as it slaps the street beneath you; the woman walking her dog on the other side of the road, the mosquito buzzing in your ear. All these things connect you with the surrounding world.

Being outside will help you add to your bank of creativity. You probably won’t have pen or paper with you, but observing the world around you helps your brain make connections it will certainly lean on later.

9. Indulge in Yoga

For those not into team sports, sweat or pain, yoga is an ideal place to practice the meditation techniques discussed earlier. Yoga allows you to gently work your muscles and keep those important nutrients flowing, while making you acutely aware of what is happening within your body and mind, and how the two are connected.

Yoga gives you the physical discipline to create shapes with your body you never thought possible, while teaching you to be in the moment with yourself and have an understanding of how achieving balance in all aspects of life can be fulfilling in a physical and spiritual way.

Yoga also teaches you how to achieve discipline within your mind, contrasted by quiet reflection and inner calm. Once you reach this point of inner peace your mind will wander and your imagination will lose its limits.

10. Learn Interpretive Dance

Music is phenomenal for the soul, creating feelings and emotions that are extraordinarily powerful. You know what sitting at a concert is like, unable to stop your foot from tapping or your shoulders from swaying. Give yourself the freedom to move your entire body and you will find that your mind will start the creative process on its own, with little prompting from you.

Using all your senses, interpret the world around you as it happens — no limits exist to what you can be or what you can do because it is all up to your interpretation of the music playing, and the story you are telling.

With acting, you must physically immerse yourself into character. With ballet, you must fit your body into a set frame; interpretive dance means immersing yourself in the music until you transform into something else; human, alien or animal!

Interpretive dance will give you a shortcut to opening the part of your brain that never stops searching for the freedom to move.

Visual Exercises

A large part of your right brain’s creative function is the processing of visual images. What you see and hear has a massive effect on your scope of imagination.

You see things and know when you like or dislike something, but unless you question yourself further, you will not be able to say why you like or dislike it, or even how it differs from something else. This not only makes it hard to choose whether you will like something or not, but it makes improving something you don’t like impossible.

Visual exercises are a simple way to train your mind to reach a deeper consciousness so you can ask yourself questions about your decision-making process. This allows you to visualize different circumstances so you can create a better world for yourself, your readers and your characters.

11. Become a Critic

Head on down to your local art gallery, or use the Internet to search for art collections, then quietly browse through the art on display. Learn to listen to what your mind tells you about each piece. Every time you hear yourself think “I don’t like that,” or “I like that one,” ask yourself why or why not.

Sometimes it will be the colors, sometimes the subject. Other times it will be the way the artist chose to use their colors or materials. No good or bad thoughts exist here, and your opinion isn’t a criticism of the artist. The art is their interpretation of the world as they see it, and an insight into your own mind.

Visualize the piece as you would have presented it to lead yourself to internal discovery, thinking of ways you can do things better to grow, develop, and reach your potential as a writer.

12. Analyze Others

If putting brush to canvas or pencil to paper is too far out of your comfort zone, you can improve your creativity by taking a quick look at passages of text to find the imbalance in sentences.

Just as you critiqued the artist, you can quietly critique the writing, storyline and even the sentence structure used by other authors. You can add your interpretation to the story and even change the language of the characters.

Just as one of the best ways to become a better writer is to become a better reader, you can grow more creative by deconstructing the creativity of other writers you admire.

While all this seems serious, you can do a few fun exercises to awaken your creativity with visual methods. Simple games of recall are easy to do, though you should prepare to be frustrated the first few times you try them!

13. Create a Play From Your Scene

As you get better with memorizing your scene, you can create another story, or continue to develop the scene long after you have left it. Who met who at the park, what did they talk about, did they leave together or separately, as friends, lovers or enemies?

The best stories come from real life, and real life happens all around you. Observe often, and reconstruct almost as much. This simple exercise will help open the channels to your creativity and improve your ability as a writer.

14. Test Your Memory

Playing memory games with cards or household items is another tremendous way to stimulate your creative side, especially if you have children.

Having to actively commit to memory every card that’s been upturned, along with where they are on the table, then harboring the memory as the next card or item appears can be a massive challenge, especially for older minds cluttered with too many random thoughts and pressing to-do’s.

This process trains your mind for discipline and recall, two of the fundamental ingredients to organic creativity.

Auditory Exercises

You probably overlook your ears as a source of creativity. You are likely so focused on the visual and emotional aspects of your life, you disregard the impact sound has on your thought.

What you hear is directly connected to your emotional state. The sound of a bird singing in a park is delightful, and adds to the experience of being out in nature, while silence in the same park will give you a sense of foreboding.

To do this well, you must first understand how sound influences your emotions and your other processing senses. You can develop your auditory awareness, then use your new awareness to connect your other creative skills using several exercises:

15. Use Songs

By letting the music style guide your mood, playing a song at different volumes or tweaking the equalizer settings, you can alter the musical landscape, as well as its emotional effect.

A live rock track played at full volume can stir and excite, whereas a mournful melody can create an emotional drain response that is emotionally draining.

Good songs are well-told stories, with sound and language in an elegant collision. You don’t have to study music to mine its full benefit. Simply by listening you can increase your creativity and slowly grow as a writer.

16. Play by Ear

Playing a tune by ear instead of using sheet music is another excellent exercise, if you can do it. By listening to the notes and trying to figure out the corresponding note on the instrument you are playing, you get the right side of your brain working and can rapidly improve your ability to alter the tune, give it a different feel and even create new tunes from the original.

Even if you can’t play by ear, you can still sit with an instrument and experiment with the sounds, encouraging your creative mind to draw connections between the music you’re used to and the music happening in your hands.

Linguistic Exercises

One of the biggest hurdles in your mission to become more creative is being unable to find the words required to describe the scenario or emotion you’re trying to evoke. By doing various linguistic exercises, you can expand your vocabulary, more effectively communicate your written message, and trigger a desired response and reaction from your reader.

17. Play with Restrictions

Place boundaries on your writing. For example, restrict yourself to only using words that contain the letter e, or forbid yourself from words containing an s. This will expand your knowledge base, and train your mind that barriers are for adaptation, not surrender.

18. Free Writing

Free writing is where you pick a topic and let your imagination run wild. You can write to a prompt, or write as a character, but the idea is to write without thinking and allow the muse inside you to move the pen across the paper, or your fingers on the keys.

Try to articulate every syllable, drawl, creak of the boot or belt buckle, click of the heel or swish of their hair, but don’t stop too long to think. Go through the emotional process with your character from their interpretation of an event in their life, whether it be a trauma, celebration, announcement, comment, conversation, argument, re-union or any number of other incidences, and try to convey their first reaction to it through to the final impact that it has on them.

The faster you go, the closer to your natural voice your free writing will get, and the nearer it will be to your natural curiosity.

Tactile Exercises

The last way you can teach yourself to be more creative is by taking a hands-on approach and using all your senses to stimulate your brain. Just as young children learn basic life skills using tactile exercises, you can allow your mind to indulge in a little harmless, messy fun.

By using your hands and body to physically articulate the ideas in your head, while dealing with the obstacles that come from working with physical objects, you can utilize your sense of touch, question the dynamics of what you are working with, and learn to expand on your problem-solving potential.

19. Go Back to the Craft Table

You know what playing with Play-Doh is like. You remember the feel of the smooth squishy goo between your fingers, and how good it felt to work with. If you were to sit at a table with a pile of Play-Doh, how long do you think you could last before you started making shapes?

Using toothpicks and marshmallows to build structures, create patterns or aimlessly poke and jab until you settle into a rhythm is another fun tactile exercise. The fantastic part about this exercise is you not only have the stimulation of creating something with marshmallows and toothpicks, and the feeling of working with both ingredients, you also get to try and imagine what it is that you’ve ended up with! You may have started out wanting to build a house, but doesn’t it look more like a roller coaster? Or maybe a giraffe?

Finger painting is another way to stimulate your creativity. Start by absentmindedly dipping your finger in a small bottle of paint to feel the texture of it, then smear it on a piece of paper. You’ll be repeating the process in no time, adding swirls and layers of paint to create different textures. Using your fingers you can create different sized lines, and by using your fingernail, you can add definition to an area. Add different colors, mix them, and see what happens!

20. Hit the Sand Box

The beauty of working in a sand box is you are not limited to building 3-D images; you can also smooth the sand and draw in it!

Having the freedom of expression, the feeling of the texture of the sand, and having to problem solve when the sand doesn’t react the way you want it to, all act as stimulants to your creative mind.

Originally Published on Medium.

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