How To Be Creative # 01: Surround Yourself With Good Company

We’re all about promoting creativity – it’s what we live to do and that’s why we’re launching a new series on what we know will help you make awesome. It’s in your reach, but like anything sometimes you just need a little nudge. Inertia’s a bitch like that.

Being creative is about sharing ideas. So much so that I’d say any of us are only as creative as the company we keep. By sharing ideas we’re clued in on the minds of others from different places and backgrounds, which I believe makes us that more likely to foster great ideas. It doesn’t have to be mind blowing like time travel or inventing the electric blanket mobile. Sometimes being creative is simply taking an idea one step further or applying a concept differently like T-post did with t-shirt magazine subscriptions.

Co-working is a great way to surround yourself with a diverse group of people. We do it here and learn so much from participating. It’s blown up on a worldwide scale, but you don’t really even have to be that organized. Who do you know in your life that has a really cool job or interesting side project? Strike up a conversation, take them to coffee or lunch and get them talking about their passion. You’ll be surprised how much hearing the excitement in their voice will motivate you.


Ready to take action? Be sure to check out:
Makeshift Society
New Work City
Green Spaces
Benefits of Co-working

How To Be Creative # 02: Approach Life As An Art

Stomp out any traditional notions you have about what art is. Grit your teeth too. Ok, now check this. Sure drawing, painting and making music are all artistic expressions, but they’re by no means the only ways to be an artist. Too often there’s that misconception though and it makes people sheepishly concede that they’re just not creative. Well I call bullshit, because for many people I think that’s only an excuse. They’re held back by the belief that one needs to practice traditional arts in order to be creative.

How To Be Creative #02

It’s time to start approaching more of the things you do in your life with the intention to make an art of it. And don’t worry, the possibilities are endless. If you own a store, your unique rapport with customers can be an art. If you’re a barista, that little edge you give to an iced mocha or the quirky messages you write on customers’ cups to make them smile can be your thing. Above all, art is just about being you, something that even your doppelganger can’t replicate. It’s time to stop worrying about what other people think and express yourself.

If you make the effort to find art in the seemingly mundane, you’re going to feel amazing. This I promise. Passionate art just makes human beings feel special. It’s as if we parceled together the most complex strands of our DNA to share with the world. And if you can do that, guess what? You are creative.

Ready to take action? Be sure to check out:
Ignore Everybody
Recognizing Art in Your Daily Life

How To Be Creative # 03: Travel

You’re stuck in a rut and NIN’s Every Day Is Exactly The Same seems quite applicable. We’ve all been there – frustrated and letting far too much negativity interfere with our lives. Fortunately, the solution might easier than you think and really, really fun. It’s actually something your parents used to drag you along for and made your home feel really strange to be in again after a week or two. Yep, travel.

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know when I insist that travel helps our bodies and minds recharge. Immersing ourselves in a new place, trying new foods and talking to people from entirely different upbringings is a beautiful way to work our neural connections and passageways. That’s why some of the most creative and interesting people out there make it a priority. How else are you supposed to start thinking differently unless you have different experiences?

Others rarely leave their comfort zone (for the outside world is scary, dangerous and unpredictable) and see none of the benefits. Still others walk a middle ground, recognizing travel’s value, but letting excuses and obstacles get in their way. I know that all too well. But if the obstacle is money or time off, the best advice I can give is the same approach I like with savings in general.

Set up a travel savings account and automatic transfer each month of a little more than you’re comfortable with. If you run into some extra cash from rewards cards, loose change or odd jobs – just bank it. You can probably get along without it, even if it means getting flirty with the bartenders tonight. It’ll all depend on your commitment, but you may be able to reward yourself with a trip sooner than you think. And it will be so awesome when that happens.

In the meantime there is an easy fix that can help out a bunch. Take a day and just go somewhere you’ve never been before. It doesn’t have to be far. Hiking, photowalking a neighborhood you’ve never set foot, or thrift shopping podunk towns all can relieve hungry eyes. It’s not as glamorous as backpacking Europe or exploring ancient South American ruins, but it’ll give your eyes something new to look at. Try it and let us know it goes.

Ready to take action? Be sure to check out:
Automating Your Personal Finances – Personal finance tips from Ramit Sethi
Photowalk List – Find a photowalk near you
Couchsurfing and Tripping – Connecting travelers with locals
wejetset – Modern travel store for those with discriminating tastes

How To Be Creative # 04: Take Time To Be A Kid

When you were a child, being creative was encouraged. You probably had more crayons, watercolors and construction paper than you could handle, and your work was on constant display at the gallery – a classroom wall or home refrigerator. But at some point, it went the way of afternoon recess. Stolen away because you had to study things like history, mathematics and A Tale of Two Cities. It’s not like anyone explicitly told you to stop having fun, but there was still some kind of guilt inflicted for not being productive. Soon enough you worried about not having a steady job, a huge hit to the imagination.

What many people forget is that letting go and doing what’s natural is exactly what we need to keep functioning at a high level. We don’t have to forge ahead 24/7 and risk burnout. Playtime can be that break in our routine that helps us create bold, new ideas.

So break out the sketchbook and canvas, but don’t forget that there’s lots of ways to have fun. Grab a six-pack and race friends on big wheels you can hardly pedal or re-create scenes from your all-time favorite tv shows with photos. If you want a challenge, build a flying machine and enter Red Bull’s Flugtag competition. It’s not going to guarantee greatness, but toiling away all day at a desk doesn’t either. And guess what – this is going to be fucking fun.

Ready to take action? Be sure to check out:
Playing Grownup – A blog about growing up fun
Improv Everywhere – They cause scenes and you’re invited
Creative Think – Think like a kid

How To Be Creative # 05: Remain A Lifelong Student

Sometimes we forget how easy our access to education is. We’re nearly mandated to finish high school and most of us go on to college. We take online courses and there’s tons of programs offering free workshops and lessons. It’s definitely nothing like Iran where women are repressed and mullets are illegal. A lot of people can’t wait to finish and get that diploma, but education isn’t about jumping a final hurdle – it’s a lifelong pursuit.

I can only speak for myself, but my mind gets stale when I stop learning. Science chimes in to tell us the brain atrophies like a muscle, so maybe that’s why I feel the most creative and have my best ideas when I’m reading a lot (that shit is crazy) or taking a class. As someone who hadn’t taken a legit class in over 4 years, I was nerding out pretty hard when I decided to try an urban planning class at UCSD. And while I didn’t look forward to writing my final paper and presentation, I relished meeting in the classroom for intellectual discussions. What it did was allow me to think about the world from a new perspective. I think it’s very similar to the idea that you are only as creative as the people you surround yourself with. You’ll only be creative if you keep exposing yourself to new ideas and experiences.

It doesn’t really matter how you do it. It could be a class, but it could also be finding hobbyists or a meetup group. Find someone that knows something you don’t and exchange your expertise. One of the most important things is to not let your career completely dictate what you learn. While it’s great to justify that a class or certification you paid for led to a promotion or raise – if something excites you, just go for it because you’ll never know where it leads. It could mean a career change, meeting awesome new people or an odyssey around the world. And when it comes down to it, investing in you is never a waste of time or money.

Ready for some action? Be sure to check out:
Skillshare – Skillshare is a community marketplace for classes
Coursera – Take the World’s Best Courses, Online, For Free
Your Public Library – Get lost in the stacks
Meetup – Find other people with your interests and learn together

How To Be Creative #06: Ignore the Skeptics

New ideas are always resisted, even if they’re great. You know that. Maybe the idea seems too far-fetched and ambitious, or perhaps it’s so simple in hindsight that everyone who didn’t think of it is hoping it’ll fail. That’s it right there – sadly, there are people out there that don’t want an idea to take off unless it’s theirs. Such are humans, unless they know better.

And it’s hard to deal with that. Because maybe you just had the epiphany of a lifetime and no one gives a damn. It’s ignored, criticized, called stupid and pretty soon you’re believing the words coming out of everyone’s mouths instead of how you really feel. So make like Hugh MacLeod and ignore everybody. If you need to vent and shout “Fuck him/her”, do it (in your own privacy). But know that when I say ignore everyone, I really just mean ignore unconstructive feedback. Criticism without an explanation drives me mental, but learning from people constructively tearing you down is essential. Learn to recognize the difference and channel any rage you have into energy towards your projects.

Photo by William Mahnken

Just think how ridiculous a lot of things we have today were at conception. Weren’t the first trips into outer space ridiculed by doubters? Wouldn’t social media seem ludicrous to explain to someone 20 years ago? My point is that progressive change doesn’t come from people fearing being shot down. They just find a way to make it happen. Your struggles probably aren’t nearly as insurmountable, unless you’re figuring out time travel, and in which case I REALLY want to meet you. But yeah, don’t be afraid to pursue something just because someone thinks it’s silly. I’ve always liked the Wayne Coyne approach where he admits he makes something he likes and believes there are other people out there that will too. Everyone doesn’t have to. And it might take you 9 different ideas and a whole lot of emotional energy before something sticks, but trust that you’ll get there and it’s worth it.

Ready to take action? Be sure to check out:
Procrastinating Writers – Some guidance for writers but you can apply it to anything really
Best 8 Ways to Deal with Detractors – A great gameplan from the always awesome Zenhabits

How To Be Creative # 07: Quit Being Defensive

One character flaw I’ve always struggled with is being overly defensive of my work and ideas. It’s not something I’m going to apologize for because it’s who I am and only human nature, but it is a behavior I can keep in check for my own benefit. Passion and confidence are great, but not when they become an obstacle.

See, sometimes when we believe in an idea so hard or have invested so much in a project, any criticism comes across as blasphemy. How fucking dare someone trash me when they haven’t done anything? They have no idea what they’re talking about! I know that’s been my reaction plenty of times, even if I kept the words to myself. But the problem from a creative standpoint, besides not being open-minded enough to make improvements is that being angry and defensive uses up your creative energy and resources. All that time spent defending your work and trying to knock down your perceived enemies takes away from time spent bettering yourself or being more prolific. At the very least, it’s taxing because you’ll need to calm down and refocus.

In fact, in creative work you might be better off committing a cardinal sin of team sports – a whole lot of offense and limited defense. Because unlike the playing field there aren’t that many enemies and you just might be the biggest one. You are better off producing more than letting hubris interfere because you’ll always be accomplishing more than your loudest critics.

That’s not to say you should ignore all criticism. Like I mentioned in a previous piece, constructive criticism is awesome and something you should be grateful to receive. But take criticisms as suggestions. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll know when you should consider a change and when something is absolute horseshit that defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to do. I’m just saying don’t let the noise bother you so much because it’ll ruin the focus and energy you need to be creative. I know I haven’t reached the point where I’m ready to throw away good opportunities. Have you?

How To Be Creative # 08: Embrace Boredom

You’re in line for groceries and wouldn’t you know it, it’s going to be a while since you needed some food in your life at the precise moment as everyone else. You reach impulsively for your smartphone because by now it’s a Pavlovian response and with email, status updates and apps galore, your phone is the big ticket to instant gratification. There’s no reason to be bored nowadays…or is there?

It may take some willpower and while we know that’s a finite resource, I’m thinking you’re willing to trade for something even better, like an incredible new idea or a solution to what’s been bothering you. Well then good citizen in this age of distraction, opt-in to boredom – at least now and then.

Photo by Cara Bendon

Our minds are amazing things. And while the number of things we can feed them to process is impressive, what’s really cool is what happens when we leave them be. Give your mind a break from consumption and it doesn’t just sit idly; it gets wildly creative and makes things happen. It’s really no secret, but giving yourself a breather is essential for finding your creative genius. Think of it this way. If you were locked in a room with art supplies and nothing else to do, what would happen? You’d draw, paint, write or come up with something totally unique. It might not be the best thing ever, but you’d be creating nonetheless. It’s why so many people report their best thoughts striking in the shower, on airplanes or long car rides. But you don’t need to limit yourself to these infrequent moments (I know you don’t shower nearly enough anyways).

The next time you find yourself not knowing what to do, consider it an opportunity. Take in your surroundings and allow yourself to have your own thoughts instead of reading the transcripts of others. I think you’ll find that the boredom wasn’t so much ennui, but an occasion to fill some idle time without any help. Give your brain some quality time to process all the input you’ve given it and it will reward you by showing that it’s a lot cooler than you ever gave it credit for. C’mon, have you really lost all ability to entertain yourself?

How To Be Creative # 09: Do Experiments, Lots Of Them

Mornings larks and night owls make for a fun debate on creativity. Which is better? What category do the most creative people fall under? Of course there’s no right answer, but most people have an idea of when their brains function best. However, there are many variables besides time of day when it comes to creative work.

Do you prefer a quiet studio space or a co-working collective that’s buzzing with activity? Would it be beneficial for you to get some midday exercise to wake up your mind, or will several ten minute walks around the block suffice? Maybe a great conversation over lunch is the daily inspiration you need.

Everyone is different, but it’s absolutely worth the time to run some tests on yourself. With so much of our work spent staring at screens, I like to question whether that’s really the best use of time and the way to create something truly amazing. At the very least, I like to break up the monotony when I believe atoms trump pixels.

Yep, one day I decided to work on a beanbag on the roof. It sure beats routine. Photo by Jules Faas.

I know in the past, a lot of experimentation for me didn’t happen (like everything else in life) out of fear. I worked jobs where I knew absence from my desk would make my boss believe I wasn’t doing my job, even when any reasonably intelligent person knows gluing your pleated pants to a chair and fixating on a monitor is hardly an indication of meaningful work.

We need to move past this. Find out what works for you. If you need to, talk to your boss about the experimenting you’d like to do and what you hope to learn. Explain how it will help you be more productive and creative. Record your progress and findings. What ideas did have the days you decided to go for a jog? What about the days you took the time to cook yourself a solid breakfast? That day you ate fish tacos and laughed uncontrollably with your best friend? Share the results to prove you’re genuinely interested in improving. Many careers would be better served by a little creativity and if your employer doesn’t get that, maybe it’s time to start looking for a job that’s better suited to you.

How To Be Creative # 10: Recognize You Are A Creative

Creative people are wired differently. They’re often described as quirky or weird, and while that does seem to hold true, it’s not completely universal. There are a lot of creative people out there that aren’t comfortable labeling themselves that, but it’s pretty easy to tell by reactions to idle time. Does the slightest twinge of boredom send you fleeing to your smartphone in search of entertainment and instant gratification? Or does it spark your imagination? If letting your imagination reign free is something you enjoy, but you’re not doing it as often as you’d like, start recognizing that and making the time for it.

Background photo by Slinkachu

It’s really difficult – I know. There are so many distractions and endless opportunities to consume music, video, anything else on the internet or socialize, but I know when a creative person consistently puts consumption first, he or she is rejecting the very person they are. If you’ve already recognized yourself as a creative, start acknowledging that time for these pursuits is a basic need for you just like food, shelter and sex, even if it’s a bit lower on Mr. Maslow’s hierarchy. Time for creation is something you might need in order to feel good, so don’t ignore it.

For me, it’s a simple litmus test. If I allow myself an hour a day to create, how does it make me feel? Regardless of whether anyone sees what I’m making or whether anyone likes it, it brings me joy so I know it’s a part of my life I need to address.

Not everyone in your life is going to understand this. I’m certain some of my friends think it’s really strange I’d sometimes rather spend a Friday night with a notebook or a Sunday wandering down streets I’ve never been before. But give yourself permission to be different than others. Don’t be influenced by what most people think you should be doing. Make time to do what you crave because no one can do that for you. Giving yourself the opportunity to be creative is the only way you will be.

If you have to block out a time for yourself to work on what you love, Nike that. If you pour 100% of your effort into it, it may take much less time than you thought. And even if it does take forever, does that even matter so long as you’re enjoying it? Forget about other obligations or what would be a more “productive” use of time. That word is used incorrectly sometimes because doing what you love is the most productive thing ever. Work on projects for no other reason than that they make you smile and never forget these things are a crucial part of you being happy.

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