December 26, 2013
Through the ages, the wise have counseled us to trust our own convictions. That’s harder than ever today, given the endless distractions around us.
When those of us in creative fields – like entrepreneurship – need inspiration, the ceaseless bombardment of sounds, images, and ideas can be glitter that turns out not to be gold. Sure, we may see something of value in someone else’s work, but we must resist the temptation to follow it blindly.
I believe that true inspiration comes from within, and there are tried-and-true ways to recognize and encourage that inner voice.
Usually, we tend to go about it the wrong way. Does one of these sound like you?
1) You sit down at your computer promptly at 9 a.m. and force yourself to begin work.
2) You close your door, sit at your desk alone, and wait for the “muse” to visit.
Neither is not a good plan of action, and they rarely lead to the type of creative solutions you’re looking for.
Create Your Own Creativity System
You need to create your own unique inspiration system and use it all the time — human beings are habitual creatures. Your creative system should consider all factors: where you work, whether you should listen to music, and whether your fuel is coffee or tea. Examine your surroundings: What’s the right percentage of distraction? Some people thrive on the bustle of an office; for others, that’s a killer.
Next, learn to recognize the unique quirks of your mind and body. Research has found, for example, that we are more creative when we help others. Other studies have found that distractions enhance our creativity. And, yes, it’s true: We often do our best thinking in the shower. Find what works for you.
You won’t discover the right set of circumstances in a day, so give it time. Imagine yourself as a detective, with your creativity as the subject of investigation. Once you get it right, you may find that you occasionally need a change in routine.
I’ve found that I need to keep myself in good shape, mentally and physically. Are you getting the right amount of sleep? Eating right? Exercising? Spending time with family and friends? These practices can’t be emphasized enough.
As productivity nerds, we tend to abhor “brain shutdown” time, which allows our brains to go on cruise control. We live in such a fast-paced world that we run our bodies — and minds — dry. So if playing video games or watching hours of your favorite TV show is your brain shutdown time, then do it. But I highly recommend finding a healthy shutdown activity as well, such as going for a run or cooking a great dinner.
Rules for Creativity
Here are five guidelines I’ve found to be effective:
- Create your creative environment. Be methodical about this. Analyze everything: What items are on your desk? What’s in your mug? What music or sounds do you hear? Know how you work best, and train your brain to go into creative mode when you enter this environment. It’s said that James Joyce wrote “Finnegans Wake” with crayon pieces on cardboard — all while lying on his stomach in his bed. That’s not for everyone, but you get the idea.
- Engage in a creative task that isn’t your primary objective. Get your creativity going by doing something outside your task. Cook a nice dinner, sketch, or play a musical instrument. Creativity comes from the same place in our brain, but it can be ignited by various activities.
- Physical exercise invites creativity. Exercise releases endorphins and stimulates your creative brain. I suggest going for a run, riding a bike, or even walking. This will clear your head, get your heart pumping, and sharpen your focus.
- Try the Pomodoro Technique. This is a system that encourages you to work on a task for 25 uninterrupted minutes. You commit yourself to completing each task in a 25-minute window. Then, when the alarm goes off, you take a five-minute break before starting another Pomodoro cycle to tackle a new task.
- Learn a new skill. This seems counterproductive and a waste of time, but when you learn a new skill, you stretch your brain and begin to think in different ways. If you’re a creative person, take a course in something more technical, like writing code or operating a 3D printer. If you’re a technical person, take a course on color theory. You’ll find your creativity extends beyond your current project.
While creativity and inspiration are not mathematical, they’re also not random. We can prepare an environment that makes them more likely. If we do, we’re able to deliver work of quality consistently, instead of erratically.
The great scientist Louis Pasteur, who pioneered the germ theory of disease, will be long remembered for his discoveries. We can learn from his example. He didn’t leave inspiration to chance. “Chance,” he said, “favors only the prepared mind.”
Guest author John T. Meyer is the co-founder and CEO of Lemonly, a visual marketing firm that specializes in infographics and data visualization. Always sweet, never sour, its mission is to create understanding through visuals. Connect with John on Twitter and Google+.
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