A five-tip manual for nurturing creativity
If you, like I in the past, have ever felt like your creativity has dried up and ideas aren't coming to you as naturally as you may think they should, you might feel a bit lost. This could result in a self-perpetuating cycle of thinking too hard, worrying that nothing comes to mind, and then in a rage, tearing your hair out. It could result in a case of imposter syndrome, where you doubt your ability to perform in a creative role.
But please take it from me who, after working in a creative office for the best part of a year now, has learnt various ways in which I can kick myself out of this torrid cycle and start to develop even the smallest ideas into projects worth working on. The tips I give in this blog may sound simple, basic, and overused in this day and age of mental health content. However, the main reason I feel that they work is that they help me to destress, re-energise and focus on the right things - things that I love doing, resulting in me being happier, resulting in my ability to think about ideas in new ways (see the new cycle appearing now?).
1. Communication and collaboration
One of the main things that help me when I get stuck on an idea, is to simply talk to someone about it. Getting their opinion or having a discussion on the topic you're exploring means you're exploring further, opening up new avenues in which to travel. Listen to the other person's ideas, thoughts, and opinions with the intent of pulling out nuggets that you can expand and develop upon. Also, try to keep it light and playful. It's no good talking about your idea like it's already stuck in the mud. Joke, build and draw similarities to other existing things, think about the best possible outcome the idea could have and what you need to achieve it. Play around in this time and don't take the idea too seriously.
2. Do what you love - then love what you do
This one is where I notice a more subconscious difference in my ability to tackle tasks with a different mindset. When I've come off the back of playing football, going to the gym, or going out with my mates, I'm usually in a state of heightened mental agility. Some others find this as much more of a state of "flow", where the time goes quicker and you find yourself "in the zone". But for me, it's doing things that I have enthusiasm for and that I genuinely love doing that keep me happy, resulting in a mindset where creative problems are like games instead of chores.
3. Healthy body, healthy mind
This one is quite similar to the last tip, but unfortunately, there's some science involved (I'll keep it brief).
Around 20% of our caloric intake goes to powering our brains, so let's make sure that the calories our brains receive are accompanied by an injection of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that can give us that edge we need to tackle tasks and with energy.
This article by SiimLand (https://tinyurl.com/524ryhnm) contains some really useful information about nutrition affecting the brain that we can put into place immediately, but I'll pick out two that I try to keep in mind.
Satiety - another word for how full and satisfied you feel about what you've eaten. It's important that you eat when you can so that you don't have a Frankenstein-like thought in the back of your mind groaning "foooood". Also, try to eat more satiating foods like whole grains, fruits, green leafy vegetables, and oats. They usually have a lower GI score (Glycemic Index) which can also stabilise blood sugar levels, meaning that you're less likely to experience a crash in energy levels or brain fog.
Caffeine - a designer's lifeblood. Having worked with graphic designers during the apprenticeship, I would almost be tempted to say that they swear by the stuff. Whether it's coffee or tea, it can make you feel more alert, energetic and help with mental agility, something that goes hand in hand with creative problem-solving.
Whacking on some music is such a good way to get in the zone. It does some interesting things to your mind which can boost your ability to think differently. Firstly, it can relax you and put you at ease. Creative ideas don't tend to come easily to those that are stressed or anxious, so put on some tunes and breathe. Secondly, the tempo and type of the music could affect the way you identify patterns in certain topics (admittedly, this tip is more anecdotal than fact-based, but it definitely works for me). When I started working at the graphic design studio, I noticed my boss playing more chilled, subtle electronic music than say, catchy, chart-topping pop tunes (thank God). I can't say I would usually listen to this kind of music, but it chilled me out and acted as a background tempo, stimulating creativity.
5. Headspace - not just the app (although that's good too!)
The fifth and final tip I have is; recognise when thoughts (good or bad) are getting in the way of focusing on a creative problem. These obstructive thoughts can be like someone scrolling through the stations on an old radio, causing a static that just won't shut up. When I find this happening, I try a couple of different things.
I try the old "catch and let go" technique that I learnt in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) a couple of years ago. The idea is if you recognise a thought passing through your mind that you know can have a negative effect on the here and now, mentally catch it like a butterfly, and then let it go. It may sound basic or corny, but the effect it has is you're at least going to stop thinking about it for a short while after you've let that thought go. I use this nearly every day to help concentrate on the present and assist in turning off that static.
The other thing I try is taking a short walk. Whether it's down the coffee shop, park, or just around the block, getting out in the world and noticing it moving around you can take you out of a stagnant mindset. The effect you get from doing something so natural to us (walking somewhere) gives you time for reflection and headspace. Maybe it's why people say that they have their best ideas in the shower or on the toilet - who knows?
That concludes my manual for nurturing creativity. I've developed most of these in this apprenticeship and continue to do so, but I can safely say I don't suffer from as much Imposter Syndrome as I did before and have learnt to let go of some of the creative anxieties I had. I hope that this mini manual can help you too!
Tom Wintle, Cohort R1, Junior Content Producer at Hybert Design