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When you want to improve your physical fitness, you exercise. Want to tone your muscles? Grab some weights. Want to get faster? Get outside and run some sprints. Want to increase your flexibility? Roll out your yoga mat and do some stretching.
Well, it’s the same idea with mental fitness and creativity. Creativity is a muscle – and, just like with your biceps or your quads, if you want your creativity muscle to get bigger and stronger, it needs exercise.
Whether you’re stumped on how to innovate your marketing strategy, dealing with a serious case of writer’s block, or struggling to find your next big business idea, a mental workout might be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.
Let’s take a look at 8 creativity exercises designed to work your creative muscle and help you find the creative inspiration you’re looking for.
Creativity doesn’t always respond to deadlines, boundaries and parameters.
If you try to force creativity to happen in a certain way (for example, by saying “I need to come up with the perfect ad campaign in the next 60 minutes”), the added pressure can actually make it harder to find the creative inspiration you need.
That’s why scheduling “creativity free time” is so important. Setting aside a time to devote to being creative – free of any expectations, deadlines, or defined parameters—is a great way to work your creative muscle.
This free-form creative time can take pressure off your creative process, giving your creativity the time and space it needs to grow and flourish.
You can customize this daily planner to help you set aside time for creativity.
Carve out a few hours every week for creativity – no expectations, no “have-to-dos,” no forcing a certain outcome. You might be surprised at the new ways your creativity comes to life – and the new ideas and inspiration that come from your unstructured creative time.
While strict parameters can snuff out creativity, sometimes the opposite is true – and a little pressure can actually be the spark you need to ignite your creativity.
If you’re stuck on a creative problem, set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and challenge yourself to come up with solutions to that problem within that block of time.
So, for example, if you’re struggling to come up with ideas for a new blog post, set the timer and come up with as many article topics as you can in the 5 to 10 minute window.
Having a defined deadline (and watching as the clock ticks down towards that deadline) can push your creativity muscle to work harder – and may help to you break through your creative block.
When you’re working out, it’s important to go for quality over quantity; it doesn’t matter if you can do 50 pushups – if you’re not doing those push ups correctly, you’re not going to meet your fitness goals.
But with creativity, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, placing a premium on quantity over quality is just what you need to get over a creative block and start churning out new, creative ideas.
So, for example, let’s say you’re working on headlines for a new ad campaign.
Instead of agonizing over writing one perfect headline (because let’s be real – who can come up with new, creative ideas when they’re stressing out over whether to use “they” or “they’re” in a headline?!), brainstorm 50 different headlines.
Or, in other words, shift the priority from quality to quantity.
When you increase the quantity of your creative pursuits, you won’t have the same attachment to any single idea (like a headline) within that quantity.
When you don’t have the time or energy to agonize over every creative decision (which you won’t if you’re churning out 50 ideas!), you’ll be forced to just put your nose to the grindstone and pump out ideas.
Will every idea be a gamechanger? No. Will every idea even be good? Probably not. But when you ramp up your quantity, you’re working your creative muscle in a new way—and, chances are, there will be at least a few quality ideas within the quantity.
If you’re a boxer, your main source of exercise is going to be boxing. But if you want to be the best boxer you can be, you’ll also need to throw other types of exercise—like yoga, weight lifting and jogging—into the mix.
Creativity works the same way. If you want to strengthen your creativity muscle, you need to step outside of your comfort zone and throw different types of exercises into the mix.
And one creative exercise that might be out of the box—but delivers serious results? Turn yourself into an idea machine.
You can use a concept map like the one below to help you brainstorm.
You can switch the topic every day. One day it might be a professional one (like “10 business ideas that no one has thought of” or “10 ways to improve the visual design of my brand”).
The next day, it could be completely abstract (like “10 kitchen tools that could double as musical instruments” or “10 ideas for the next big superhero movie”).
The point is, you have to take the time to come up with 10 original ideas daily – no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Will you use most of these ideas? No. But that’s not the point!
By becoming an idea machine and coming up with original ideas every day, you’re going to start thinking outside of the box, making new connections and giving your creativity a chance to expand in new, different and unexpected ways.
If you’re feeling creatively stuck, inspiration probably isn’t going to strike while you’re sitting at your desk, staring at your laptop and going through the same motions you go through day in, day out.
So, if you’re feeling uninspired, one of the best things you can do? Switch things up and break out of your normal routine.
There are a ton of different ways to switch things up; you could rearrange the furniture in your office, grab your laptop and spend a few hours working outside, or take a break and go for a walk.
You could switch around your daily to-do list, try tackling creative projects at different times of the day, or incorporate some downtime into your workday – whatever works for you.
The point is, a change of routine can help spark your creativity and find new inspiration to incorporate into your work. So, the next time you’re feeling uninspired, step outside of your routine and switch things up a bit.
If you run on a treadmill for 45 minutes every day, eventually, boredom is going to set in.
But if you find new and different ways to maximize the treadmill (like increasing the incline, doing sprint intervals, or cutting up your 45 minutes into two shorter, faster daily runs), it can reignite your excitement about your workouts.
And with creativity, it’s the same thing.
Developed by JP Guilford in the late 1960s, the Alternative Uses Test is a creativity exercise that forces you to work your creative muscle by looking at something familiar through a new and different lens.
The exercise works like this: choose something familiar that you see and use every day (in the original test, people used a paper clip).
Then, set a time for two minutes and challenge yourself to think of as many new uses for the object as you can. (So, for example, a paper clip might become a lock picker, a balloon popper, or a necklace detangler.)
By forcing your brain to view a familiar object through a new lens, you’re encouraging divergent thinking, which is a key element of creativity that you can then apply to other creative endeavors.
Learning something new is inspiring. So, if you want to inspire more creativity, focusing on learning is a great place to start.
And one of the best ways to learn? Reading.
Head to Amazon or your local library’s website, explore a section completely unrelated to what you do and choose a book about something totally outside of the sphere of your understanding.
So, for example, if you’re an entrepreneur, you might pick up a book about video game history, animal therapy, or industrial design.
Or for marketers, we've got a great ebook for you to start with below.
Exposing yourself to new ideas and learning new information can help encourage new ways of thinking – including more creative thinking.
Not a writer? Not a problem. You can still use writing to help ignite your creative spark—and, more specifically, freewriting.
Freewriting is...well, just what it sounds like. It’s a period of time (typically around 10 minutes) where you sit down and write.
You don’t think about what you’re writing or whether it’s coherent or readable; you just let yourself write whatever pops into your mind, completely unedited and unfiltered.
Letting your thoughts flow directly from your head to the paper can help to clear your head of any clutter that might be blocking your creativity. And who knows? You might just find your next great creative idea on your freewriting pages!
Just like it can be hard to find the inspiration to work out your physical body, finding the inspiration for creative workouts can be a challenge, too.
But now that you know exactly what creativity exercises to do to work your creative muscle, all that’s left to do? Get out there, get working and find your creative inspiration!