Creativity is about forming unique ideas, creating new associations, and overcoming challenges. A big part of our experience as human beings, our creativity builds our strength and rewards us with delight.
Many believe creativity is a gift enjoyed by a select few, but creativity isn’t just confined to designers, performers, authors, or other right-brained individuals. The creative process exists within each of us. Creativity is like a muscle; it must be developed, exercised, challenged–and sometimes forced beyond its comfort zone.
Don’t be intimidated. While some creative efforts are extravagant and awe-inspiring–particularly moving artwork or a catchy technological innovation–our ideas do not need to be life-changing to qualify as innovative. Think about it: We navigate our everyday lives thanks to our ability to adapt and think outside the box. Creativity is within us, rife for exploration; the only admission cost is an open mind.
As we boldly set out to explore ways to foster creativity, we happily realized that we had access to an in-house expert. Katie Foster, Socksmith’s Creative Director for the past ten years, lives for all things creative. In this post, she spills some secrets about how she fans the sparks of creativity in her everyday life.
Katie (right), and the design team
1. Tune in to Your Body
Before we expect to get anything out of our bodies, we need to make sure they are well cared for. Meeting our basic needs is critical to facilitating the creative process (self-care: We love it!) Katie says she tries to get healthy amounts of sleep and exercise to keep herself well (although, have you tried doing that as a parent?)
Let Your Mind Wander...to Sleep
Sleep restores the body and frees the mind; You’ll get a double benefit from getting your zzz’s. Studies show that people are most creative when tired, so if you’re an early bird, you may be more imaginative in the evenings. If you’re a night owl, early mornings may be your time for innovation. Being creative requires an open mind willing to see things in new ways. Your tired brain doesn’t have the energy to consider constraints or remember all its connections, and this fuzzy mind is more willing to entertain novel ideas. Pretty cool, huh?
Work Those (Creative) Muscles
Everyone knows regular exercise has health benefits, but one relatively unknown advantage is the boost working out provides to creativity. Studies show that exercise increases our ability to think creatively by boosting blood flow and helping our thinking to become more fluid.
You will benefit from many types of physical activity: Pushing the lawnmower, taking a power walk over lunch, or even vigorously cleaning your home (buhhhh). To get a significant physical and creative boost, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five days a week or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise at least three days each week.
2. Crank Up the Tunes (or Podcast)
Music is amazing. It can fire us up or help us to relax and unwind. Katie finds that music also helps her tap into her creativity, and she’s not alone. A recent Berkeley study found that listening to “happy” music boosts our ability to think outside the box. Scientists believe this is because feeling cheerful increases our desire to explore and play. Classical, rap, jazz, pop–whatever makes you shake your groove thing–find it and turn it up!
What is Katie listening to at the moment? We though't you'd never ask...
"I love to listen to all of Sia’s music! Or my fave podcast is Armchair Expert."
Choosing Your (Musical) Weapon
One additional note ♪ about music–certain genres work better for different purposes. For example, classical music, instrumentals, and nature sounds may increase focus, while uptempo music helps us improve our performance while completing repetitive tasks.
Recent studies show that lo-fi music may be the Holy Grail of increasing creativity. Lo-fi, or low-fidelity music, is recorded with intended imperfections, and tunes contain misplayed notes, low background hums, environmental noises, and other audio defects. Most lo-fi music is instrumental, and the genre’s hip-hop beats and looped tracks take their influence from jazz, electro, and funk. Give a listen to the Netherlands-based Chillhop Music Channel or Lofi Girl.
3. Free Your Inner Artist
You don’t have to be a Picasso to pick up a paintbrush or a da Vinci to create a sketch; Tap into your creative reserves by unleashing your inner artist. Like many, Katie finds that painting and drawing help her to relax and free her mind.
The medical and psychological worlds have long recognized the benefits of exploring through art. Painting, drawing, sketching, and daily doodling help reduce stress and encourage play. Online classes and art communities help budding artists learn and hone their craft, but any exploration helps develop a peaceful, open mind.
4. Explore Other Artists' Work
If you’re not down for producing original artwork, try checking out what others have created. Katie enjoys “going out into local boutiques where I can see what other local artists, craftsmen/women are doing, and that is so inspiring and mind-stimulating.” In truth, even observing art inspires creativity.
You do not have to create art to appreciate its beauty. Viewing others’ artwork broadens our thinking and can expand our perspective.
5. Find Time to Play
Kids are playtime pros, and we should take a lesson from them about the importance of play. If you are a parent like Katie, you know how enjoyable getting down and becoming immersed in play can be. Katie finds that taking time to play helps boost her creativity, noting that “Kids have great imaginations, and their play is so hands-on.” It is so freeing to use our imaginations with no expectations or script.
Taking time to play together benefits both adults and children. Playtime allows an adult to unleash their inner child and follow another’s lead while being creative in unexpected ways. At the same time, that interaction encourages a child’s imaginative growth, an essential building block to helping kids learn critical lifelong skills.
What do Katie and her kids love to play?
"I like to do arts and crafts with my kids. We like to play board games like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders too.
6. Find a (Virtual) Escape
When Katie needs to get away, she sometimes relies on books or videos to transport her to a different season, time, or location. Who hasn’t become completely immersed in a novel or movie? Both activities transport us from everyday life and simultaneously give our minds a break while refueling them with new ideas and images.
Read a Book
The World Literacy Foundation maintains that regular reading is as essential for adults as children. Reading helps us exercise our imaginations by allowing written words to create pictures in our minds, and forming and manipulating these mental images strengthens our minds like exercising a muscle. Because reading exercises our minds, the activity is an effective way to encourage and enrich imaginative thinking, which can lead to innovation and creation.
Avoid choosing “How to” or trade books when reading for escape. Choose a novel that speaks to your interests and curiosities to benefit most from your reading.
Netflix and Chill
We’re not talking about that type of Netflix and Chilling–though admittedly, that may have creative benefits as well. Watching a program is the name of the game if you would like to free your mind and get those creative juices flowing. Some of Katie's favorites right now include Ted Lasso, Down to Earth, and Queer Eye.
Movies not only deliver entertainment value, but they also offer psychological benefits that can broaden our thinking. Films expose us to different perspectives that may challenge our mental schemas and make us more accepting, flexible, and creative.
7. Get Back to Nature
Nothing is more relaxing than being in nature. There is something magical about sitting under a tree, listening as the wind blows through its branches, being seaside in the warm summer sun, or walking in winter with your boots crunching through the pure white snow. No matter the season, Katie enjoys getting outside to recharge. When time allows, her favorite escape is Big Sur, CA.
There’s science behind nature’s magic. Being outdoors inspires our curiosity and makes us more likely to be open to new ideas and flexible thinking. Nature also helps us refocus and recharge, increasing our attention span to develop our thoughts.
You don’t have to travel to an exotic location to return to nature. Try walking around your neighborhood or hiking on a local trail to soak in the outdoors. Notice your surroundings, and soak them in using all of your senses.
The Bottom Line
Creativity exists within us, and we can (and should) foster and develop our ability to bring originality into the world. To care for our creativity, we must listen to and fuel our body’s needs: recharge, play, and explore. In doing so, we grant ourselves the opportunity to nurture our unique facets; for that, the world will be a brighter, more creative place!