When I first heard the term creative thinking, my mind immediately went to art. I think it’s because of that word—creative or creativity—that seems always to suggest the arts. The truth is that creativity is present everywhere, from humanities to exact sciences. Before those sciences were exact, they were an idea. A person had to think creatively or outside the box to figure it out before becoming a theory or law. Creative thinking permeates everything we do. The last time when you substituted peppers for squash in your mom’s frittata recipe, you were thinking creatively. So, if creative thinking is so prevalent, how can we strengthen that muscle over time and use it more in our daily lives?
What Is Creative Thinking?
Like I hinted in the intro, creative thinking is not an endeavor exclusive to the arts, although the term is often used in that context—to create something from nothing.
Creative thinking is the ability to look at a problem or even invent a problem, take a step back, and see that problem in the context of the bigger picture. Next, you must understand how that problem fits in your environment, connect all the dots, and figure out a solution.
Creative thinking doesn’t always mean finding the best solution or the optimal solution, although it might. Instead, creative thinking has to do with the process or the mindset with which you attack the problem. It’s the ability to see the different pathways and connections that lead from one point to another, given your existing resources and capabilities.
Moreover, creative thinking means thinking outside the box, above and beyond the current knowledge and, sometimes, even beyond available resources. It means breaking the boundaries of the status quo and leaping into the unknown.
On the other hand, creative thinking is not only for world-size problems. It doesn’t always have to represent a paradigm shift that turns the world upside down. For instance, figuring out several ways to wash your clothes while dealing with a broken washing machine qualifies as creative thinking. The same goes for coming up with a way to make a cup from a piece of paper.
Of course, inventing the airplane falls in this category as well. Still, my point is that you don’t have to see creative thinking as exclusively the inventors’ tool and those inventions that revolutionized our lives. It very much applies to the smaller scale as it does to the larger scale.
Do We Even Need Creative Thinking?
If every problem in this world had only one solution, we probably wouldn’t need creative thinking. We would need to find the right resources to put to use and identify that one solution.
But the world doesn’t work that way. There are multiple solutions for most problems, and some of those solutions are better than others. Some solve the problem completely, while others are temporary or partial.
Some problems are so tricky that humanity has been only able to come up with partial solutions to this day. Think about cancer, energy, or space exploration.
So, yes, everything we have ever accomplished as the human race had been done either by luck or using creative thinking.
On top of the practical applications of creative thinking, this process has also helped us develop our brains to where they are today. That’s because thinking creatively creates space for imagination and freedom of expression. It expands the mind and makes us more confident with our thoughts.
Ideas no longer sit in the back of our heads but make their way forward, and, soon enough, they manifest as practical ways.
So You Think You Can’t Think Creatively?
But you—yes you—, when I ask you if you are a creative thinker, would you say yes or no?
Suppose you say yes. Well, kudos to you. You got it right. But if you said no, please allow me to call BS on that. There have been dozens of times in your life when you had to be creative. Maybe not to survive, like your ancestors, but to be more comfortable.
Remember that time when you were in the park with your kid and ran out of tissues? Did you improvise?
Or that other time when the webcam on top of your monitor wouldn’t stay straight, and you had to try five different ways until you figured out how to use a paper clip to affix it?
How about that time when you ran out of toilet paper in the woods? Well, fine, let’s not talk about that time—it was traumatic.
But you see my point, right? Creative thinking was and will always be with you and around you. The more you use it, and the more you practice it deliberately, the more you’ll be able to apply it everywhere in your life.
How Creative Thinkers Think
The idea I’m pushing forward is that we all have and use creative thinking in our lives on a daily basis. However, as this article’s title suggests, some people make creative thinking a way of life rather than just using it in situations of major emergencies, such as being in the woods with your pants down and no toilet paper.
Creative thinking is excellent in crisis moments, but just like any other muscle, it requires practice. Just like you may live your life without the need ever to lift 100 pounds, if placed in a situation when you must, you wouldn’t be able to.
Creative thinkers understand that, and they work on their creative thinking skills all the time. Creative thinking is no longer just a saving grace in dire times but a way of life.
As you move to the next section, I will give you a list of ideas that will help you sharpen that creative thinking skill. Although some people are naturally born with a high propensity for creative thinking, many are not. Much like not many people have 6-pack abs without exercise, creative thinking requires you to show up for practice.
13 Ideas To Improve Your Creative Thinking
Now let’s take a look at thirteen ideas that can help you improve your creative thinking everywhere in your life. I tried to put these in an approximate order in which I believe you should tackle them, but, in the end, I recommend doing all of them as much as possible. They all combine and contribute to your creative thinking’s overall improvement by attacking it from many different angles.
Be committed to creative thinking
The absolute first step to working on your creative thinking is actually to be committed to it. That means that you need to re-frame your ideas about creative thinking from something that only a few elite groups can do to something you can do every day. It’s also a mindset shift where you start to believe that you are a creative thinker and that it’s not all about talent or unique gifts. Instead, It’s about a devotion to unleashing your creativity and a commitment to applying it everywhere.
Allow yourself to dream
Picasso once said, “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.” That can’t be more true than in our society today. The world forces us to grow up and start taking care of stuff. Jobs, kids, mortgages. Everything becomes a race to an elusive end which we don’t even foresee. In this madness of life, we forget to dream.
Daydreaming is a critical piece of creative thinking. It frees our minds to think about anything and everything, imagine impossible possibilities, and picture elusive concepts. Practice dreaming without any expectations. Dream, and dream big. Re-teach your brain that it’s okay; remind it how it used to be when you were a child and dreamed of being an astronaut ballerina juggler on the Moon.
Create space for thinking
This idea goes hand in hand with the one before. Creative thinking has a keyword in it, and that’s thinking. Again, in our tumultuous day-to-day lives, we solve many problems. We don’t even register most of them because they happen on the fly. We rush through life trying to get somewhere… anywhere. Thinking becomes a commodity.
You need to work on deliberately creating time for cohesive thinking. A part of this will be to generate ideas, as in the point below; other parts might be your dreams and vision for your life. Another part might be reflection and analysis on the problems you did solve already. Either way, you need to set up some time every week to think. Action is what drives you, true. But thinking is the fuel behind it. Make time for it.
Become an idea machine
You have ideas; I know you do. Some of them are stupid, some are brilliant, and lots and lots are average or useless. That’s okay. All of those ideas are a result of your brain making connections. The more you push it to do so, the better your neural network inside your skull will function. Brainstorm ideas a lot and without judgment. You’re not in any competition here; you are simply training your mind.
Especially pay attention when new ideas come to you out of the blue. When they do, write them down. You could have a journal or a simple notepad to make bullet points. Later, during your thinking sessions, give them more detail. You can even make mind-maps where you connect different concepts and expand them. Even if nothing ever comes out of these ideas, this is the best way to train your brain to think creatively.
Surround yourself with creative people
Believe it or not, creative thinking is contagious. When you spend time with like-minded people, the combination of thoughts multiplies exponentially. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to look for inspiration from other people or join a group of folks who think this way.
In those forums, you’ll have the chance to practice presenting your ideas, no matter how dumb or ridiculous, and thicken your skin when you get slammed. Having these kinds of think-tank network connections allows you to ask questions, learn, and meet new people. You can then bounce your ideas and listen to theirs. This back and forth is like vitamins for your mind.
Turn creativity into a habit
After you practiced the points above for a while, you should start looking at creative thinking as a lifelong ritual rather than a seldom occurrence. That means that slowly you must turn creative thinking practice into a routine, which could be weekly, but eventually, you should strive to make it daily.
These kinds of inspirational daily rituals where you tap into your creative thinking will give you the edge you need when push comes to shove, and you need to apply creative thinking in real-world situations.
One way of doing this is to create something every day and to analyze something every day. It could be something as simple as writing a paragraph in a journal about something that happened yesterday or documenting a new idea or concept that came to you overnight. It could also be rehashing a problem that you solved and thinking about other ways in which you could’ve approached it. One amazing way I highly recommend is doing Morning Pages—it’s a great way to jiggle your brain and let ideas pour out on paper.
Beware of negative self-chatter
As you start on this road of improving your creative thinking, there will appear a dark shadowy silhouette who’ll start whispering crap in your ear. Do you know who that is? It’s you. Well, a part of you—the part that is afraid of failure or afraid of looking bad or sounding stupid.
Every time you set on an improvement path, your body and mind have a momentum of their own. Their initial reaction is to hold you back. Negative thoughts and limiting beliefs come into play. “You can’t do it.” “You’re not smart enough to come up with ideas.” “Who the hell are you?” “How can you be daydreaming when I have a full load of laundry?”
If you feel like your ideas a grand, sometime, your brain might tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your year, “you’re thinking too big.” You’re not ready for this.
These are all thoughts that will manifest inside your brain out of nowhere. Their only goal is to deter you from your path and keep you in your status quo. Resist them.
Fight back. Work on implementing the good habits and stick to them. The more you do, the more you silence that negative voice. Heck, spite that voice. Do everything exactly the opposite until it goes mad and runs away.
Challenge your status-quo
“One day, everything will be well; that is our hope. Everything’s fine today; that is our illusion,” said Voltaire. And he was right. Today, even if everything in your life seems fine (and dandy), that status quo is an illusion. It’s like flat-lining while being alive.
To grow, you must practice getting out of your comfort zone and take some risks, albeit calculated. It’s all about challenging yourself and stepping outside of that comforting circle.
Creative thinking is all about thinking outside the box. So, when you work on your creative thinking skill, you can’t be bound by your current predicament. You must let all those boundaries go and unfetter yourself from their claws.
I’m not saying to make yourself plastic wings and jump off the roof either, hence the “calculated” word above. But push yourself. Be bold.
Improve your knowledge
Intuitively, the more you know and the vaster your knowledge is, the more seeds you will have for your creativity to plant. I’ve always been a proponent of the mantra that we should never stop learning, and in this context, that idea applies perfectly.
Now, keep in mind that you can’t be the master of everything. Instead, you should choose one or two fields in which you can become a master and use your knowledge productively. For the rest, appeal to your curiosity and even reward yourself for being curious.
Learn something entirely outside of your realm, something you’d never think you’d ever approach. That teaches your brain that you are a curious person and opens up your mind to new opportunities.
Identify the perfect mood for creativity
When it comes to creative thinking, not all times and places are equal. Sure, we’d all like to function the same way all the time given the same stimuli, but, as you might be aware, we are not robots. That means that you need to identify your moods and emotional charges when you are most creative versus when you are not.
You should also document and understand the environments that are conducive to creative thinking for you in particular. Is it quiet and isolation, or music and colorful lights? Do you think better when there’s some ambient noise, like water or wind? What kind of light and temperature do you prefer?
As silly as these sound, especially as you are trying to create deliberate space and time to think creatively, finding your perfect mood and environment would only help you be even more effective in that practice.
Your mind follows your body
Many sayings talk about the connection of body and mind, and most suggest that the mind can work to overcome the body’s resistance. That mind-over-body idea is excellent, and it works when applied correctly.
But there’s also a correlation in the opposite direction. When you challenge your body, you develop resilience and self-discipline. Both are needed to establish healthy habits and rituals.
Besides, a healthy body functions better, and, if you remember, your brain is an inseparable part of your body.
So, exercising and challenging your body is a great way to develop that kind of mindset and work on your overall wellbeing.
Solve problems in multiple ways
Creative thinkers love to brainstorm. It’s not unusual for them to come up with a ridiculously high number of ideas or solutions during those sessions. That is something you should mimic more often.
After you solve a problem, no matter how trivial, use that problem as a practice ground. Replay the scenario during one of your “thinking” sessions and explore other solutions. From there, envision what the outcome would’ve been.
The more you do this, the more you’ll become humble enough to accept that no solution is the best solution. You might even admit that “best” doesn’t truly exist. That is essential because arrogant people will jump at the first solution without further thinking.
A creative thinker will continue to dissect the problem and find more and more solutions.
Don’t forget to breathe and relax
Creative thinking takes energy and commitment. That means that to keep that kind of momentum of making creative thinking an integral part of your life, you must remember to take breaks and relax.
Or, take a day off once in a while and have fun. Being a creative thinker doesn’t mean that you must turn yourself into an iterative computer program that does nothing but thinks and optimizes.
You need to live and enjoy life and have fun while being a creative thinker.
Tap Into Your Creative Thinking
With that in mind, I hope you’ll be able to take these steps and apply them in your day-to-day life. You don’t have to follow them to the T and in the same order, but you’ll find some golden nuggets to use in each of them.
By making creative thinking an integral part of your life, you will continue to expand and explore your mind and become more open to observing and taking the opportunities that life throws at you.
Soon, life’s hurdles themselves will appear as possibilities rather than impediments, and you’ll be better equipped to navigate the craziness of life.
So, start today!
Other Resources on Creative Thinking
- 11 useful Tricks to Improve Your Creative Thinking
- 5 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Creativity
- Top 10 activities to help boost your creative thinking
- 17 Ways to Develop Your Creativity
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you consider yourself a creative thinker? If so, why?
- Which one of the ideas above resonated the most with you?
- What was one really creative thing you’ve done?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!