March 16, 2021

18 Out-of-the-Box Ideas to Spark Creative Inspiration

Article by Lydia Sweatt

When inspiration strikes, powerful things happen in the creative mind. A novelist might add five chapters to a book after wrestling with the introduction for months. A painter might finally confront the blank canvas, bringing an idea to life with broad, confident strokes.

But just like lightning, inspiration doesn’t always strike twice. You can’t necessarily inspire yourself on command, nor can you bottle your inspiration up for later. Sometimes, you never know when that wonderful current of creative energy will return.

As elusive as inspiration can be, there is a way to sustain it for longer periods of time. The definition of the word itself can give us some clues. Open your Oxford English Dictionary, thumb through the I’s, and you’ll discover that inspiration is “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

If you want to live an inspired life, surrounding yourself with the right stimuli is important. From the media you consume to the conversations you have, anything can spark the next wave of inspiration. You can create more potentially inspiring experiences for yourself with a little practice, dedication, and these tips:

1. Add Some Greenery to Your Workspace

If you need more inspiration than a bare office can give you, surround yourself with plants. According to research by Human Spaces, people who work in environments that incorporate natural elements are 6 percent more productive and 15 percent more creative.

2. Read More — Especially Memoirs

You can find inspiration in many kinds of stories, but memoirs grab you on a deep, emotional level. You’ll read about people who’ve weathered the storms of uncertainty, such as divorce or the loss of a loved one. You’ll also read about people who’ve accomplished amazing goals. Memoirs come from real people who remind us that no matter what, life goes on — and usually gets better with time.

3. Be an Extrovert for a Day

When you’re feeling uninspired or mentally stuck, treat yourself to a day of socializing. Talk to more people than you normally would, ask thoughtful questions, and listen to the responses. The people around us live rich, interesting lives, and their experiences can inspire us.

4. Don’t Buy — DIY

In today’s modern world, you can buy anything you need without spending eight hours trying to make it yourself. Sometimes, however, it’s a good idea to do it yourself anyway. It feels good to build your own bookcase or nightstand, and if you harness it the right way, that positive feeling can inspire you to create more of the things you truly enjoy.

5. Make Improvements to a Creative Work

Take any creative work you love, such as a play, novel, or movie, and try to revise its weak spots. For example, if you always thought a specific piece of dialogue between characters was boring, rewrite it exactly how you’d like to experience it. This keeps you focused on solving a problem, and the solution opens your mind to new possibilities.

6. Talk to Yourself and Let Your Brain Be Your Muse

There could be a wealth of ideas trapped in your subconscious right now. To mine them, you just need to start talking to yourself. Let the conversation wander, and be sure to say everything you’re thinking out loud. As you talk back to yourself, responding to one thought after another, you can spring to new revelations about practically anything.

7. Listen to a Playlist of Eclectic Music

Be as experimental as you want. Mix genres, include songs in different languages, and choose artists who aren’t as concerned with traditional song structure. Your main goal here is to create shock value for yourself. Song after song, you should feel inspired to think outside of the box.

8. Put Colorful LED Lights in Your Space

The right lighting can be a powerful source of inspiration. Whether it’s dim and monochromatic or wildly colorful, a certain ambiance can make even a bare room beautiful and inspirational.

9. Mix Adventure and Exercise by Taking a Hike

A 2013 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests exercise can make you more creative by improving your divergent and convergent thinking — that is, your ability to find many solutions to a problem (divergent) or just one solution (convergent). Plenty of exercises deliver these benefits, but hiking feels more inspirational for many people: It’s a beautiful adventure that never gets old, and that’s exactly what the creative mind needs.

10. Take Some Fashion Risks

The clothes you wear can affect your mood, so dress for your own inspiration. You can opt for pieces with geometric designs, colorful prints, or fuzzy fabric that feels soft to the touch — but no matter what you wear, try to curate an outfit that’s color-coordinated instead of color-matched. This challenges you to find the artistic relationship between different color groups and, by extension, the hidden connections in everyday life.

11. Do More Favors for the People You Love

Sometimes you need to get out of your own head to make room for inspiration. You can do that by helping others. And who knows what the outcome will bring? Perhaps helping your mom plant that long-requested tomato garden will lead to your very own green space.

12. Play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If you have the Nintendo Switch game and can’t decide what to cook tonight, play Breath of the Wild to get some fresh ideas. Cooking is a key mechanic in this action-adventure title, and on YouTube, you can find videos of people recreating the game’s most popular dishes, from mushroom rice balls and mighty fried bananas.

13. Use Feedly to Collect Insights Within Your Niche or Industry

Need some inspiration for team brainstorms? Set up a Feedly account to collect news within your industry. Reading these articles can help you slowly become an expert in your niche. Instead of scrambling to prepare for every brainstorming session, build an archive of best practices and ideas you can always draw from.

14. Watch The School of Life YouTube Channel

The School of Life helps people achieve emotional well-being through video monologues. The topics are relatable, and this channel does a good job of disrupting the mindless grind of everyday life. When you need inspiration to thrive rather than survive, let The School of Life guide you toward true understanding.

15. Interview a Tiny Human for the Best Ideas Ever

Kids say the darndest things, and we should probably write some of them down. When you need inspiration from an unlikely source, find the youngest person in your life and ask them some questions. Their minds are still processing the world, so they’re more open to unconventional ideas when it comes to solving a problem, taking risks, and other things adults may struggle with.

16. Press Pause on Productivity and Daydream

Daydreamers have rich inner worlds filled with wonderful possibilities. You can cultivate your own private world by taking a break from your to-do list to ponder the future. Staying grounded in reality is good, but daydreaming helps you envision your best life, which can be very inspiring.

17. Review Your Past Work and Accomplishments

The actions of others can inspire you, but so can your own past accomplishments. If you’ve led successful projects at work, purchased your first home, or tackled any other big challenge, let those achievements inspire your next goal. It’s you versus you, so reach for bigger and better dreams every time.

18. Embrace Life’s Edits

Perfection is unattainable, but you can get pretty close by never giving up. You may have to temporarily change your plans or take a small detour, but every step you take creates progress. Keep that in mind, and you’ll always find the inspiration to keep going.

Versions of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com and the March/April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Lydia Sweatt is a freelance writer, bookworm, and bass guitar enthusiast. When she goes outside, a bicycle goes with her.

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