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10 Exercises to Spark Original Thinking and Increase Creativity

The ability to think creatively is more important than ever. Whether it’s required at the work place or part of a personal passion, finding innovative and original ways to connect and create is frequently key to our success and personal growth. Yet, so often it’s hard to harness our creativity when we need it most. And most of us don’t have the time to wait around until inspiration strikes. So the next time you’re feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, try one of these exercises to help unleash your creativity from its dormant state—or better yet integrate these exercises into your regular routine in order to regularly flex creative muscles.

1. Write a six-word story
This one comes courtesy of Ernest Hemingway who famously wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Your own story doesn’t have to be so dark or so big, but try to boil something meaningful to you down to just six words. Then try to write one every day for a week. Perhaps even add your six-word story to an image in Spark Post (like the one below inspired by a movie) to share on social media as a way to inspire others and get feedback. #sixwordstory

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2. Avoid the letter “e”
Mike Byster, author of The Power of Forgetting believes that anyone can learn to become a creative thinker. One exercise he says will help you become a faster and more productive thinker is to have a conversation without using the letter “E.” You and your friend must carry on a regular conversation without any long pauses. Your brain is already a human thesaurus; this just makes you use it that way. “It’s outside-the-box thinking on steroids,” Byster says. And just five minutes will give your brain an excellent workout. Bored with not using “e”? Move on to other common letters like R, S, T, or A.

3. Write by hand
In their book The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness With Your Own Two Hands, Carrie and Alton Barron write about how there is a deep satisfaction that comes with creating something by hand. They believe that writing by hand can help transition you to a deeper place. Not sure what to write? They recommend writing out your “psychological clutter”—the things that are worrying or pre-occupying you. Then throw it away and move on.

4. Eliminate “I, “me,” “my” and “mine” from your vocabulary
In 1936, Dorothea Brand, an American writer and editor, published Wake Up and Live, in which she suggested mental exercises meant to keep your mind sharp. One exercise was to write a letter without using the words I, me, mine, my. The other was to talk for 15 minutes a day without saying those same words. She may have come up with the idea 80 years ago, but it still works as much today as it did then.

5. Give your project limitations
Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs & Ham when his editor challenged him to write an entire book using less than 50 different words. If you’re stuck on a project, give it a limitation you wouldn’t otherwise. Whether that means writing an article you thought was going to be 1000 words in 500 words or finishing a weeklong task in three days, approaching your project with new restrictions may just be the most freeing thing you could do.

6. Use a writing prompt
Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones is about freeing the writer within. But even if your creativity isn’t tied to writing, the exercises can help you to think and act more creatively. One suggestion she has is to take 10 minutes and write about a meal you love. She says, “Write about the food you love most. Be specific. Give us the details. Where did you eat it, who were you with, what season was it in?” Food is something that evokes emotion and about which we know what we like, which in turn, creates writing that is definite and explicit.

Other writing prompts are readily available all over the Internet, but consider buying a book full of them to keep on your desk for the next time you need some inspiration. (642 Things to Write About is a great collection.) While you’re waiting for the book to arrive, consider using these to get creativity flowing:

· What’s something you’ve always regretted saying?
· What’s something you never told your mother?
· If you could only keep one memory from your life, what would it be?
· Write about your body.
· Describe a “first.”

7. Look at things from a new perspective
Edward de Bono, an author and expert in the field of creativity and lateral thinking, said, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way,” which is the inspiration for this exercise. Pick a relationship in your life that is challenging, whether it’s with a loved one, friend, or colleague, and look at things from that person’s point of view. You don’t necessarily have to accept it as truth, but practicing taking on that person’s perspective will not only exercise your brain, but will help you develop the ability to look at things in new and different ways.

8. Write down the question you’re trying to answer
If something has you stumped, grab a piece of paper and write the question down at the top. Be as specific as possible. Then write down any and all potential solutions, no matter how ridiculous or “wrong” they may seem. Do this for five minutes every day as a way to focus, stretch your thinking, and stimulate your subconscious.

9. Exercise and tire yourself out
It’s proven that our best ideas tend to come when we’re tired. That’s because a tired brain is less focused, which allows it to see things in different ways. And you know what makes you tired? Exercise. Which coincidentally is also good for your brain since it helps us get out of our head and create new thought patterns. So, yes, perhaps it’s a more obvious suggestion, but the next time you’re stuck, go on a run or a walk and tell yourself that you will find the inspiration you need.

10. Meditate in the morning
Meditation can help you gain clarity, quiet your mind, and remove fears, all in as little as 15 minutes a day. If you’re new to meditation, considering downloading a guided session from the iTunes app store and then find a quiet, comfortable place to sit for a few minutes before going about the rest of your day.

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