Throughout the years, I’ve become better and better at uncovering creative solutions.
I don’t struggle as much as I used to.
Creative ideas seem to arrive at just the right time.
This hasn’t happened because I’m somehow talented.
No, it’s because I’ve begun to understand how creativity works in my life.
The good news?
You already have access to it. You can start using your innate creativity.
Once you’re done reading this article, you’ll know how to do it.
But before we do that, let’s have a look at what creativity is, shall we?
What is Creativity?
Here’s a common definition: “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”
Stephen Pressfield, author of The War of Art, often talks about the Muse.
Artists and creators talk about how their creative ideas don’t seem to come from them, but from an outside source.
In the business world, different terms are used, such as: Intuition, gut, and instinct. You could even call it your subconscious.
To me, they’re all the same thing.
Where Does Creativity Come From?
I’ve tried to force creativity through exercises, brainstorming, and other tools, but what I’ve found is that the less I try, the more creative I am.
I still put in the work.
I try to work through a problem. But I know when to stop.
I’ve learned that when I get out of my own way, I allow my natural creativity to come forth.
As Eckhart Tolle writes in Stillness Speaks:
True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.
This runs counter to what I’ve learned. I was taught that I should work on my problems. And work hard.
But through experimenting in my own life and business, I’ve realized that it’s in the stillness that the answers reside.
The Secret to Tapping Into Your Creativity
That said, how does this translate into practical steps?
How do I use stillness, and creativity, to solve real problems?
As it turns out, the process I use is highly pragmatic.
Here are the steps:
To prime the pump, I work on a problem.
If I’m writing a book, and I’m stuck, I’ll do my best to come up with a solution.
For example, when I was working on my book, Do What You Love, I had long periods of confusion about what to do.
I didn’t know how to arrange the chapters. I didn’t know what to remove or what to add. It was as if I’d lost my brain. All I could do was stare at the words in front of me.
After a few weeks of this, I realized I had to take a break.
I’m not perfect. I sometimes try to force the answer. And that’s fine. I don’t berate myself for it. I learn from it, and move on.
So the first step is to work on the problem. Take tiny steps. Do what you can. And then let go when you start to feel frustrated.
2. Let Go
After priming the pump, I let go.
I stop what I’m doing. I work on something else. I watch a movie.
I have fun. But I stop trying to solve the problem, or come up with a creative answer. In certain circles, this is called incubation. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:
[Incubation:] The experience of leaving a problem for a period of time, then finding the difficulty evaporates on returning to the problem, or even more striking, that the solution “comes out of the blue”, when thinking about something else, is widespread. Many guides to effective thinking and problem solving advise the reader to set problems aside for a time.
I wrote about this in my book, How to Write Nonfiction eBooks. I use incubation in every part of my business.
It reduces stress and worry, because I know that eventually the answer will arrive. If it doesn’t, I’ll simply do what I can with what I have.
No extra stress needed. When I first stumbled onto this, I found it counter-intuitive. Who knew that letting go could help you come up with creative ideas?
When I let go of consciously solving something (after having worked on it), another part of me seems to take over.
3. Be Open
When I was working on my book Do What You Love, I didn’t know if I was going to publish it or not.
I had to take several breaks. The longest break was a month and a half. During that break, I began to wonder if I would ever finish the book.
I know some people force themselves to a schedule, but I haven’t found that to work. I’m not in a rush to get anywhere. If the book wants to get done, it gets done. But during this time, I was open to alternatives.
Sure, I had periods of worry and doubt, but I knew they were just thoughts. I didn’t have to pay attention to them.
After a month and a half of letting Do What You Love rest, I felt the nudge to have another look at it.
That evening, I ended up revising 3-4 chapters, and within a week, the book was done. Everything suddenly fell into place, and the book turned out great.
Being open means not only letting go of the problem, but noticing what’s right here, right now.
You never know when a book comes your way, a song plays on the radio, or someone says something that helps you untangle a knot in your life.
A Common Misconception
My creative process is seldom as neat and tidy as I’ve described in this article.
I sometimes go back and forth on a problem. I might leave it, and come back a few days later.
Or I might not.
The key part is that I’m open to different answers and paths. So use the process I’ve shared here as a starting point to discovering your own natural creativity.
Bonus: Video on Creativity
Writing about creativity has made it obvious to me that what I call creativity is the same as following my excitement, listening to my heart, or tapping into my intuition.
It all comes from the same place.
As Rumi, the poet, once said:
There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.
It doesn’t matter if you think you’re creative or not, because you are.
We all have the same wisdom, creativity, and intelligence within us. All we have to do is realize that it’s always there, waiting for us.
P.S. Would you like to learn more about tapping into your inner guidance? I invite you check out my two books on the subject: Do What You Love and Follow Your Heart (amazon affiliate links that give me a small share of any purchase at no extra cost to you.)
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You would enjoy Trevor Blake’s Three Simple Steps, where he endorses what you have written but from a slightly different perspective. I always enjoy reading your work!
Thanks Gail! It’s a book, right? I’ll add it to my list. Looks interesting.
Hi Henri, been a while 🙂
Great post, really strips things back to a simplicity that is practical..
I will definitely sit with its implication in the current state of life…
I have been feeling really quite stuck as am in a challenging life phase and transition.. Letting go and just allowing the answers to come while at the same time taking action in spite of it is a great perspective!
Glad to see you’re still alive and well 😉
The challenges of life seem like the best catalysts for letting go and living life through your heart.
Rhiannon Hopkins says
I can testify to the effectiveness of these methods because I have been teaching this for some time and seen my students blossom, from apologising to wanting to work with me because they are not really writers to producing their first tentative short story. And it all begins with tapping into your creativity. I particularly like that you point out creativity is not a neat and orderly process, it can be downright messy in fact and sometimes frustratingly elusive, though it is, as you say, always there, waiting for us.
Indeed, Rhiannon. Well put + thanks for sharing!
Howard Lee Harkness says
The best description of creativity I have ever read was in a book by John T. Molloy (the “Dress For Success” guy), entitled “How to Work the Competition Into the Ground (and have fun doing it).” Unfortunately, that book is out of print and hard to find. (I have a copy, and no, it’s not for sale.) It’s possible that he has written about it in some of his other books that I have not read yet.
One of the interesting claims Malloy made (and I believe) is that the vast majority of people writing about creativity have no clue what it really is or how to enable it. Even Molloy said he didn’t really know what it was, but he could reliably identify it by its symptoms.
One of the most important “symptoms” of creativity (which I believe, because I have experienced it) is that if you are a creative person, you can’t turn it off. Your debugger is “always running,” which I believe is a constant state of “incubation.” A truly creative person isn’t really happy unless s/he is solving a problem.
I suspect that almost all children are very creative — up until about age 7 or 8, by which time the public school system has thoroughly beaten it out of most of us.
That’s a good one, Howard.
Another thing to remember, for me, is that that the debugger always running doesn’t mean that I’m consciously trying to figure things out. It’s more running below the surface (most of the time).
Yes, I still put in work, but I realize when it’s time to let go and when it’s time to work.
Marge Piatak says
Hi Henri – Perfect timing as always. Over a week ago, I decided that I needed to take a break from “working” on my new business idea. My mind needed a rest and my soul needed nurturing. My current client is on vacation and it was the perfect opportunity to give myself a break.
Thank you for sharing your process and especially the incubation stage. Made me smile & feel — Aha — that’s what I’ve been doing. Lots of meditation, reading, self-development and clutter-busting during this time have made me feel so relaxed and conscious.
Last night, while listening to a talk on the chakras, some new insights came to me on how I want my new biz to look and what that might involve. No effort – just allowed it. I’m realizing more and more that when I am attuned with my own energy and where that is pulling me, it’s much easier to apply myself and move forward rather than struggling to accomplish what is on my To Do list.
Thanks for your insight and sharing your journey. It’s always inspiring and helpful.
It’s intuition vs logic. (Not to say logic is always bad. It isn’t. Just when you try to rely on it too much). I’m surprised myself at how things come to me when I stop trying so hard.
I do what I can. I push myself a bit. And I let go.
Thanks for sharing, Marge, always helpful 🙂
Great Post on Creativity:
I really enjoyed reading the article. I can relate to the phrase, there is a voice that doesn’t use words,listen. My grandmother would always remind me of those same exact words when I was seven years old. At that time, I really did not fully understood it until I was in my my twenties.
All the Coolest,
Sounds like your grandmother was/is a wise one 🙂
I think one of the big keys is knowing when to stop and sleep on a problem. I know it’s time to take a break when I find myself in a loop with same thoughts repeating over and over.
Also, I find it helpful when I’m stuck to speak to someone else. Even if they can’t offer a solution, just the process of explaining a problem can sometimes bring clarity.
Good points, Shlomo.
It definitely helps to get a fresh pair of eyes on whatever you’re working on. Even if they don’t provide a solution for your conundrum, they might help you discover new ideas.
Or as you said, just explaining the problem is often a big help.
Really super, super article Henri! This fantastic post is absolutely spot on. I have worked in many facets of creativity, mostly from an artistic perspective, from creative prose writing, to songwriting, to music composition, even poetry! I also run my own music production company. I specifically teach music, focused on this very area of creative thinking, and creating your one’s own body of work, which is specifically geared toward’s developing what you already have, and creating your own unique voice!
Widely miss-understood area by alot of people, when it comes to putting creativity into practice. A hugh point you made, and i have found working with people is, that the process of creativity, is not a cut and dry, neat and and tidy endeavor! Any of the great creative’s re-wrote, re-drafted, reworked, and altogether sometimes left their masterpieces, or great ideas for long periods of time before returning to complete them! Really brilliant article Henri, you summed it all up here!
Love your posts and Wake Up Cloud! Super stuff…
Best wishes from Ireland
Yup, not a cut and dried process at all. It’s messy, but it’s fun 😉
Joshua Tilghman says
I like this approach. I find it is the same with me. If I’m stuck, I can’t force it. Often times I’ll take a break and then get an inspirational idea when I least expect it, which I know turns out to be better than the original outline or individual idea I was going with. Sometimes it just takes clearing my mind by doing something else to provide the space for new creativity to do its thing!
Right on, Joshua 🙂
Wonderful article. I find that first thing in the morning I am the most creative, so I make all the preparations the night before and when I wake up I am ready to go. If I get stuck, I go for a walk or meditate – this helps me so much.
That’s how I seem to work right now as well. I write down a few important tasks, and I make sure I can get on those when I wake up. Thanks for sharing, Brenda!
I think these are three great steps. I agree that it is the subconscious that seems to do most of the work. I can be frustrated and then go do something else and the answer will just come to me when I am driving or taking a shower. I have also taken months off from a book and came back to it with fresh eyes. I hate brainstorming. I like to let things develop naturally in my head over time.
Alakananda Dasgupta says
I am so happy that I discovered your posts Henri! Thank you so much for all the advice. Your wisdom belies your age.
Nice one at that!
Akin Olatidoye says
Hi Henri! This is very great and practical… It’s great you mentioned that creativity often comes from an outside source even when it impacts our inner person…..That’s the Divine’s touch!
I’ll try the tips you’ve given more and more.
Glad I’m catching up on all the links from your newsletter since I signed up in March… Guess I need to be more creative with the hustling of work and give exploring the newsletter more often….lol.
John Lennon faced writer’s block for days or even months at a time before writing many of his best songs, and Martin Luther King essentially “threw out the script” for the most iconic parts of I Have a Dream, as well as other speeches. Similar examples abound… interesting how often creativity stems from beyond conscious control!
Your articles are so clear, intuitive and touches me deep inside. Very true, following our intuition or our heart guides us to solutions. Especially when we over-try to find solutions, it means our mind is cluttered with many thoughts so taking a break helps to reset the mental state and again we start to listen to our inner voice. All answers are already there, just that we need to go in silence to listen to them