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 in the same spot. It might not be repeatable in the same day, the same week, or even the same month. You can’t exactly bottle it up to store for later, so you never know when that wonderful current of creative energy will return.
As elusive as inspiration seems, there’s an easy way to sustain it. The answer is hiding in plain sight, nestled within the definition of the word itself. 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.”
So inspiration can be sporadic, but maybe not indefinitely. 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 in your life.
Creating more of these experiences is just a matter of practice and dedication. To find your inspirational groove, heed these powerful tips to craft your best ideas.
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 report they are 6 percent more productive and 15 percent more creative.
2. Read more books and essays, especially memoirs.
You can find inspiration in many stories, but memoirs grab you on a deep, emotional level. You’ll read about people who’ve weathered the changing storms of uncertainty, such as divorce or losing a loved one. And 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 powerful decisions, such as committing yourself to a lucrative goal.
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. But sometimes it’s a good idea to spend that extra time. It feels good to build your own bookcase or nightstand, and that positive feeling lasts a long time. If you harness it the right way, you can inspire yourself to create more of the things you truly enjoy.
5. Make improvements to a creative work.
This fun exercise preps your brain for direct inspiration. Take any creative work you love, such as a play, novel, or movie, and try to revise its weaker 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 each solution opens your mind to new possibilities.
6. Let your brain be your muse; talk to yourself.
Right now, there could be a network of ideas trapped in your subconscious. Some are more valuable than others, but to mine the shinier gems, start talking to yourself. Let the conversation wander deep, and be sure to say everything you’re thinking out loud. As you talk back to yourself, responding to one thread of thought after another, you can springboard yourself to new revelations about practically anything.
7. Listen to a playlist of eclectic music.
With this playlist, you can 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, and 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 they’re dim and monochromatic or wildly colorful, a certain ambiance can make a bare room beautiful. Sometimes you need this kind of atmosphere to feel inspired, and LED strip lights can make that happen. These luminous circuit boards are for sticking on walls, and they’re flexible enough to bend corners too. Tuck them behind desks, beds, or anything solid for a colorful glow that washes onto walls.
9. Mix adventure and exercise by taking hikes.
A 2013 study in Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests exercise can make you more creative. It improves divergent and convergent thinking, which 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 decide to 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 fortunately, family and friends tend to lean on each other. 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 Zelda: Breath of the Wild when you need cooking inspiration.
This action-adventure title motivates players to cook with natural, healthy ingredients. On YouTube, you can find videos of people recreating the game’s most popular dishes, such as mushroom rice balls and mighty fried bananas. 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.
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 bring you closer to your niche, and you’ll slowly become an expert on the subject. Instead of scrambling to prepare for a brainstorm, build an archive of best practices and ideas to present to your team.
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 those things 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 don’t believe in bad ideas when it comes to solving a problem, taking risks, and other things adults may struggle with.
16. Press pause on being productive and daydream instead.
Daydreamers have a rich, inner world filled with wonderful possibilities. When you have some time, take a break from your to-do list and 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.
While other people can inspire you, reviewing the things you’ve already accomplished creates the same effect. If you’ve led successful projects at work, purchased your first home, or tackled any challenge most people face, let those achievements inspire your next goal. It’s you versus you, so reach for bigger and better dreams.
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.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by i_am_adrian__/Twenty20.com