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When you have opportunities to be creative, do you ever feel overwhelmed by all of the choices available to you and end up stuck in indecision? This happens to me sometimes. One thing that has helped me in these situations is to set some guiding intentions or values for what I am working on. While this might initially seem restrictive, I have found instead that it majorly opens up my creativity beyond what I would have thought before.
For example, I’m currently planning my wedding and I have found there are many different ideas and visions of what a wedding should look like. I’m a natural researcher, so in planning the wedding I started listening to podcasts and following wedding planning groups to find inspiration. I learned a lot of great information about logistics and the key components of a wedding, but felt creatively blocked until I really started thinking about the intentions and values my partner and I had for our wedding.
Early on, I read the book A Practical Wedding where the author suggests that you pick the top three to five emotions or words that you want your wedding to feel like. Our words are: fun, full of laughter, inclusive, sweet, and homey. When I was feeling a little stuck in my planning I started to think about these words and what they could actually look like in reality. All of a sudden, I had a million ideas!
In particular, the word “inclusive” sparked creativity in my mind beyond what I had found from research. Being inclusive could look like asking some of our close friends to participate in unique roles or having everyone who attends vote on where we should take our honeymoon. It could mean live streaming for people who aren’t able to be there in person. It could mean having a group dance or sing along. I’m not going to do every idea that came from this creative brainstorm, but I was really impressed with how it helped my thinking.
So why is this the case? I think there are two key reasons. First, by adding a restriction, my brain tends to go into problem solving mode, which is a very idea generative place for me. I have something to respond to which lights up the inquisitive part of my brain. My ideas also move from the abstract to the slightly more concrete and the excitement of the reality of ideas creates a chain reaction where I think of more and more things.
Some of this may be unique to me, but I see this phenomenon in my day job where I work with creative people all the time. Some of the best products are those with more limited budgets or time schedules because artists are able to have a creative response to those challenges that might not exist in an more open ended project.
The second reason why I think this works is because it adds a goal to the project. So for my wedding example, instead of just “plan a wedding” I am now thinking “how can I plan a wedding that will feel inclusive to our guests”. That framework changes how I think about different moments of the event and helps me to see opportunities to add something special, where previously I may have just accepted the status quo way of doing things. I’m not just creating a thing, I am creating a thing for the purpose of creating a particular feeling and experience.
If you’re stuck on finding the intention that can guide your thinking, try asking yourself simply “why?” or “how do you want to feel?”. Once you have some ideas, take some time to truly go all in on what it would look like to fully realize them. You can always back up from that more extreme brainstorm, and prioritize a couple of key ideas that ultimately work best.
Don’t be afraid to fully follow your creative line of thinking, even if some of the ideas surprise you or are different from anything you have ever heard of before. Creativity can be extremely fun and energizing, so finding and practicing this skill that brings more of it into my life has been a great addition to my planning processes. I hope you give it a try and it works for you as well!
Take action! Think of a project that you are working on. Write out three possible intentions or restrictions you could put on it. With that in mind, do a creative brainstorm either out loud or written down and see what new ideas come to you.