8+ Ways To Train Yourself To Be Creative

by John Hoff on January 23, 2008

To be creative, you have to first believe you are creative.

A short time ago I received an email from a young entrepreneur asking me how he was suppose to compete in a marketplace where the competition was high and more established companies had big advertising bucks. I mentioned a few ideas to him but the one that concerned him the most was creativity. Give him numbers and he’ll work them, but tell him to come up with some creative idea, forget it.

He said he doesn’t have a creative bone in his body.

People who tell themselves that have already lost unless they decide to do something about it.

The development of a creative thought process is no different than learning martial arts.

At first, someone shows you how to stand, execute proper body movement, and teaches you a Kata (a.k.a form – a set of movements that help develop your technique).

Once these techniques are learned you must practice them to become a good fighter. When fighting, it is taught that the best place for your mind to be is no where at all, called Mushin (means “no mind”). The point of Mushin is to blank out your mind so that you are in a state of “openness.” In other words, it allows you to simply react and not worry about what might happen when fighting.

The same can be said when learning to be creative. You first learn what techniques help develop a creative thought process and then you have to practice them while keeping your mind open to endless possibilities no matter how ridiculous they may seem.

But how do you train your mind to become a well-oiled creative thinking machine?

Like the first sentence of this post says, you have to first believe you are a creative person. Following that you need to exercise your mind in various ways.

Let’s take a look at some creative mind-pumping ideas and activities that will help widen your mind’s creative eye.

I. Listen

Don’t Jump the Gun
It is important listen to everything and not judge or come to your own conclusion prematurely. This is vital if you are to create a product that wins in the eyes of your customers and employer. Remember, listening does not equal simply hearing.

Try listening to a different radio station (or TV channel). See if you can figure who the intended audience is. Who would be the dedicated listeners and who might be the occasional? What influential people might be listening to this station? What is it’s market?

II. Brainstorm

Brainstorming can be an effective way to generate creative ideas; however, before brainstorming about your subject at hand, try warming up the creative juices.

Warming Up
Grab a pencil and blank piece of paper and just start writing. If nothing comes to mind, write that, then write whatever comes to your mind next no matter what it is. Then expand.

In another example, grab yourself a pencil and paper and create something new and describe it, no matter how absurd it may seem. Try creating a new life form. Where does it come from? What is its goal? Or try creating a person. Who is she? Expand on the idea.

These are good exercises to get you in the mindset of thinking outside the box.

III. Counter the Negatives with Positives

This is probably one of the more important ones to do. Whenever you want to do something but your mind tells you that you can’t, write that thought down and then next to it write down 2 or 3 reasons why you can. Do this quickly and often. Soon you will notice that you have trained your mind to automatically react with a positive thought whenever you think of a negative one.

IV. Be Ready

If you’re searching for creative ideas, keep a pen and pad handy at all times, you never know when a thought might pop into your head – or maybe someone else’s thought spawns a new thought of your own that you can build off of.

For example, one of my favorite shows is Kitchen Nightmares. I was watching an episode one night and Gordon Ramsay was offering up business advice to the store owner. During the show, I kept getting up and jotting down a few ideas that he had mentioned that I wanted to expand on for my blog. The result was an article you can read here.

V. Learn

Obviously, the more you know about everything, the more you can come up with creative ideas by linking things together. You wouldn’t know how Physics and landscaping might go together unless you knew at least a little bit about both.

Therefore, the more you know, the more you can create.

Ideas to help you expand your horizons

  • read blogs
  • take classes
  • read books
  • try something you’ve never done before
  • teach something to someone
  • participate in a group or online community
  • talk to people you might not otherwise talk to

Can you add to the list?

VI. Evaluate

Often times I find when I’m stuck in a rut and can’t come up with a creative idea, I evaluate things.

If you’re stuck, try flipping through a magazine and evaluate the ads. Which ones catch your attention and why? Who is the target audience? What might you do differently if you were to write the ad? On the ones that catch your attention, how can you modify what they did to what you’re doing?

Your Competition
Get online or flip through the yellow pages and evaluate your competition. See if something they are doing spawns an idea for you. Is there something there you can build on that they could have but didn’t?

Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. Label the left side “My Weaknesses” and the right side “My Strengths.” List all your weaknesses and then under the strengths side, combat those weaknesses with your strengths that might compensate.

You now have a blueprint of what you need to work on and what you have to build off of.

Ask Questions
When stuck on the problem of trying to be creative, ask a series of questions to gain a new perspective of your product or idea.

  • What can I substitute?
  • What can I add to it to make it a little better?
  • What is not needed?
  • What is the opposite of this?
  • Where did this come from?
  • How has something like this been used?
  • What else can it be used for?

Can you add any?

VII. Exercise Your Creative Thought Process

Try some of these activities from time-to-time.

  • Every day pick any topic and write it down; then create a flow chart and see where the flow takes you.
  • Think of a product. How could it have been invented in a different way but produce the same result?
  • After reading half a book, close it and write or think about how you would end the story.
  • Read non-fiction books and solve the problem before it’s answered.
  • Do crossword puzzles, it gets you thinking about all kinds of stuff.

After a while, by doing these exercises you’ll find that your mind approaches ideas in new creative ways.

VIII. Travel

One of the best ways to generate creative ideas is to go to new places or simply just get out and go for a walk. Don’t have the money to travel? No problem. Go where you need to go but get there in a different way.

New experiences and going to new destinations is a great way to gain new perceptions that can generate creativity.

So there you go, 8+ ways to to mold you into a creative thinking machine. On a side note, writing to make sales and conversions is the same way. Your brain is a muscle and you need to exercise and use it.

To hone your copywriting skills, check out Damn Fine Words.

Do you consider yourself creative?

If you enjoyed this article and feel others may learn from it, feel free to Digg it, Tweet it, share it on Facebook, or whatever. Thanks.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Harrison McLeod - JCM Enterprises January 25, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Train the mind and the body will follow. Very good advice, John, and one every martial arts student has beaten…um…firmly set in his or her mind. I’ve always been a big fan of Mushin, too. The days I haven’t thought too much about what I was writing are the days I do my best work.

A lot of good tips here, excellent post. *bows* You have done well, Grasshopper.


John January 25, 2008 at 4:04 pm

It’s true. When you don’t think too much and just let go, that’s when you go to unexpected places.

*bows* thank you o great teacher


Harrison McLeod - JCM Enterprises January 26, 2008 at 12:40 pm

What? No subscribe to comments option? Tsk, tsk.

Over-thinking is definitely the bane of my existence. I can’t count the number of times I’ve banged my head against the keyboard trying to come up with a design or an article and that’s the point I say to James, “Screw it, I don’t care anymore.” Suddenly I’m a creative genius and the job gets done above and beyond my expectations.


John January 26, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Harry – I hope you have a durable computer! LOL. And once that job gets done above and beyond your expectations I bet that great sense of accomplishment sets in. I know it does for me.

I always have the idea and lots to say, my problem is making sure it’s concise and every word has meaning and is needed. That’s what takes forever for me. Plus I only write about 2 articles per week so I have time to come up with the ideas, I think you and James write every day if I’m not mistaken?

Also, the Comments RSS is just below the comments, next to Trackback URI. If you didn’t see it then I’ll take that as insight that maybe I should put an additional link to them in my main menu area.


Harrison McLeod - JCM Enterprises January 26, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Durable? Not so much anymore, but it’ll do.

James and I do write every day, or close to it. We often stockpile as many posts as we can and time stamp them to run on consecutive days. I used to have a problem coming up with ideas and then I started thinking like a blogger and looking at everything to see how I could relate it to our blog.

Thanks, I saw the RSS, but I’m partial to signing up for individual topics. If you look at our blog we have a check box for subscribe to comments, that’s what I’m talking about. I think we have a plug in for that if you want it.


John Hoff January 26, 2008 at 9:11 pm

About looking at everything and seeing how it could relate to your blog . . . I tell people to examine everything in similar ways and to relate it to marketing. For example, when standing in a checkout line at a grocery store you can work those marketing brain cells by examining all those catchy magazine headlines. Who are they speaking to? What headline words to you see repeated (how, warning, 10 ways to . . . ), etc.

If you’re running a blog, I think you do have to see the world in a little different way.

As for the RSS comments, I thought that’s what mine does? Am I wrong?
Please post the link, it sounds like a good plugin to have. Thanks.


John Hoff January 27, 2008 at 8:03 am

Oh, I gotcha. You’re talking about email reminders ;)

Please send a link to the plugin.


Harrison McLeod - JCM Enterprises January 27, 2008 at 8:08 am

Here’s that link: Subscribe to comments plugin

Hehe, at the checkout counter I’m doing the same as you. With all the blogs competing for attention you have to have a catchy title on your post if you’re going to stand out.


RLD: Taekwondo Happiness February 13, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I like that concept of Mushin. It’s a useful concept that I’ve never really encountered.

As for your home page, I like that it’s very straight-forward :)

RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Preparing for belt testing


John Hoff February 13, 2008 at 6:15 pm

Thanks RLD for taking a look at my site.

Mushin is wonderful. Bruce Lee wanted fighters to just react, don’t think, just react. The only way to truly do that is to practice Mushin.

As I’m sure you already know, the philosophies of martial arts can be applied to just about anything. It really is a way of life.

Try Mushin next time you spare (did I spell that right?). It’s awkward at first, as I remember, but really does help you react faster, or at least it did for me.

In relation to being creative, let’s say you want to write a blog article but don’t know what to say or write about. Sit down and just start writing anything. Don’t think, just write. Maybe go to a blog that you currently like, look at an article you like and scan through the comments.

Do any of the comments spark something that you see could be elaborated more? Write that topic down on paper and then just start free writing. Don’t care about spelling or anything like that, just let the free any thought go. If you can’t think about something to write, write that down.

A blank mind can be a creative one. Weird, isn’t it?


CatherineL February 21, 2008 at 10:00 am

I love your thinking John and I use many of these methods myself. And I know they work well for you, as you’ve shared some of your ideas with me already.

I’m going to stumble this post – it’s excellent.

CatherineL’s last blog post..Are You Too Perfect For Your Customers?


John Hoff February 21, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Very cool. Thanks Catherine. I think that’s my first Stumble.

I don’t suppose you know of a good article (or maybe you have written one) I could share with people on my blog about what StumbleUpon is and how it works?



bill reichart February 23, 2008 at 9:06 am

Good stuff! I am going to pass this on (with credit :-) ) over at my website in the next couple of weeks.

Learning is such a key of creativity…especially learning about something outside our own discipline. When new and fresh associates happen, then creative sparks fly.

I would love your thoughts and reactions to my previous post 5 ways to spark creativity.





John Hoff February 23, 2008 at 9:17 am

Welcome, Bill :)

Thanks for spreading the word. I put it out there to help people.

It’s so true. Learning is the building blocks of creativity. The more tools in your arsenal (i.e. your brain), the more you can pull ideas from.

I’ll head over to your site and take a look in just a few minutes. I’m nearly complete with my next blog post about persuasion.


Dave February 23, 2008 at 10:57 am

One thing I like to do is log onto Wikipedia and either grab an article linked on the home page that I know nothing about, and go read it, or, click the “Random Article” link on the left menu a few times until something with a lot of text comes up.

Often, I’ll link over to some of the broader words / subjects from that article and read more about it – then file away that knowledge for future use.


John Hoff February 23, 2008 at 11:37 am

Excellent ideas Dave. Wikipedia has a wealth of information and is pretty much accurate. I’m going to try your suggestion.

I took a look at your site and noticed you mentioned the Mind Mapping Software. That’s a great tool to use to help plot out your ideas and connect them all together.

Check out seobook.com’s Mind Map for online marketing. Pretty impressive stuff.


John Hoff February 23, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Bill, I see you’re a pastor. Now that’s a line of work that takes some creativity every day, every week. I mean, a lot of it comes from the good book and all but you have to digest it and put it in a way that people will understand and can relate to.

Pastor Kevin @ Canyon Ridge (the church I attend here in Vegas) comes up with so many creative analogies to get his points across and keep his listeners on their feet.

Also, I left a post on your blog but it says my name is webmail . . . in case you were wondering, that’s me :)
Sorry, I didn’t see the name field.


skylar mccready February 23, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Great tips, great blog! Thank you for the information :) Will definitely mark as a favorite



John Hoff February 23, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Thanks Skylar. I’ve had all this stuff bundled up in my head for years and then one day I decided why not share it online – and learn from others as well.

Welcome to this site and thanks for the nice comment :)


sangesh February 23, 2008 at 9:04 pm

Superb tips and a great website too. Cheers.

sangesh’s last blog post..What can we learn from Fidel Castro and cuba?


John Hoff February 23, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Thank you sangesh. I love thinking creatively in business and working things from different angles.

I’ll be heading over to your site in a bit. I’m curious what we can learn from Fidel.

Thanks for stopping by.


Jan Finken February 24, 2008 at 10:48 am

There is a wonderful book that talks about a great example of how we are all born believing we are artists. When the author talks to a kindergarten class and asks the question “who is an artist?”–almost every child in the class raises their hand. Each year, each grade–when asked the question “who is an artist?” — the number of hands that go in the air is decreased to where it is just one or two by 3rd grade.

How sad.

While some people may be born with more artistic ability–that does not define creative. Creativity can be found in every area of our lives..From accounting & finance to science and physics…and yes in art.

We seem to be living in a world, right now, where its better to show we are the same rather than highlight our differences. I believe we are losing our individual voices, we are conforming to a “norm” that truly doesn’t exist but seems to be acceptable. We need to give ourselves and those around us “permission” to use our true voices and thoughts and start sharing our uniqueness and not our sameness.

It is our uniqueness that makes us “creative,” and we are all unique. The key is to give yourself permission to share it as well as listen to it from others. In a collaborative environment, where everyone is celebrated for their own uniqueness that they bring to the table, we have even more opportunities to be not only creative as individuals but as a group as well.


John Hoff February 24, 2008 at 11:06 am

Hello Jan – excellent point! One of my related articles listed at the bottom of this one is my post: Unconventional Thinking: Unlearning Your Education.

At the top of the post I show how over time our minds are influenced by others (teachers, parents, friends, etc) and this ultimately changes who we are. The funny thing is, back when I was in college I worked for one year at a church school. I was a kindergarten teaching assistant and I can totally see all the kids raising their hands when asked if they are creative.

I think it’s important for every entrepreneur (and everyone in general) to truly ask themselves who they are. Why do they believe what they believe? Is it their parent’s beliefs or their own?

I think schooling is pretty much a must. But sometimes the problem can be that since we are all taught the same stuff in pretty much the same way we are all coming out of school thinking in similar fashions. We need to see that and adapt.

Thanks for the comment and insights. Hope to see you back :)


Chris Sherrod February 25, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I get so many ideas traveling. I agree it is a wonderful way to find new ideas.

Chris Sherrod’s last blog post..Algae are fuelling Branson’s maiden flight


John Hoff February 25, 2008 at 3:45 pm

I hear ya Chris. Sometimes I just have to turn my thought process off just so I don’t think about blog articles or some other idea. But it’s always good to be ready and have that paper and pen handy for when that thought comes to you.

Sometimes if I don’t have anything to write with I’ll call and leave myself a voice message on my phone. It’s all about being observant, experiences, and making connections.

Traveling gives you a new light on the world and you can make lots of connections in your creativity.

John Hoff’s last blog post..The Art of Persuasion (Part 1 of 3)


Travis Wright February 26, 2008 at 12:14 pm


I’d love to feature this on the front page of CultivateGreatness.com for my readership, if you don’t mind. Please let me know.



John Hoff February 26, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Hello Travis. I’d be honored to be on your site.

Thank you.


Travis Wright February 27, 2008 at 9:10 am

Good deal, John. Great article… it is located at http://cultivategreatness.com/2008/02/27/8-ways-to-train-yourself-to-be-creative

Glad to be able to get you additional exposure.



Travis Wright

Travis Wright’s last blog post..8+ Ways To Train Yourself To Be Creative


Sean Williams February 27, 2008 at 12:26 pm

That’s a fantastic blog there John. We are all creative beings – it just depends on whether we allow ourselves to be or not.

And thanks for reading my blog!

Keep up the good work…

Sean Williams’s last blog post..Who are the five people you spend the most time with?


John Hoff February 28, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Thanks, Sean. Yes I have a whole list of blog articles I want to write. I’m currently working on one with my wife for tips on how to maximize one’s potential.

No problem about reading your blog. I’ll be checking back there soon :)


Romulo Sousa (from Brazil) April 22, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Extremelly well-written this article… Today companies all around the world are looking for creative people, and the author shows us that is possible to have a stronger thinking brain. =D

Romulo Sousa (from Brazil)’s last blog post..O que significa a sigla SOS?


John Hoff April 22, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Thanks Romulo.

I spent a few days developing this article. I started by creating a chart with “Being Creative” in the middle and then branching out ideas from there.

I’m glad you liked it.

By the way, how’s Brazil? I’ve never been there and would love to go sometime.


raj June 13, 2008 at 9:42 pm

it is nice article which make me more on my work


John Hoff June 14, 2008 at 6:30 am

Hello raj – welcome to my little corner of the Internet.

Your brain is a muscle. And just like any other muscle the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.


Marelisa June 17, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Hi John: I think this is an excellent article on creativity. The first step is to identify yourself as a creative person (everyone is creative) and knowing that there are many ideas out there. You then have to gather all of the knowledge you can on your subject matter (reading books, visiting blogs, and the other things you mention). You then digest the material by applying creativity techniques (which you can learn through books, workshops, and so on). These creative techniques are expansive (such as the brainstorming session you mention), and constraining (like setting a time limit). The next step is to do something else (relax, take a nap, work on a different project, let the ideas simmer). And the last step is to turn your idea into something tangible you can show the world.

Marelisa’s last blog post..Get Out the Balloons – Choice for New Blog of the Week


John Hoff June 17, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Hello Marelisa,

Thanks for stopping by. After visiting your blog I figured this might be an article along the lines of what you write about.

You’re right about where you can learn from. To write this article, I created a flow chart (bubble chart) with “Training Your Mind To Think In Creative Ways” at the center and then branching out from there.

I called upon things I remembered from college, a few things a real estate mentor taught me, some creative and lateral thinking books I’ve read, etc. all of which allowed me to make several connections to write this article.

I like the way you break down the steps in the process. I’ll remember them.


Anthony J. Namata August 25, 2008 at 12:07 am


Your article is simply AMAZING! I was pointed this way from an article in the International Association Of Home Business Entrepreneurs (IAHBE), where your article is reviewed. In minutes I was spreading the word around Internet Marketing forums I’m a member of. Expect some heavy traffic. Well done! Keep up the GREAT work!


John Hoff August 25, 2008 at 9:07 am

Hello Anthony. Thank you for the compliment. I’m glad you found this article useful and it’s nice to know people find what I write useful. I was just on the Warrior forum and have bookmarked it to sign up later. Looks like a great place to chat and network.

I’ve used a number of these techniques, some of which I no longer need to do because I’ve trained myself to think in a certain way. But I do have to say the most fun one to do is the traveling! ;)

Thanks for stopping by.


Tolla October 27, 2008 at 6:42 am

Thanks for writing this.

Tolla’s last blog post..H J Financial Insurance Services – “With Us Your Future


muhammad irfan December 3, 2008 at 5:35 pm

this article is really very nice and very informative i tried many article but till now i could not find so informative it is really best article to develop creativity
thankx for all the members who participated in it and especially the writer(john)


Kossy December 6, 2008 at 10:46 am

Great article and website, really great!

Will definitely share this on my blog soon, with credit to u, because people need to know this.

I really found this helpful, thanks.


John Hoff December 6, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Hello Kossy, thank you. I use some of the techniques still while others have become second nature (the more you do it, you know).

I clicked over to your blog and it looks like it’s new. If I can make a suggestion, start off on the right foot and don’t start a free Blogger account, you may regret it later on. Hosting isn’t that expensive and you can have your own site and build traffic to your site, not Blogger’s.


Ryan March 8, 2009 at 11:45 am

Hi John,

Excellent advice. The belief factor lies right at the top of every achievement in life, so it makes sense to clarify that right at the beginning.

Thanks for sharing your insight.



Global May 5, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Great Post Thanx.


jessi dillon October 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm

This is very intresting and creative ,I wish that every person should read this . I want your permission to use this artical “8-ways to train your self be creative ” in my artical and book project for my readers .


John Hoff October 13, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Hi jessi, thanks for stopping by. You’re more than welcome to reprint the article. Please leave a link or reference back to this blog (or article), that’s all I ask.

Thanks for the comment and I’m honored.


Ducan February 17, 2010 at 10:59 am

I really like the way you have expressed your views in a very simple and unique style. When a person is really demoralized after tying very hard to become creative and then again people say them that you are not creative. At that moment heshe might think where did i go wrong, they need something like this blog .This blog is just like a medicine which will really make people smile and will make them more creative. I also agree to what the writer has just mentioned that we can only be creative if we think positively.


John Hoff February 17, 2010 at 11:49 am

Hi Ducan, thanks for the comment. You know I read somewhere the other day (sorry, forgot where) “Everyone is gifted, but some people forget to open the package.”

I like that.


Ducan February 20, 2010 at 9:40 am

Hi john,
Well you don’t have to be sorry for anything. Your comments and blogs have an essence of spiritualism and as well as realism which is really appreciable.


Aaron June 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I’ve found a great way is to just carry a notepad around with you and write everything down as you think of it. You can then sort it all out later. I’ve had a friend who wrote an entire book using this method, and she recommended it to me.


John Hoff June 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I’ve tried that before as well, but I’d always forget my notepad or a pen. There’s also a service called Jott which I know some people use.


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