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How to boost your imagination

Do you want to be energised and more passionate about life? Then you need to consistently feed your imagination. Your ideas will flow more freely and you may think of new ways to overcome obstacles. Some people claim they don’t have much imagination, yet many of these people are more imaginative than they give themselves credit.

Regardless of where you place yourself on a scale of creativity, the good news is that the more you “fuel up” and practise using your imagination, the more creative you will feel. Some of the ways you can boost your imagination are through journalling, exercise, taking part in creative activities and going on artist dates. You can also help to keep your children’s imagination alive by giving some thought to their playtime and toys.


Journalling can take many different forms. If you experiment and find the styles that suit you the most, you might find yourself switching into a creative zone as you write/draw, which can help to replenish your energy. Journals can also become great source books for ideas. Here are some journal forms you may consider:

  • Keep a ranting journal where you just relax and don’t worry about your spelling or whether your thoughts are petty and whiny. There is at least one more advantage to this kind of journal: if you are working on a creative project and feel stuck, new ideas can work their way out of your subconscious and onto the page. The trick is to write quickly. While this kind of journal isn’t necessarily the kind for re-reading or sharing, you might want to mark your better ideas with a highlighter pen for future reference. This kind of writing can also clear your head from worries, thereby easing your creative flow.
  • Create an ideas journal. This is where it can be fun to get out the art supplies, even if you don’t see yourself as artistic. An ideas journal might have sketches of new inventions, dress designs or possible business logos. It may have lists of things to do. It may just have random scraps of inspiration pasted in, such as fabric, photographs and paint samples.
  • Dream journals can be an interesting way of connecting to your imagination. It can be difficult to remember dreams, but if you keep a journal or scrap paper by your bed, you can jot down some images as soon as you wake up. Dreams can be inspirational sources for creative writing, painting and many other art forms. They may even provide a solution to a problem or help you to recognise your fears. Some ideas for dream journals: record your dream in a comic-strip style, draw one particular image or write about the dream under subheadings, such as title, plot, strongest part, emotions and theme.
  • Another type of journal worth considering is the daily journal. While this can seem mundane, particularly if your days are filled with routine tasks, the Beauty in this kind of journalling can be in noticing the details in a day. It can help you see your world from a different perspective. Try writing your day out on scrap paper with as much detail as possible, then highlight the more interesting bits. The highlighted parts may not always be the dramatic and exciting events — they can be trivial, too, like a quirky conversation you overheard on the bus or that you made apricot jam or learned how to stand on your head. Then you write out all the highlighted parts in your journal and accompany the words with drawings. If you struggle with drawing, try capturing a detail you feel capable of — an apricot or your upside-down feet. If drawing is your forté, record your days in illustrations alone or with simple captions. When you capture the sensory details of your days, your life can feel richer and seem more inspiring.
  • Then there is the truly creative journal. Just how creative can you get? You can start by making the book yourself or create a cover for an existing one. You can be as obscure as you like with the inside. Play around with words and images. Write poetry or even make it a fictional diary. Or mix it up — use a whole range of journalling styles in one book.

Move your body

Exercise can be great for enhancing the imaginative processes, particularly if it’s creative in itself. Some examples of exercise types that involve creativity are hula-hooping, dancing, poi, acrobatics and figure skating. The simpler forms of exercise are great, too. Activities you can do without too much concentration, such as fast walking, jogging, roller skating and bike riding, can bring a flood of ideas into your head — often far more than you would have sitting at a desk.

Lap up literature

Books and magazines can also replenish your creative energy. Interesting images can be cut from old magazines and stuck in a journal, or perhaps incorporated in a collage, as a source of inspiration. As for books, some are written directly about the creative process, which can be useful, but seek out anything and everything that sparks your interest.

Books that are image-based can be great for when you are tired and just want to quietly absorb the pictures into the creative pockets of your mind. Art and photography books are good for these moments, as are those based on recipes, architecture, different cultures, crafts, interior design … the list is endless. Don’t forget to look for books beyond your prominent interests — see if you can find something new.

Fiction is also great for the imaginative processes; not only is the text a product of creativity but the reader is forced to “fill in the gaps” of the story with their imagination.

Get creative

Many activities stimulate your imagination. Even if you have a regular creative outlet you may want to supplement this with other creative forms, particularly if you are feeling stuck. If you have writer’s block, try taking some photographs, or playing the guitar, or baking a cake. Creativity in one area can flow into another.

If you don’t consider yourself to be a creative person, remember that creativity doesn’t have to be linked to outstanding artistic skill. Creativity can be subtle and creep into all facets of life: the songs you sing in the shower, the pictures you paint with a child or the jokes you make up.

Writing can clear your head from worries, thereby easing your creative flow.

You can also, of course, learn new creative skills. Join a class, read a how-to book or ask friends to teach you something. The possibilities are endless: make your own cheese, drum, revamp an op-shop dress, perform a puppet play, decorate your room, create a Garden, write a song …

Generally, the more you are engaged in creative activities, the more inspired you feel. Just remember to enjoy the creative process — if there’s a product at the end of it that you like, that’s just a bonus.

Keep creative tools accessible

You are more likely to act on a flash of inspiration if you have creative tools visible and set out ready to use. Think about the way they are set out: the more appealing they look, the more likely they are to draw you into using them. This might mean hand-tools displayed on a shed wall, yarn arranged in open cubby holes or a drum kit set up and ready to use. You may even want a small travel kit you can take with you when you Travel or go out for the day. This might just be a pen and notebook or a small case of art-supply essentials.

Make artist dates

This is an idea borrowed from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. An artist date takes you out into the world — preferably alone — to soak up inspiration. Cameron suggests you try to make at least one artist date with yourself a week. There are many ways to get ideas for dates. One of the most obvious is, if you are working on a particular creative project, you may want to seek out a place or event that relates to your project: a gallery if you are working on a painting, for example, or a theatre show if you designing a set for a play. Also, different forms of creativity can feed off each other: a painting may be inspired by a poem and a sculptor may glean ideas from a photography exhibition.

You may not have any particular creative outlets — and may not wish to have any — but artist dates are still worthwhile. They will still foster a sense of imagination and open your mind to possibilities for everyday life. When planning an artist date, it can help to think laterally. Beyond theatres, galleries, museums, festivals and concerts, you might just want to go to a different section of the library or eat something new at a cafe.

Many shops can make good artist dates, particularly second-hand stores (from tip shops to antiques), dress-up shops, gardening centres and anything selling textiles, art supplies, records and books. Another interesting type of shop to visit is one based on a different culture; a Japanese shop, for example, can have anything from origami paper to silk kimonos.

Artist dates need not be urban, either. You may feel inspired by a trip to a quiet beach, river or rainforest — or you could watch the sunset from a mountain top.

Foster imagination in children

Although children are naturally imaginative, they can easily have their creative capacities hindered or enhanced during their upbringing. According to Rahima Baldwin Dancy in You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, spontaneous play in young children is an important part of their development. One of the ways she suggests you can encourage this is by making sure they have plenty of free time to play when nothing is scheduled.

The way their play area is set up can also encourage imaginative play. If all the toys are hidden in boxes, they are less likely to be incorporated in a free-flowing game; the ideal is to have toys and dress-ups arranged neatly on open shelves or hanging up where they can be easily reached.

Some toys lend themselves to enhancing the imagination more than others: the simpler they are, the more the child needs to fill in the “gaps” with their imagination. Simple toys also lead to wider possibilities than, say, an action figure based on a cartoon, which is more likely to be played with in a certain way (how they have been seen on television, for example). Some examples of simple toys are rag dolls, wooden blocks, a bucket and spade, finger puppets, felt animals, capes and crowns.

Another way to sustain the imaginative spark in children is through creative activities such as painting, drawing, playing musical instruments and modelling with playdough, clay and beeswax. Coloured beeswax can be found in some art shops, specialty stores and online. It’s a soothing medium to work with and smells beautiful. To work with it, warm a piece in your hands or in the sun and once it has softened a bit the child can start modelling it any way they choose.

If you have writer’s block, try taking some photographs, or playing the guitar, or baking a cake.

Reading stories to children will also stimulate their imagination and young children often love to hear their parents’ own made-up stories. If children see or hear you being creative, they are more likely to create alongside you. Likewise, according to Dancy, young children benefit from seeing adults take part in active work. When they watch adults sweep, cut firewood, plant in the garden, paint the walls (almost anything other than stare at a computer screen, tapping at the keys), children will have their imaginative play fuelled by actions they can mimic.

One last point about children and creativity concerns their screen time. According to psychologist Gisela Preuschoff, the images children absorb from TV can block their own inner images and stifle their imagination. The ideal, particularly for young children, is to give TV a miss altogether, but if this is asking too much, try limiting their screen time and choose the content carefully. Some programs may have a more imaginative content than others and present a wider range of themes.

Children tend to use their imagination far more when they are actively playing or making something than when they are playing computer games or watching TV (and the same goes for adults).

Marie Rowland

Marie Rowland

Marie Rowland is a therapist in private practice on Sydney’s northern beaches helping people resolve the underlying issues that perpetuate conflict or disconnectedness so they can create meaningful and happy lives. Marie speaks at conferences, forums and community events on a variety of topics from wellbeing and positive psychology to practical philosophy.

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