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Harness your hidden creativity

Rita was preparing her famous holiday meatloaf when she realized she’d forgotten to buy Swiss cheese—her secret ingredient. Instead of dashing to the supermarket, she grabbed some grated Parmesan she had on hand and added it to the mixture. The result? Her family thought it tasted even better than usual!

Even though she was not painting a picture, writing a poem or playing a sonata, Rita was thinking creatively. Creativity—the ability to look at a situation in a new way, to improvise, to be flexible and open to new ideas—does not apply strictly to the arts. What’s more, creativity—a trait that can be cultivated—can help us find meaning in all stages of life and adjust to the unexpected.

How can you tap into your hidden creativity? Try these exercises:

  • Think up five uses for an everyday object. A tin can, for instance, can be a flowerpot or a place to store paper clips. Using your imagination boosts creativity and enhances problem-solving ability.
  • Brainstorm. That means letting ideas flow freely and rapidly. Don’t censor yourself. After all, the more ideas you come up with, the higher the odds that you’ll have a winner.
  • Travel a new route. Varying your routine is one way to stimulate creative juices. For example, instead of taking the freeway, wend your way home on secondary streets, exploring new neighborhoods.
  • Take a walk. Some studies suggest that walking and other aerobic activities enhance mental abilities, including short-term memory, reaction time and the ability to think creatively.
  • Lastly, drop your preconceptions. That includes pigeonholing yourself as an uncreative person. Have you ever solved a tough problem, made up a joke or persuaded someone to try something they didn’t want to do? If so, you’ve been creative. Now, extend that creativity to as many parts of your life as possible—and have fun!