When we are young, creativity runs wild through us all, but as we get older life gets in the way. Find out how to stay creative no matter your age.

 

20 TO 40-YEAR-OLDS

If you’re building a career or family, creativity often gets put on the back burner.

  • Schedule a time in your diary—an hour before bed, say—for something like singing, drawing or writing.
     
  • If you can, join a writing group, knitting circle or choir, contribute to online forums, or start your own blog. Bouncing ideas off others who give you supportive feedback fuels the creative process.
     
  • At this age, you may still believe that ideas only come in a flash of genius, rather than through years of hard work. This task gives you a sense of how developing winning concepts can involve risk and making several failed attempts.
     
  • Divide a paper into four. Label one row “normal and ordinary ideas” and the other “original and breakthrough ideas”. Label one column “highly feasible and useful” and the other “difficult and of unclear use”. Put your ideas into these quadrants—this will help you work out which ones are best.

 

40 TO 50-YEAR-OLDS

Avoid your brain slipping into tried-and-tested ways of thinking by dabbling in something you know nothing about—be it car maintenance or Sufi mysticism.

  • Read articles, go to conferences and do courses. Talk to people who are new or upcoming in your field, and work on projects that teach you something. Networking and keeping up to date is a way of staying motivated, and will help you find innovative ways of working.
     
  • Take a stack of magazines, cut out photographs (connected to a particular work problem, for example), make them into a collage and pin it on the wall next to your desk. Study it, then let your mind wander to get a new perspective. Switching focus like this can stimulate areas of your brain that weren’t previously working on the issue and trigger winning ideas.

 

50 TO 70-YEAR-OLDS

By this time of life you could be an expert in your field, but it may have made your thinking rigid. This exercise gets you into the habit of bending your mind’s most stable concepts.

Select one of these objects and draw what it might look like: 

  • A piece of furniture that’s also a fruit 
     
  • a vehicle that’s a fish 
     
  • a computer that’s a tea-cup 
     
  • a lampshade that’s a book

​​Our brains shrink and become less efficient as we age. The hippocampus, associated with memory, loses 5% of its nerve cells each decade. Physical exercise is essential for maintaining blood flow to the brain, and may stimulate cell growth and slow cognitive decline.

  • Exercise (a fast walk is fine) for a minimum of 30–60 minutes, at least three times a week.

The old “use it or lose it” adage becomes more important as we get older.

  • Spend ten minutes doodling with your wrong hand. This forces your brain to work extra hard, and experts believe this sort of exercise causes new synapses—the connections between brain cells—to form. The more synapses we have, the faster we can think.

 

70+ YEAR-OLDS

In later life, your brain’s processing slows down, so ideas come less frequently. This exercise helps you continue to generate lots of rapid thoughts and allows you to keep going when you feel stumped.

Roll a six-sided die to select one of the following questions:

  1. How would the world be different if you had two thumbs on each hand?
     
  2. How would the world be different if everyone lived forever?
     
  3. How would the world be different if there were five sexes?
     
  4. How would the world be different if gravity stopped for one second each day?
     
  5. How would the world be different if people no longer needed sleep?
     
  6. How would the world be different if both sexes could have babies?

List as many facts about this alternative universe as you can; don’t slow down by thinking too hard.

As your short-term-memory capacity declines, you can’t juggle so many things in your head at the same time. Write good ideas down or use aides-memoires so they’re not lost forever, advises psychologist Dr Kamal Birdi of the University of Sheffield.

You should also be prepared to move into other aspects of your personal creative field, adds Dr Birdi. You may not be able to dance like you used to, but you could start teaching others how to.

» Last two exercises from Age-Proof Your Brain by Tony Buzan

» All advice, unless otherwise stated, is from Zig Zag by Professor Keith Sawyer 

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