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Christie Stratos, Author

 Your imagination is like a writer’s first draft—there are no limitations and all ideas are good ideas.

Have you ever found yourself daydreaming about something real in your life, a relationship situation, a creative writing idea, or even a project for work and noticed that you limit yourself? It can come in the form of “That would never happen” or “That’s ridiculous” or “That sounds too cheesy/cringey.” Then you either shut the daydream down completely or try to rework that part in your imagination. I’ll tell you something not very many people know—some of your best ideas are at the bottom of that well of “total garbage.” 

It can be hard to enjoy imagining something ridiculous. It could be a plot line for a novel or the solution to an administrative task. But here’s the thing: a lot of people equate speaking bad ideas to thinking bad ideas. It can feel just as embarrassing to think of ideas you don’t think are worth much thought as it is to suggest them out loud.

Of course, it’s embarrassing to say something out loud that other people then tell you is stupid; it’s easy to shut yourself down from participating in meetings, for example, for fear of saying something others will judge harshly. If you look up “fear of saying something stupid,” you’ll find the internet bursting at the seams. But as you probably know, some of the most famous inventions that have ended up in our daily lives were once scoffed at and ridiculed. Nail polish was once called a “wayward” fashion, the first movies with talking in them were called “a box-office gimmick,” (Vox) and even the telephone was thought to be “idiotic” (Bustle). Imagine all we wouldn’t have if people had kept all their ideas to themselves for fear of failing or being mocked.

That brings us to the most important question that impacts creativity. Where is the one place that no one has to fear judgment? The answer is simple: in our own minds. And yet we do judge ourselves—harshly. 

When we think things like “That’s crazy” or “Don’t be ridiculous,” or we simply shake our heads at ourselves for even thinking something so stupid or “out there,” we shut ourselves down. We’re telling our creative brains, “You’re stupid, don’t bother.” But we’re thinking of creativity all wrong. Creativity is more like a gold mine: the most valuable ideas lie beneath the worthless rock and rubble.

So how do we mine those fantastic ideas? Here are some actionable steps I’ve taken that may help you too.

  1. Recognize when you’re limiting yourself. This seems simple, but it can be difficult to notice when you’re shutting yourself down until you start looking for it. Once you begin to recognize these moments, you may be surprised by how often they happen.

  2. Identify your box. If you feel like you’re stuck with the same kinds of ideas all the time and you can’t think of anything new, then you’re thinking inside the box. The key to allowing yourself to take a step outside is recognizing there is a box in the first place. Then you can understand what its walls are made of. Do you believe there’s only one way to tell a romance story, for example? Or that there are limited ways to solve a business problem? Once you figure out exactly what your box is, think of where it may have come from. Maybe you’ve read writing advice that says there are no new ideas, and this has you convinced that creativity is very limited. Or maybe your boss told you that you have to do something in a specific way, so solving a business problem seems impossible. Once again, when you recognize the box, you can start breaking down its walls to step outside of it.

  3. Allow yourself to move forward with your ideas. Each time you recognize that you’re limiting yourself, force yourself past it. While this isn’t always easy, —push through and allow your imagination to move forward. Even if you have to use excuses at first (“Okay, that’s not the best line a character could say, but whatever” or “My boss would never agree to that, but let me just get past that part”), that’s fine, as long as you get past the limitation and move on with your ideas. You can always go back and make changes or fix things you don’t like, and often you’ll be able to do so far better than if you stopped and kept ruminating on the issue without moving forward. The more you allow yourself to move past limiting thoughts, the easier it becomes, and the fewer excuses you’ll find yourself making.

  4. Give yourself permission for imperfection. One of the toughest parts of thinking creatively can be accepting that there will be holes in your ideas or that they won’t come out quite right—at first. No one’s ideas are perfect in the initial brainstorming stage. The whole point of daydreaming and brainstorming is to come up with initial ideas and concepts that you can then build on and flesh out. Don’t let the fear of imperfection stop you—acknowledge that the idea may need some work and move forward. This proves to your creative brain that you trust it, and that goes a very long way in facilitating your creativity’s expansion over time.

As you can see, the whole goal of evaluating your limitations is to break down barriers you may not even realize are holding your imagination hostage, and then giving yourself permission to think of anything. Once you start working on this actively, you’ll be amazed by the sheer number of ideas you didn’t realize you had. They’re just waiting for you to unlock them.

To read more from Christie Stratos, check out her books on Girls Nite Live’s bookshop: Anatomy of a Darkened Heart and Brotherhood of Secrets: Victorian Psychological Suspense