8 Ways to Spark and Build Your Imagination

Your imagination is one of your most precious possessions. It’s the fuel to your creative fires. But— sometimes our imaginations aren’t quite as active or developed as they could be. I’m here to help. Here are 8 imagination building exercises and ideas.

  1. Practice. If you think of your imagination as a muscle, then the idea that you have to use it or lose it makes some sense. My favorite method is James Altucher’s 10 ideas a day. I use a similar process to this to come up with my writing prompts.
  2. Study. Follow the people who do what you do very well and figure out why — but don’t just stick to your chosen field. I’m an actor and writer but I’ve started obsessively following painters and photographers and graphic artists online to figure out what it is about their work their resonates. Not just how they create a piece, but how the piece they created creates an emotional response. It’s all fuel for my imagination in my own work.
  3. Wonder as you wander. I think you can really spark your imagination when you adopt a “why/what/how” mindset — about everything. Question the world around you. Wonder about how things work. Figure out why things are the way they are. You’ll start seeing the world in a different way. I used to be a journalist and that’s part of our training, but training yourself to be naturally curious isn’t hard. It just involves being present.
  4. Roll the dice. Our imaginations are limited by our knowledge and our perspectives, so you need to expand. Here’s a game to try: Make a list of 20 things in your town that you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to. Then, say, every Saturday roll a pair of dice. Whatever number comes up, thats your activity for the day. It doesn’t have to be grand stuff. For me, last weekend, it was taking a drive up the Pacific Coast Freeway.
  5. Buy some toys. I’m really serious about this one. Play, have some fun. Get out of your head. We grow up in a world that really tends to beat any sense of wonder out of us and that’s not good for our imaginations. I used to have a set of Bucky Balls on my desk until we found out they were killing people. Now I have a little remote control robot. He’s not risen up to take over the world yet, but I’m keeping an eye on him.
  6. Try toppling. This is a brainstorm variation, where you come up with as many words as you can based on the previous word. For example, starting with “picture” might lead you to “frame” which might lead you to “museum” (the last place I saw a really cool frame. Set a time limit and go to town. Just don’t sensor yourself — let the words flow.
  7. Yes and and No but. Actors are taught to “yes and” or “not but” during improvisation — this takes listening skills but also an open mind, to just go with what your partner is offering build on it. You can use this really practically in your own work. If you’re a storyteller, it might take the shape of “because of that…” (i.e., because this happened, then that happened). It’s just cultivating a willingness to take ideas and build and explore and play until you see what you’ve got. You can always edit later. Honestly, this is how magic happens. This is how you get surprises and originality.
  8. Action no matter what. Ultimately, waiting for inspiration to strike before you start working is futile. I was listening to a podcast today and a guest said everyone is just two notebooks away from being the person they want to be. Get into the work, and trust your imagination to fire up in the process.