Have you ever wondered how Picasso or van Gogh painted masterpieces on such a small canvas? How could they be so creative within such limited space?

Technology has come so far so fast that there’s little incentive to be creative with so many resources available. Sometimes those resources are so plentiful that they can be overwhelming. 

Think about something as simple as taking a picture of a child playing with a ball. Before the age of photo imaging, pictures were innocent, and with that innocence came creativity. The shot was snapped, and candid memories were treasured. Today, it’s hard to see a photo that hasn’t been altered in some way. There’s no need to worry about how the picture will come out because whatever is needed will happen with a computer and a photo editing program. 

Imagine taking a step back in time to when simplicity bred creativity. It can happen for you, and we’ll explain how.

Embrace Constraints 

Have you ever watched a toddler open a present on Christmas morning? So often, the contents, which are often toys, are tossed aside, and the child will stay occupied for hours playing with the box. My seven-year-old son still does this as he likes turning boxes into robots. There can be many shiny, new toys surrounding the child that remain untouched as the box is center-focus.

If all of the toys were removed, and all that was left was a large box, what would the child do? Most likely, they will climb inside and pretend it’s a truck, a spaceship, or even a robot. With or without many options, a child will limit his or her choice by choosing the most imaginative. 

If you were to give a child nothing more than a box and a crayon, they would embrace the constraints and unleash their creativity. The box would be decorated and morphed into something fun and imaginative, such as a dog or a race car. 

When you too have limited resources, you will make do with what you have, and you may find it sparks your creativity in ways you never knew existed. We have become so accustomed to smartphones and PCs that we forget to use our creativity. 

Constraints help us to boost brainpower. When you think about it, unless we are forced to think, we don’t need to give much thought to what we do throughout the day. So much of our day is spent subconsciously doing what we need to do. 

Too often, technology does the thinking for us and removes the obstacles. When we drive, we have a mysterious voice guiding us to our destination. The GPS that most vehicles come equipped with will guide you through traffic and tell you when to turn and when to stop. Your car’s computer will guide you as you back up, and it will notify you when you have a soft tire. 

Technology has removed obstacles, and, in turn, has removed the disadvantages that led to creativity. If you want to unleash your creativity and inventiveness, you first need to limit your choices. This won’t be easy if you are dependent on technology for your job or home life, but it can be done.

Start Slow

You don’t want to dive head-first into unlocking limited creativity because, as strange as it sounds, you might have withdrawal symptoms. We often don’t realize just how dependent we are on technology, and too rapid a change can be hazardous. Not only does technology stifle our creativity, but it can also paralyze our senses.

Minimalists learn to be creative when they gut their homes and their lives of unnecessary clutter. You don’t need to become a minimalist to restore unlimited creativity, but you do need to minimize your choices. Limits and obstacles aren’t always a bad thing. They can fuel our thought process and broaden our perception. 

The next time you need directions, pull out a paper map to find your way. Stop at a petrol station and ask the assistant what way to go. Remove the barriers that prevent human contact. Slowly, withdraw using your electronic devices all the time for things you once did manually and start “doing it for yourself” rather than “having it done for you.” You might be surprised how your creative juices will flow and how you can overcome obstacles by putting your brain to work in full gear. 

Embrace Challenges 

It’s time to take advantage of your disadvantages. 

Marissa Mayer, former vice-president for search products and user experience at Google once wrote in a publication in Bloomberg, “Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained” (Mayer, Feb. 13, 2006). 

When you have less to work with, you’ll see the world in a different light. We’ve all heard the expression to think outside of the box. We can do this when we have limited resources. We know the story of what Benjamin Franklin did with only a kite and a key. He made a kite using two sticks, a piece of string, and a handkerchief; He placed a metal key in a Leiden Jar designed to store electricity and proved that lightning and electricity were the same, which was an important discovery that used only basic and limited tools to discover. Whether it was bifocals, the Franklin stove, or swimming fins, Franklin had limited resources, and constraints sparked his creativity. You need to release the shackles of your brain and let it begin to embrace challenges. 

A study conducted in 2015 by Ravi Mehta at the University of Illinois and Meng Zhu at Johns Hopkins University found that people have no incentive to use what’s available to them in novel ways (Mehta & Zhu, 2015). 

When we are faced with scarcity, it gives us the freedom to use resources in less conventional ways because we have to. We are forced to tap into our mental creativity.

We’ve often heard on the news how a lost person survived many days in the woods with limited resources. These people survived not only because their survival instinct kicked in, but also because they were forced to tap into their mental creativity.

 Don’t fear a challenge. Don’t look at it as an obstacle that you can’t overcome. Think of it as reinventing yourself.  Boundaries aren’t always a bad thing, and to free your mind, you need to stop thinking that they are. 

There’s a study that was supposedly conducted years ago that has been repeated many times over in high school and college classes around the country. No one has been able to cite the original research. We don’t even know if it indeed was an actual study, or merely a fable so that students would learn the concept of unleashing their inner self, but it sends a powerful message. 

Researchers took a group of young children to a large city park. There were all sorts of things to play on–swings, monkey bars, Maypoles, see-saws, and merry-go-rounds. When the children were told they could do whatever they wanted, they remained in a group. They moved from playground equipment to playground equipment together, never straying from one another.

The researchers next took the group of children to a smaller fenced-in park, where, again, they were told they could play and do whatever they preferred. This time, the children spread out and no longer stayed in a group.  The moral of the story is that the more you’re constrained, the freer you are. Freedom comes from constraints. Boundaries free our creativity.

Don’t Feel Defeated

When faced with many obstacles, it’s easy to feel defeated. You might throw your head into your hands and say, “Why me?” Obstacles are omnipresent, and you’re not going to escape them. That’s why you need to get out of the “Why me” mindset and face the challenge before you. You can do it if you only look at it from a different perspective. Be a problem-solver. Don’t turn to your phone for a solution; turn on your brainpower. 

Don’t let obstacles and constraints steal your ambition. Don’t focus on the barrier, focus on the way around it. When you come to a detour in the road, do you stare ahead to where you can’t go, or do you drive around the barricades?


You’ve been given many examples of how we can re-train ourselves to limiting our choices so that we can be more innovative and creative in our lives. 

Take some time to evaluate what you do and don’t need in your life. During your day, record how many times you’ve reached for your phone to do something that you could do manually. 

Try driving to an unknown designation on your own with a map. Turn off the GPS on the way to work. You know the way, so why do you need to be told how to get there? 

Start looking at ways you can be less dependent on electronics and more dependent on your brain. It won’t only help you to unlock your limited creativity, but the more you depend on your brain, the healthier it is for you.  So, go ahead, turn off your electronic devices and turn on your brain! Unleash the creativity that’s been hiding inside of you. You never know, you might give the world the next greatest invention!

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