Five Creativity Exercises to Succeed in the Workplace

by Barnet Bain

Your phone is buzzing. Your inbox is pinging. Your stomach is growling. And your co-worker is signaling you about the three o’clock meeting that is about to start. You know that your physical presence alone in this brainstorming session isn’t going to cut it. Your creativity is what you want to bring to the table.

How do you break through the stress that has spun a web around you over the last few minutes or hours and show up feeling fresh, alert, and inspired?  

In the world of film and television, where I have spent the past 30 years of my professional life, creativity is expected. But in reality, every job and vocation is a creative endeavor. In fact, every act is a creative act. A relationship, a business, a screenplay, a dance, an art form, a reality—everything we know and love is a constellation of creative acts.

For people today, work and business are the primary channels of creative expression. Work is one of our greatest art forms. And what we are discovering (sometimes the hard way) is that creativity and stress don’t mix. A little creative chaos and tension, yes. But cortisol-inducing stress diminishes the pleasure and productivity that make our workdays feel worthwhile.

The following five exercises will clear the path for inspiration, intuition, relaxation, and flow—all integral parts of your creativity toolkit.

  1. Mindful Breathing Technique

The quickest way to unwind from stress is with the breath. In the space of just 2-3 minutes, the following exercise will induce a state of relaxation and the alpha brain waves that go with it. When we are relaxed, we’re far more likely to have those big “aha” creative breakthroughs. As a simple method for re-wiring the neural patterns in your brain, you can use this practice to start your day or to kick start a creative work session. It’s especially effective when feeling unclear or overwhelmed.

  • For two to three minutes, settle into a comfortable position in your chair, close your eyes, and breathe through the nose.
  • Bring your full attention to the experience of the breath entering and then leaving your nose.  
  • If you become distracted by a thought or drift off, gently bring your attention back to the focus on your breath entering and leaving your nose.
  • When you are ready, come back to center, and slowly open your eyes.

In addition to mindful breathing, you promote creative relaxation every time you step away from your desk, daydream, have a 10-20 minute nap, or take a walk down a tree-lined street.

  1. Stopping the Function of Your Reality

Even though work and financial responsibilities can feel like a pressure cooker sometimes, we have far more dominion over our emotional and mental states than we realize. This exercise is good for interrupting old habits of thought and feeling and shifting out of a negative mood. It offers an attitude reset whenever you need one, such as when preparing for a presentation or meeting. 

  • Take three slow, deep breaths to relax.
  • Imagine that you are slowing everything down. Imagine that you are slowing down your brainwaves. Slowing down your blood flow. Slowing down your heartbeat. Slowing down the world.
  • Now, imagine that everything has come to a stop. Your brainwaves. Your blood flow. Your heartbeat. Your breathing. Everything has come to a gentle stop.
  • After about one minute, slowly come back to your normal pace and rhythm. Refreshed, you will be ready to go about your business…more relaxed, open, and creatively receptive.  
  1. Where Are You Coming From

Just like characters in a movie who rarely know what is motivating their words and actions (this is known as the subtext running through a script), we often don’t know our deepest selves or who our colleagues are beneath their social personas. However, when we bring heightened awareness to conditioned modes of thinking and responding, we are better able to break patterns of inflexibility, which allows creativity to emerge and surge.

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, especially in times of stress.  
  • Ask yourself: “Where am I coming from?” Or, “Where am I going with this?”
  • Repeat the question that resonates for you over and over until you sense a bottom line. Write that down.

Even subtle insights into what is operating beneath the surface can create positive changes in our ability to work, create, and collaborate.

  1. The Space Between Practice

Persistent stress and long work hours can leave us mentally fuzzy, fatigued, and sometimes fragile. This powerful practice—which kept me sane when I lost all my saving during the 2008 financial crisis—is particularly effective for building resilience in chaos, a key skill that is becoming more important every day. 

  • Get comfortable and close your eyes.
  • Step 1: Behind the screen of your closed lids, imagine your most joyful future; imagine your heart’s desire with respect to whatever it is you want to create for yourself, for another, or for your world. Feel it, sense it, and see it as best you can. It doesn’t have to be a perfect connection. Feeling it is the key.  
  • Step 2: Move your joyful future over to the right-hand side of the inner screen behind your eyes.  
  • Step 3: Imagine your worst terror, your darkest fear, your most frightening thought. A few examples: “I will get sick and be a burden.” “I will lose my partner.” “I will be living out of a shopping cart under a bridge.” Whatever it is, do not be afraid to see it and feel it.
  • Step 4: Move that image and experience to the left-hand side of the screen behind your eyes.  
  • Step 5: On your inner screen, you now have your heart’s desire on your right side and your worst nightmare on your left side. Your visualization of them doesn’t have to be in vivid detail; just feel them as best you can.  
  • Step 6: Imagine yourself stepping into the middle of the two scenarios, into the space between your most joyful future and your worst nightmare. Experience yourself in the field right between these two potentials. Spend as much time here as you feel comfortable, which can be as brief as 2-3 minutes.  
  • Come back to center, take a breath, and let it all go.  

Facing your darkest fear releases the creative energy that is bound up in a web of hidden anxieties. You can dissipate its power, let go of worry, and be free to put your attention on the present moment.  

  1. Creativity Is an Inside Job—3 Simple Steps

The one inner resource that may be even quicker than the breath at melting stress and opening up the channels of creative inspiration is love. Love has the power to put us back in relationship again—with ourselves, the people around us, and the meaning and purpose underlying all of our to-do lists and deadlines.   

  • Close your eyes and picture a beloved person or pet in your life. Or think of a time when you felt great love. 
  • Take a breath, putting the picture aside. 
  • Can you still feel the love? Love is an inside job. You are always only a moment away from remembering the love that uplevels everything

Because creativity is love’s labor, now you are ready to take the call, compile the report, negotiate the terms, or make the presentation.

Experiment with the five creativity exercises, using them in various settings and states of mind, and find out how your creative energy flourishes when stress is no longer the boss of you.


With film credits that include Oscar-winner What Dreams May Come and Emmy-Award nominee, Homeless to Harvard, Barnet Bain is a motion picture producer and director, radio broadcaster, and creativity expert. He is the author of The Book of Doing and Being (Atria, July 2015).