Each January the world celebrates creativity — "a month to remind individuals and organizations around the globe to capitalize on the power of creativity," says motivational speaker Randall Munson, who founded International Creativity Month to refocus attention to creatively improve business and personal activities. "Unleashing creativity is vital for personal and business success in this age of accelerating change."

January, the first month of the year, provides an opportunity to take a fresh approach to problem-solving and renew confidence in our creative capabilities.

Fifty-two percent of Americans consider themselves creative, but only 39 percent of Americans feel they're living up to their creative potential. That's one finding from a survey of 5,000 adults in the United States, the U.K., France, Germany and Japan (1,000 participants each), conducted by the research firm Strategy One. Other findings include:

• 85 percent of Americans feel that creativity is the key to driving economic growth.

• 82 percent feel that the United States isn't living up to its creative potential.

• 62 percent believe that our nation's creativity is being stifled by our education system.

We start out as pretty creative beings — children let their imaginations take them to places they've never seen and do things that seem impossible. We encourage it as fun and playtime, but we should celebrate it as the potential for great discovery and accomplishment.

Maybe you can be inspired by Dr. Seuss (a k a Theodore Geisel): "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try."

Why do we begin to take fewer chances as "real life" sets in? You don't have to give up on your creativity as you grow older. You just need to take better care of your brain. Here are some tips for staying mentally fit no matter what your age is:

Limit exposure to stress. You may not be able to eliminate stress from your life entirely, but try to keep it in perspective. Stress can narrow your mental vision and decrease your ability to think differently. Learning how to relax and remain calm as you confront problems will help you find solutions more efficiently.

Don't multi-task. Distractions and lack of focus are the enemies of creative thought. Train yourself to work on one task or problem at a time so you can think deeply about what you're doing and use your whole brain.

Rest your brain. Be careful not to focus your mind like a laser all the time. You need to give it some rest so it can refresh and recharge. Often, you'll find the solution to a puzzle when you step back and allow your mind to work on it without the pressure of conscious thought.

Surrounding yourself with creative, imaginative people is a good strategy for success, whether you're an entrepreneur seeking innovation or an artist looking for inspiration. Watch for these vital traits:

Curiosity. Question how things work and why they work that way. Creative people always want to know more.

Open-mindedness. Spend time with people who don't reject new ideas just because they're unfamiliar. They should always be up for trying something different.

Flexibility. A lot of "new" ideas are actually combinations of existing concepts. Partner with colleagues who show a talent for putting things together in unexpected and unique ways.

Confidence. Connect with people who are sure enough of their abilities to risk failure or embarrassment, but they're ready to try again because they believe in themselves.

Mackay's Moral: Start every day with a healthy dose of vitamin C — creativity.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.