Get in Touch With Your Creativity
by Ellen Bard
Ellen Bard suggests actions and journal prompts to support re-igniting your creative journey – so don’t just read, do and get creative!
This feature was first published in Kindred Spirit, issue 163 (Mar/Apr).
Creativity is a strangely uncomfortable subject for some people. We have so many unhelpful associations with it – do any of these phrases or ideas resonate with you?
- I’d love to be creative but I’m just not that kind of person
- I was never the creative one in the family
- Only flakey people are creative
- Only artists are creative
- Creative people are a little bit crazy and unreliable
After working with many people to support their personal and professional development, I’ve found that most would benefit from expanding their definition 0f creativity, at the same time as letting go of their negative associations with the word.
My dictionary defines ‘creativity’ as ‘the use of imagination to create something,’ while ‘create’ in turn is defined as ‘to bring something into existence.’
Creativity isn’t an either/or, on or off. It’s a continuum. Some activities are highly creative, others are very monotonous. But most of our day-to-day activities are in the middle. Moderately creative. The opportunities are there – in many ways, humans are constantly creating. There are plenty of small ways in which you create every day, without perhaps even realising it:
- Making a meal from leftovers is creative
- Planning your next holiday is creative
- Buying the ideal gift to suit someone else’s needs is creative
- Expressing yourself to a long-distance friend in an email is creative
- Throwing ideas around in the pub about how your football team could have played better that day is creative
- Creating a presentation to communicate the quarter’s financial results to your colleagues is creative
Of course, more conventionally, the arts – from scrapbooking to writing a book – are also creative. But in order to get in touch with our creativity, we need to expand the way we see it from more than just the traditional. It’s much more accessible that way.
Action: What’s your definition of creativity? What hand-ups or old beliefs do you have about ‘being creative’ that you could let go of now?
Why be creative?
It’s worth touching on the benefits before we talk a bit more about how we go about accessing how to be more creative.
So why develop this area of yourself? The more you develop your creativity, the more flexible your thinking becomes, and you can generate more options to solve problems. Creative ‘play’ type activities can be a valuable outlet for stress, or provide an escape and help decrease stress. They can be a great place to experience ‘flow,’ that state of full immersion in a task, where we’re energised and absorbed by the activity, and time flies by. Not to mention the benefits of being more creative at work and home.
Action: How might your creativity contribute to the people around you? Making even a small corner of the world nicer can hep you and those around you live more joyfully and with a fuller heart.
An ‘Artist’s Date’
One tangible way to develop your creative side is to increase the new and diverse experiences you have. You may have come across the wonderful book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s well worth working your way through the 12-week course if you want to bring your creativity up a level, but you don’t need to do the whole book to benefit from her ideas. She prescribes an ‘artist’s date’ once a week; a time, on your own, to nourish your soul and creativity and restock your creative well. I created my own list of over a hundred activities, and you might want to make a similar (if shorter) list. Some ideas for Artists Dates might include:
- Go into nature and collect leaves, shells or stones you find beautiful
- Cook something without a recipe
- Make a playlist of songs that inspire you
- Learn something new
- Be a tourist in your own town
- Read something with a viewpoint opposite to your own
- Go on a walk and take photos of everything you see that is red (or blue or whatever your favourite colour is)
- Visit an art gallery or museum – you can view many of these online now, too
I have what I call ‘magpie tendencies’ for stocking my creativity. I ‘collect’ new experiences, countries, even people, and then I’m able to draw on all of these for my fiction. For my non-fiction, my work, the people I’ve coached, the theories I’ve researched, the books I’ve read, even people I’ve interviewed, all help me to create my own take on a topic.
Increasing the amount of time you spend on things in your life that might be creative can also have compound effects. Ideas generate ideas, and investing in any creativity is certainly a virtuous circle.
Action: Make a list of five new things you could do, or experiences you could ‘collect,’ to help ‘stock your creative well.’ Schedule one of these in for the next week.
Know Where You’re At
We all have different needs around creativity, and of course our day-to-day may involve different levels of creative ‘juice.’ Sometimes, our creative well runs dry, and we need to take a break to look after ourselves. Be mindful of where you’re at – if you’re going to do your best work, sometimes you’re going to need to make a choice to pull back from creative activities until you’ve looked after your basic needs like sleep, food, fresh air and exercise. Self-care is a critical part of being creative.
Alternatively, you might need to step away from the constant stimulation of electronic devices and give yourself room to be without interference of notifications every few minutes. Research suggests that thought humans think they can multi-task successfully, in fact each interruption leaves ‘attention residue’ on the thing that interrupted us, and we lose a bit of energy each time, and less attention and focus is left for our creative task.
Action: Next time you start a creative task, turn off your wifi and put your phone on airplane mode. Time yourself for 25 minutes and see what it’s like to work without interruption. How does it feel?
As well as the obstacles mentioned above, many of us have a tendency to get in our own way. Our self-talk makes a big difference to us being ‘stuck’ versus in flow. If we are critical perfectionists, we’re unlikely to let go to the creativity buzzing through our veins. When you’re being creative, silence the more critical ‘editor’ part of yourself. You have no need of her at this point. For some people, if you’re working with your creativity professionally, once you’ve done a first or second draft, then it might be time to ‘edit’ or critique. But for many of us, we can let go of the criticism of ourselves completely. If the meal you just made didn’t look perfect when plated, does it really matter if everyone enjoyed what you put together? If the email to your grandma describing the sights you saw on your holiday had some grammatical errors, does it matter?
Another counter-intuitive obstacle to our creativity is so-called productivity. It can feel like we’re doing something if we’re answering emails, when in fact we’re just putting off our bigger task. We can use ‘busy-work’ as a way to procrastinate, so this is worth keeping an eye out for. Starting is usually the hardest thing, so if you just need help with that, set a timer for 25 minutes and do something on your creative task, and then give yourself a break. Once you’ve begun, it will feel much easier to come back to the task.
Action: What are your personal obstacles to creativity? Are they internal, like your self-talk, or external, like feeling you never have enough time? Identify one obstacle and make a note of how you will deal with that obstacle next time it comes up. If you have a plan to deal with it, you are much more likely to be successful.
Creativity to nourish your soul
Reframing creativity as a natural part of our day-to-day human experience can be a powerful exercise. When we look at the world through creative eyes, we can get to know ourselves better, and understand what our soul wants and needs. We can find lost pieces of ourselves, and be the best and most authentic versions of us.
The expression of creativity is a human need, and just as much a part of us as hunger, thirst, safety and love are, and investing time in being more creative is an act of self-care.