One of the great paradoxes of deciding to design a new phase of your life like starting a new business, looking for love or creating relief from clutter or financial chaos is that in order to do so, you must have your creative mojo fully engaged.
However, the conditions that created a desire to change like so much stress at work that your blood pressure goes through the roof or a string of toxic relationships or hectic family life often completely shut down all creative impulses.
How do you get creativity flowing again?
Many people start here, with very disappointing results:
- Go on a fancy tropical holiday
The first few days are great. You relax on the beach, read great books and guzzle drinks with pink umbrellas. But if you have done nothing to change the situation you are escaping from, you may actually feel impending doom as you prepare to go home. The contrast of your no-responsibilities vacation to your miserable daily life can be devastating.
- Dull the pain with a big bottle of wine
For those that drink alcohol (not me), there are great pleasures in a bottle of wine. The problems start when your love of an occasional glass becomes a need to down 2 or 3 every night just to relax from a day of work. Your body will feel terrible the next day, which will encourage you to slurp 3 espressos before hitting the office. You can see the unhealthy pattern here.
- Sit on the couch and watch 10 continuous episodes of Star Trek, When Sharks Attack or Law and Order (my personal favorite)
An occasional "veg out" in front of the television is a great thing, especially when accompanied by good snacks and a snuggly partner. But when you watch endless episodes of television night after night, it dulls your brain waves. And you will finish your day with much less energy than you started with.
These activities, while effective for feeling better in the short term, can actually push your creativity further from your grasp.
Instead, how about these suggestions, backed by some real-life success stories from my book Advisory Council?:
- Do Nothing!
I’ll never forget a seminar I attended with a very smart and professional woman who was training to be a life coach. She and her husband had focused on career for so long that they woke up one day and realized they better get moving if they wanted to start a family. So they went through all the right "motions" (wink wink) with no luck in the baby department. The woman was obviously very distraught, so a fellow participant asked her what she most wanted to do.
"You are going to think I am crazy, but my biggest fantasy is not about a luxurious getaway or exciting hobby, it is about SLEEP! I have dreams about spending a whole weekend in bed, only waking up to eat enough food to keep me alive." As soon as she said it, she started laughing really hard since she realized that without a rested body, no babies would feel safe sprouting in her tummy.
The same is true for all creative pursuits — sometimes the best thing to do to get your juices going is to just take a nap!
There is documented evidence that increase physical activity wakes up all parts of your brain and makes you a sharper and more creative thinker.
Dean shares an example from his life:
"I lived in a very intense, fast paced, detail oriented environment that in general sucked me dry. Plus the nature of the work I did was not all that compelling … something I could do and do a good job on but after a certain point I had to force myself to do it. I did not exercise and I really didn’t have any release outlets and that did not help at all in the process.
What I did to help map myself out of this occurred mostly by luck. I had determined, around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, a couple of years into this cycle was that I was going to get back into exercising and having some things that I did just for myself. My wife suggested, more than one time, that I take up yoga, but I resisted. Finally I gave in and went to a class. Thought I was going to die. But I actually loved it. So I started going 3 times a week. I loved it. Got me out of the office early on the two week days I went. Was totally relaxing and good for my body. Got me out of my brain and into my whole body."
- Get Away with Purpose
Unlike the margarita-drenched tropical escape I described above (which is not horrible, of course, but has a very short-term impact), getting away somewhere where you can enjoy nature, participate in self-reflective activities or work on creative pursuits can have lasting impact.
Dean shares an example:
"On my 50th birthday my family sent me off to a retreat
of sorts. Holy smokes that was a breath of fresh air and it
invigorated me … I learned many things about myself some of which I
have gotten into play and others not so much. That was three years ago
and I have not done anything along those lines since. I can feel it in
my bones that I am drying up on the creative front. "
- Pursue Art
Get your hands dirty with any kind of art you can imagine. Go take pictures. Work with clay. Make a killer CD of your top tunes to blast from your car while you drive to work. Call in sick one afternoon and head to a favorite art museum. Make a collage or paint a picture. See a play or a Broadway show.
You do not need to be artistic yourself to get great benefit from appreciating art. It makes your heart beat faster and lights your inner creative fire.
"I listen to music I can sing along with, or dance to. I start
making noise and/or moving. If the music is the sort that stirs up
different moods, that’s excellent. For me, that’s Renaissance,
Baroque, Galant and British folk music. (Ride of the Valkyries helps
- Do Good
Sometimes the best thing you can do to shake out of your rut is to get involved in a project that is totally different from your day-to-day life. If you make this activity one that not only is enjoyable to do but will make someone’s life better, it can be incredibly stimulating.
"I get out of the ‘misery’ state through my work with Habitat For Humanity. I started volunteering with Habitat as a means of job training. I have an interest in construction but no construction experience or close connections in the building industry. Almost 5 years later and now I’m the chairman of our Construction Committee!! I’ve found my work with Habitat "resets" my thinking. It breaks up my normal routine. I devote 6-8 Saturdays in the Fall and Spring to Habitat. I don’t know what I would do without it."
- Do Something Wacky
My best friend Desiree and I have had an ongoing fantasy of teaming up for the reality show The Amazing Race since between us we have multiple languages, love for adventure and the ability to sweet-talk grandmas from any country (tip to you: grandmas rule the world, so if you want to get something done, talk to them).
My Dutch reader Jan-Peter actually acted on this impulse as he described here:
"The rather extreme step I (and my wife) took was to sign up for a TV program called "Mijn tent is top", based on the australian format of " my restaurant rules". I don’t know if there is or was an US version of this show. The idea is that 4 couples compete build and run 4 different restaurants form scratch. To do this the have a loan of €300.000 till €400.000. The prize would be the money you had loaned and the restaurant would be yours. The concept, ranging from interior design to the food served and services would be might by the contestants them selves.
We were almost shock when the production company called us the invite us to present our plans. So in 2 nights we might our plan and design and did our presentation. After some phone calls back and forth we ended with the top 2% percent of contestants, but did not make it to the show itself… "
"The opportunity and necessity to come up with a new and creative plan (i.e. the restaurant) woke me up to the fact that i am much better at designing creative concepts for people to meet and interact with each-other than at producing laws and regulations at a government time cubicle work sphere."
Based on all the great suggestions I received, I could go on for days. But do you see a general pattern?
Unplug-tune into cool things-use your body-do something really different.
Until your overall situation changes, you may not be in creative flow all the time. But with these little tune-ups, you will see the light at the end of the tunnel!
I would love to hear your specific suggestions – please share them here!
Just wanted to second the “hit things” suggestion here. Martial arts have a lot of benefits. For me, they’re great for forcing mindfulness – it’s very hard to brood on your publicity shortfall when a large bald man is trying to punch you on the nose.
I’ve set up phone and lunch dates with other professional women whenever I need a bit of inspiration. I find that sometimes when you take the focus off of your own work and onto what those around you are doing, great ideas can spark. Maybe I’ll try something “wacky” next time! Thank you for the suggestions.
Good article, Pam! Since I’ve started writing and posting articles myself on a regular basis I have learned to “go with the flow” of my creativity. When I’m in the flow the ideas just come, usually when I first wake up in the morning is my best time. I’ll be reading something inspirational, and an idea for a business article will pop into my my mind. I have to start writing immediately so I don’t lose the idea track. I never know where it will end up, I just start writing. That is the most rewarding part of all – letting a good idea flow of its own accord.
It’s been a couple of years since I started writing and publishing articles, and the ideas keep coming. All I can say is, I’m grateful for the gift and I hope it’s helping people!
Pam – this is GREAT info. Great ideas. There’s loads of neuroscientific research that explains exactly why each thing you recommended works, and you pulled them together perfectly.
I couldn’t agree with you more on these. The “Get Away with a Purpose” strike a familiar tone. I just got back from a vacation in California. We traveled from San Fransisco down the coast to LA in a week. Never in my life have a felt so relaxed, learned so much about myself and have come back from vacation ready to take on new challenges. Sometimes a change of scenery really is a great thing!
Very Nice article on revitalizing one’s cortical & creative skills. I beleive that breaking out of one’s status-quo is the single most important thing to get into the so called “Kreative Groove”. The boost one gets by doing things differently & efficiently is amazing by all means (My personal exp)
I liked ur “Do Good” Point…one’s proactive engagement in activities like Teaching, Sketching, Community Service (none of them tied to “$$” obviously) gives the real creative stimulus & leaves one happy & charged up !!
PS: Liked Linas pt abt hitting stuff too – perhaps thts why Go Karting, Kick Boxing, Rugby etc. is fun 😀
Thanks for the fun (and healthy) suggestions!! I wanted to share with you something else I’ve been reading recently. It’s a book called Harmonic Wealth and it’s all about finding harmony in your life in all areas – financial, relational, mental, physical, and spiritual. It has some really good tips about how to engage all five pillars (or areas) of your life, and to learn more about how they complement each other. Rather than dealing with each issue individually, maybe take a look at the bigger picture.
Here’s the link to that book I recommend: harmonicwealth.com/read
Doing something physical is the right answer for me.
I’m into boxing, kickboxing, and Judo. At a boxing gym, no one wants to hear about your plans to monetize your latest web app.
So, in addition to doing something physical, it’s important to get away from your usual circle. Mix with people you don’t interact with professionally.
There’s also something to be said for the restorative value of hitting stuff 🙂
It is always better to do nothing than to create dull, unfocused content.
I want to point out, that time is going on and in business blogging we have new rules of business blog.
Entire free e-book about it can be found here: http://www.positioningstrategy.com
Hi Pam –
That bit about doing nothing is especially important. But the trick is to be able to do nothing without worrying about doing nothing. I haven’t quite mastered that one yet. 🙂
This is good stuff! I’m in the middle of making several big, life changes. I’m already doing lots of similar healthy things, like what you’ve mentioned here. Reading through your points and examples confirmed so many of the choices I’m already making. It’s just great to get some affirmations sometimes, especially when taking “leaps of faith.”
I’d like to offer a different slant on the television bit. In the evening, if I throw a comedy DVD on and sit back, after a half hour or so of laughter, I start to feel better. I go to bed smiling, and usually wake up with a smile. Puts me in a better frame of mind for creating!
I totally agree with you snar — a little good tv is never a problem. It is when it becomes a 6-hour a night habit that you have to worry.
I sit down with a pen and a notebook. The moment the pen hits the paper the thoughts start coming. It’s important to remove temptations (like the computer or books) from the surrounding area or you may find yourself taking the lazy route, and surf the web or read instead of focusing.
one of my favorite ways to get my creative juices flowing is to get playful. i like to put some blankets and pillows on the floor, surround myself with art supplies and give myself permission to make complete and utter crap. getting playful and permission to make “bad art” help get me going every time! 🙂
One thing that works for me is to do Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. When you wake up in the morning, write three handwritten pages of whatever junk is on you mind. It clears my mind of all of the gunk that accumulates and I’m much better prepared to tackle anything.
Of course, if I could actually get up early enough to do them regularly is another question….
Great article, Pam! My personal strategy to wake up my muse involves home-improvement projects. Yesterday, for example, I installed a new interior door! Today, I have about four ideas for new blog articles. Works every time! 🙂
What a good article on freshening up your life. I didn’t read it from the perspective of a corporate person but from the perspective someone over 40 and more than likely someone over 60. Your suggestions are very helpful for keeping people fit and active as the age.