The Value Of Creativity
In the age of machines, robots and computers replacing human tasks with greater efficiency, economy and effectiveness, we are left to ponder with posthuman angst…
What is left for humans to do? What is the value of humanity?
My answer to is creative expression. It is debatably the only thing that a computer or machine cannot do.
So let’s examine how we can cultivate this incredibly valuable resource.
How To Cultivate Creativity
Creativity comes from a place of acceptance, going with the flow, having an open mind and being in a state of reception. Consequently we were in our most creative bliss while in early childhood. It was a time when we didn’t have perceived limitations, self-imposed rules and concrete paradigms. We were open to all potentials … even imaginary friends and fairy tales.
But over the years well-meaning parents, friends and teachers told us how how things “should be”. About what we should and shouldn’t do. About what is real and isn’t real. About having “realistic” perception. We even heard jokes about how artists don’t make money till after they die. Or about the over-used phrase of the “starving artist”. All of these things from the collective society programmed us to “fit in” better and be a good citizen, but dimmed our light bulb of creativity.
Self-Limiting Belief System & Getting Over Social Programming
- The people who told us “no” or who brought us down when we were children. Such as parents, teachers, friends.
- How these sub-conscious scripts affect us our entire lives.
- Forgiving people. They did the best they can.
The first thing to do in order to cultivate creativity is to realize and address self-limiting belief systems. If you believe you are not very creative, you must eliminate that paradigm in order to become creative. If you believe you can’t be extremely successful as a professional creative you must erase this in order to attain success. Our thoughts create our reality. Even outside of the new-age philosophy of “Law of Attraction”, there is a psychological phenomenon called “confirmation bias” where we look for and remember the things that confirm our beliefs while disregarding and forgetting things which are contrary to our beliefs. Indeed this confirmation bias even happens for negative self-limiting belief systems.
Self-awareness is important for identifying our limiting beliefs. Mindfulness can help us observe the thoughts crossing our mind like clouds in the sky. With regular introspection, we can label what thoughts are helpful and what are not; in so doing we can begin replacing the negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some of these positive affirmations can seem elementary such as “I love and accept myself”, but are nonetheless powerful to the sub-conscious. Since we are talking about the sub-conscious, it is important to support these intentional thoughts with emotion because emotion is the language that percolates into the depth of sub-conscious. Feel the happy, bright, light feeling when you are confident in yourself and excited about new potentials.
Much like reprogramming self-limiting belief systems, we must also give ourselves permissions to break rules, be wild and go with the flow. I have gone to a variety of creative and esoteric workshops where the main gist is to create an environment where people can finally be free to express themselves. Indeed with conscious awareness we do not need other people to give us permission, rather we can give ourselves the freedom. I suggest creating a time and space everyday where you are alone and can express yourself however it feels right. This can include painting, drawing, dancing, singing and writing among other things.
Speaking of writing; recording your thoughts with pen and paper is one of the most powerful actions you can do towards cultivating creativity. According to the book “The Artist’s Way”, a wonderful way to start the day is to do something called “Morning Pages”, where you hand write three pages of anything and everything that is on your mind. This is completely unfiltered with no intention of having anyone read what you have written. With morning pages you write without regard to grammar, spelling or composition because those restrictions slow down the recording of pure stream of consciousness. Writing down all the stuff that bounces around in our minds does two things; releases them from the mind and allows us to look at them more objectively. By recording your thoughts outside of your mind, you are able to let go of all the chattering superfluous thoughts in the brain which slow down creative reception. The reason why we often think of the same thoughts over and over again is the brain’s attempt at remembering what it deems important … even if it’s as mundane as a song you heard on the radio. Writing gives our minds permission to let go of trying to remember all these things. It also allows us to view our questions and issues outside of ourselves. In other words writing –which is the the process of externalizing the inner world — allows us to objectively view the problem. Indeed half the problem is simply wording the question correctly. It also transforms often ephemeral angst into something more concrete. Let me explain further … Have you ever had a day where you just were in a funk? Things just didn’t feel right and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. You hit all the red lights while driving. The checker at the grocery store was slow. The weather wasn’t good. You spilled your coffee and stubbed your toe. It’s only when you start asking yourself the questions necessary to verbalize what you are feeling when you can identify the root of the problem. This makes what was hazy feelings into solid words which allows us to look at and solve it externally. Most of the time, I begin writing about something that is bothering me where I don’t know the solution, but by the end of several pages I discover to the answer because I was able to understand the situation better.
Paralysis Of Perfection vs Loss Of Excellence
Moving on, let’s talk about another dichotomy of balance needed towards cultivating creativity … The balance between striving towards excellence and the paralysis due to perfectionism. I believe our society has become lax in striving for excellence. In the era of twitter and texting, our forms of communication has become elementary. People go to grocery stores with pajama pants. Newscasters have become more like reality TV than formal orators of information. And comedy has been reduced to base overt crassness as opposed to interwoven subtle complexity. I believe the many ills of our modern society is partly a result of the lost pursuit of excellence. Having said that, too much perfectionism can disable us from doing anything. This can be seen in the phrase “I will do ______ when….” or “if only ________, then I will…” or “I’m not good enough for _______”.
To give more specific examples, we might tell ourselves the following:
- I will start painting when I have the right brush, canvas, paint or class.
- I will start writing once I have the time, experience or laptop.
- I will start dancing once I have the right shoes, space or lessons.
This paralysis of perfectionism also relates to other non-creative areas of life:
- I will move once I fix this and paint the walls and….
- I will fix the car once I have the right tools and read enough books and practice and…
- I will get out of a bad relationship once I have enough reason and paperwork and money and…
Creativity flows best when we do not fear mistakes and accidents. Creativity comes from the exploration of the unknown.
Imagine a magical forest with mysterious creatures, plants and crystals yet to be discovered. There are no maps or laid out paths. You can choose either to be the person who perpetually prepares to make the expedition perfect but never actually accomplishes the dream, or you can be the brave person to just do it and learn as you go. You could also call this improvisation … another synonym for creativity. The most successful and creative people are the ones who foray into the unknown depths of experience and make due with the skills, tools and circumstance they have right now … they do not wait for the proverbial weather to be perfect. The most effective creative people invite accidents and rejection as learning experiences to evolve and improve from.
The Power Of Visualization
Visualization is one of the most powerful tools for creative reception. We all know how athletes who visualize their performance prior to the actual event do better than those who don’t. With visualization we are able to improve kinesthetic, social, health and creative performance.
A swimmer can visualize the arm strokes and feeling of enveloping water as they glide through the laps.
A stand-up comedian can visualize telling their stories and how to react to different crowds.
A sick person can visualize themselves healthy to activate the very real healing abilities of the placebo effect.
And the creative person can visualize the invention, painting, choreography or phrasing before actual physical manifestation.
Visualization or “day-dreaming” is yet another thing we need to give ourselves permission to allow. Once I prioritized time to visualize without restriction, I found the world within my mind’s eye, including dreams, became more vivid and powerful. As our inner world becomes more vivid, our outer world follows.
I consider visualization a form of meditation because I define meditation as coherent thought. We are meditating whether we simply observe our thoughts like clouds passing in the sky or focus on a specific thought-feeling.
For greatest clarity, insight and well-being we must maintain our consciousness as we maintain our bodies. Two simple habits to bookend our day is to spend twenty minutes in the morning writing and spend fifteen to twenty minutes visualizing and meditating before bed. Speaking of going to bed, I want to highlight a powerful twilight state of consciousness which is a powerful time for creativity…
Hypnagogia. Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Thought.
Hypnagogia is the transitional period between wakefulness and sleep. It’s a powerful time for creative insight.
We actually experience REM like sleep states right before real sleep and can enter a lucid dreaming type state. I have also learned there is extrinsic and intrinsic thought. Extrinsic thought is reason and logic where neurons fire with other neurons that are close by. However intrinsic thought is feelings and intuition where neurons fire with distant neurons in the nether regions of the brain. Intrinsic thought is achieved during sleep and the twilight zone between awakeness and sleep. The twilight zone is a blend of theta and alpha brain waves. So next time you can’t sleep at night, try asking yourself questions.
How Sleep Literally Cleans The Brain; Likewise Important For Creativity
Speaking of such, let’s talk about how sleep is yet another important tool to cultivate creativity. Obviously the brain is the organ of creativity, so we know that creative ability is tied to brain performance. Sleep is critical for brain performance because it is when the brain flushes out toxins. One of the main neuro-toxins flushed out is something called beta-amyloid which forms brain plaque. Indeed sleep problems are dementia and alzheimers because of the lessened time spent cleaning the brain.
Reducing Technological Distraction
Referencing the article “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds” in the Wall Street Journal, the average iphone owner interacts with their phone 80 times a day which equates to 30,000 times a year.
Applications, social media and devices sell your attention to advertisers. The more they can get you addicted to “engaging” with their service or product, the more money they make. They employ the same psychological manipulation as casinos; giving small rewards that cause a spike of dopamine thereby getting us addicted. But unlike many addictions, we have convenient and seemingly legitimate arguments as to why we must keep getting the “hit”. We use it for keeping in touch with loved ones, accessing information online, scheduling meetings on our calendar, waking us up in the morning and communicating with clients among a thousand other uses.
Researchers are showing us that our recent reliance on smartphones is negatively affecting our productivity, intelligence and socialization. One study shows that when people hear their phone ring or vibrate their blood pressure and heart rate increase while problem-solving skills decline as our focus is further diluted.
The most damning of studies showed the mere presence of a smartphone negatively affects how well we perform on intelligence tests. The proximity of the phone was directly connected with the performance of focus and thinking. They also found that people who have become most dependent on their phones were the ones most negatively affected by the proximity experiment.
Another study found that students who didn’t bring their smartphone to class scored a full letter grade higher than students who did bring their smartphone.
Smartphones are making social interaction broader while less deep. With face-to-face interactions suffering the most. “The mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when “a personally meaningful topic” was being discussed.
Indeed “Imagine combining a mailbox, newspaper, TV, radio, photo album, public library and boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object”.
Makes for an irresistible substance on par with heroin.
Here are some tips to break the technological chains….
Get a landline phone with “Link2Cell”. Link your cellphone to the base station via bluetooth and only have the secondary receiver in your office or main place of occupancy. This allows you to have the critical functionality of the phone while removing the tempting applications and notifications that only distract from the important things in life.
I have installed a call blocking app which sends everyone to voicemail. I do not tolerate interruption in the precious awareness what I am doing. The only people I’ve whitelisted are people who might call me in a medical emergency.
Avoid carrying your smartphone on you. Put it out of visual sight. Referencing the above study, the closer your phone is to you the more the brain drain.
Another great way of maintaining presence in reality is to keep your phone in your car while running errands. Whether we are in-line at the bank, grocery store or appointments, we so often mindlessly stare at our phones and completely ignore the other human beings around us, thereby missing opportunities for connection, networking and opportunities.
Avoid responding to texts immediately. When you do, the other person will likely respond immediately, then you will have respond immediately and now you are stuck in a clunky attention sucking conversation loop, once again pulling you away from more important things. By responding 30-60 minutes later, that’s 30-60 minutes of extra focus and an avoidance of a trivial conversation. If someone needs to talk urgently, tell them to call you. Phone calls relay more information in less time with less chance of miscommunication compared to text.
Avoid unnecessary apps and do regular purges of apps you don’t use. This reduces distraction and also protects your privacy since many applications clandestinely surveil. A prime example, of an unnecessary application is the “Facebook Messenger” app. You can access facebook from the browser which limits push notifications and privacy issues. Whereas with the facebook app, they will constantly remind you of notifications and to sell your precious focus. While you can’t send messages on your phone without the application — let’s face it — there are few conversations on facebook that need instant response. Get to it when you have access to a desktop. Once again, remind people that if they want a quick response just call. Also email is always preferable to facebook.
Set a technology schedule. Turn off or completely silence your phone at least a half hour before going to bed. Nothing disrupts our precious circadian rhythms than getting a notification right when you are about to fall asleep. Not to mention the blue light of the screen that tricks the primal body that it is midday. Upon waking in the morning, avoid grabbing for your phone to check email, facebook and other notifications. Use a real alarm clock instead of your phone to avoid tempting dependence. You have just spent hours away from technology in a technology fast; make sure you break that fast with awareness. Starting the day right with clarity and focus is enhanced by a combination of writing three things we are grateful for, going for a walk, reading something inspiring (not the news) or writing down stream of consciousness thoughts.
Avoid reliance on the convenience of the smartphone. There is no doubt that there are some very useful features on our smartphones. Calendar, notes, calculator and flashlight to name a few. But every time we access these useful non-inherently-distracting tools we are are tempted by distraction inducing social media and “fun” apps which we invariably check in on after using our useful ones. Instead keep a small planner like this one…
…which fits in your pocket or purse without notice, you can always transfer your appointments to your cloud calendar but this breaks the chain of reliance and distraction. Keep a notebook or piece of folded paper for taking notes. Multiple studies have shown that taking notes longhand makes for better retention of information than using a phone or laptop. It’s also faster, will never crash or run out of charge. Great excuse for buying nice pens too!
Make sure you sign out of websites and applications which distract. When we impulsively go to “check in”, we encounter an extra step of logging in which can snap us out of habitual reflex and remind us to not give our precious time to this superfluous brain drain. This is very a effective damper on convenient distraction.
As for using technology to reduce distraction, I recommend installing an application called “Rescue Time” on all your devices which will measure how much time you spend doing productive and unproductive things. The statistics can be insightful and provide reminders of just how much time-wasters certain things can be when culminated over months and years.
Taking 5 Minute Break
Sometimes we hit a mental roadblock in our day. Perhaps we lack inspiration or motivation. Perhaps the mind becomes foggy and we are just drawing blanks for answers. The ubiquity of this lack of mojo we encounter in our day can be seen in such phrases as “writer’s block” or the “3 o’clock slump”. Instead muddling through or staring at your work in a trance, take a 5 minute break. Get up and go for a walk. This gets blood flowing and provides a change of scene which can be enough to nudge the boulder of momentum over the hump. Or try laying down, closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. This puts the brain in a different wave state and can once again nudge that boulder the right way. This 5 minute break can extend up to 15 minutes without becoming an excuse to just avoid work and is justifiable in our haste modern schedules.
Many successful creative companies are realizing the value of this and encourage their creative people to take breaks, play and chill out. These people know that the increase in morale, inspiration and motivation leads to more effective creativity. Would you rather have 2 hours of 100% productive happy imaginative effective work or 8 hours of 10% productive dull unimaginative uneffective work?
Having opportunity to play, walk and meditate for small intervals throughout the day enables the ultra-productivity to flourish.
Morning Pages and The Power Of Writing As An Extension Of Our Brain
Writing is one of the most powerful exercises for gaining clarity, focus, insight and creativity.
This is detailed in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, where she describes the effective daily habit called “Morning Pages”. Morning Pages is where the first thing you do every morning is hand-write three pages of anything and everything that comes to your mind without regard for spelling, grammar or composition and no fear of anyone else reading it. Some might call this stream of consciousness. This is extremely effective for finding clarity and creativity.
Writing down your inner thoughts and feelings does a couple things…
Releases incessant thoughts from the mind by relinquishing the burden of the mind from remembering them. Both good and bad thoughts repeat themselves in our mind in an attempt to make sure we remember whatever it is the sub-conscious mind deems important. By recording these thoughts on paper, our mind can let go since we know it is recorded outside of ourselves. Once the mind releases the cyclic thoughts, new inspiration can take hold.
Writing is an extension of the brain. It allows me to externally observe challenges, emotions and thoughts. Once we pull up the nebulous things from our sub-conscious and put them into concrete words we can deal with them.
Furthermore, writing is a form of meditation. My mind is singularly focused on the task at hand. I strongly suggest trying “morning pages” and seeing how much more productivity and clarity you find throughout your day.
Go forth and claim your most valuable tool humanity has … creativity.