“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of expecting change without instigating it. According to Einstein, I have suffered insanity (which is perhaps a fair diagnosis given the frustration that arises when expectations don’t lead to action). However, I came to an important conclusion: unintentional “doing” not only wastes time and energy, it also destroys productivity and progress.
So I’ve decided to leave mindless “doing” behind for good. Instead, I’m taking a new, creative approach. And, let me tell you, I should have done this ages ago.
What is my “creative approach” exactly? It’s quite simple: I prioritize practicing creativity (it is, after all, one of my themes for 2016). Instead of tolerating the seemingly constant hurricane of thoughts and ideas in my head, I’ve decided to do something with them. Intentionally.
Here’s the creative breakdown.
First off, there are four key elements in maximizing (or, at the very least, allowing for) creativity:
This encompasses both physical and mental space. Does an extensive to do list prevent you from expanding on your ideas? Do scattered files and folders menacingly glare at you from your desk? Are you constantly distracted by coworkers, children, social media, or busy work? These things may seem small on their own, but clutter and distraction can stand in your way with a Gandalf-like presence and tenacity shouting, “You shall not pass!”
Let’s avoid that. Close your web browser (in all of its tabbed browsing glory) or maybe even ditch your computer altogether. It’s time for silence. Silence allows you to stop consuming others’ ideas and start thinking about and acting on your own.
Space without time may help in scribbling ideas onto paper, but it doesn’t allow you to elaborate on those ideas. Of course, elaboration is crucial in adding depth and originality to an idea. You need time to sit and peel the layers off your creative onion (a delicate and often messy process but hopefully one with less tears than caused by a literal onion).
Here’s another analogy to consider: creativity is a muscle that needs consistent exercise in order to grow. It is, in fact, a practice, not a life hack (I’m sorry to say). And practice takes time.
Let’s say you’ve scheduled time to be creative and cleared both your mind and physical workspace. Still, as you sit down to sketch out your ideas, you find that something’s missing. Perhaps you’re not quite sure what to do or how (or where) you should begin.
First things first: clarify what it is you’re doing. If the big picture eludes you, start with your medium. Artists use paint. Musicians have notes. Writers use words. Regardless of your craft, you need to have a way to express yourself. Find the tools you need and spend time visualizing and/or sketching out a basic blueprint.
Like physical exercise, working your creative muscle takes discipline. It’s unrealistic to wait until you’re in “the zone” before hitting the gym (or doing anything), so why wait to feel “inspired” before doing something creative? Pablo Picasso – who was a fairly creative individual – strongly emphasized the importance of discipline: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
So what are the benefits of being creative? How can it make you more productive?
You establish your voice and strengthen your message.
In this day and age, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the influx of information available to us. Setting aside time and space to regularly practice creativity means stepping back to find your voice to clarify and solidify your message. This focus allows you to expand on your original ideas and to contribute something to the global discussion that is truly your own.
You worry less about making mistakes.
Worry is a known productivity killer. It causes stress and mental fatigue and prevents you from creating great work. But when you change your attitude to one of experimentation, you’re far more likely to find success. In the words of Tony Robbins, “There is no such thing as failure. There are only results.” Being creative means being open to exploring options and alternatives to find what works (and what doesn’t).
You become comfortable with change.
Authors often rewrite the same book, chapter, scene, etc. from different perspectives. Artists might paint a certain image using different mediums. Change and exploration allow you to figure out what works for you, what you do well (or what you need to delegate to someone who can do it better), what your message is, and how to best communicate with your audience. Finding what works may feel like a bit like a scavenger hunt, but practicing creativity will make you more comfortable with sifting through dirt to find your gold.
You feel more present.
Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity? It is unintentional repetition with the expectation of change. A creative approach emphasizes mindfulness through doing one task at a time. You cannot draw a mindmap while Tweeting or browse Facebook while writing in a journal. It’s physically (and mentally) impossible. Through removing distraction and doing the work at hand, you focus your attention on your intention.
You follow through.
Sometimes you have a great idea that you just need to put into action. You’re not quite sure how to do it. This is completely normal. Developing and practicing a creative approach requires constantly taking leaps, hitting the ground running, and building on momentum. This creates a snowball effect that will roll into other aspects of your work and life. It will give you a surge of confidence to see your projects through – from their preliminary stages through development and to completion.
So Here’s How to Be More Creative Today…
Beer before coffee. Okay, not literally. Have you ever heard that beer promotes creative idea generation whereas coffee helps you to buckle down and do the work to actualize those ideas? What I’m saying is to take time for creative idea generation and exploration before you shift into buckle-down-and-get-things-done mode. You might find that both your content and work ethic become more innovative and efficient (unless you take this advice literally… which I cannot officially condone).
Establish a mindful routine. Create space and time for yourself. Don’t let checking email or social media be your first activity of the day – instead check (in with) yourself. When I started making it a priority to meditate for 5-10 minutes before turning on my laptop each morning, I came to a startling realization: when the world is quiet, the mind is loud. I had tons of thoughts and ideas whirring around my head that I hadn’t acknowledged because I hadn’t given them the time of day (which is likely why they kept turning up at night as I attempted to fall asleep). A mindful morning routine can provide clarity and far more focus than your morning cup of coffee.
Try free writing. Choose a topic of interest or find an intriguing writing prompt and write for a certain amount of time or number of words. Don’t edit as you go. Just write freely and unfiltered. See what ideas, thought patterns, and tones pop up. The more bizarre your prompt, the more you might learn. (I once faced a few self-realizations when writing about myself from a turtle’s perspective!)
Create small challenges with practical deadlines. It’s no doubt writing a 30,000-word ebook might seem intimidating if you struggle with 500-word blog posts or stories. Start small, gain confidence, and build up. If you have a large-scale project in mind, break it down into small challenges.
Learn something completely new. This doesn’t mean jumping onto Google and reading extensively on the first topic that catches your eye. Instead, think of something that interests you – preferably unrelated to your job or day-to-day routine – and expand your knowledge on that. On the theme of Einstein quotes, he once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Take your curiosity and run with it.
Collaborate with others. There are some seriously fascinating people out there doing and creating remarkable things. Burst your personal bubble of comfort and engage with them. Ask questions, discuss ideas, share stories, and contemplate long-term goals.
Keep a record. Use a notebook or journal to write down ideas, jot down quotes (feel free to begin with those in this post), expand on outlines, etc. Transform your creative brain juices into ink on a page. Draw lines, connect dots, cross things out, and rewrite them. This is how ideas go from thought bubbles to something tangible. Exploring what works and what doesn’t is crucial, but the process won’t amount to much if you can’t remember what you came up with.
Ready to begin? Schedule a specific time and place to explore your creative ideas. Gather whatever tools you might need and take a few minutes to clear your mind of other tasks and responsibilities. Then, with a topic in mind, write or sketch freely.
Be patient with your work and yourself at first. Continue to practice regularly and keep track of your progress. When you look back, you’ll see just how far you’ve come and how much more productive you are.