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Note from Lisa: Hello! If you’ve been feeling a bit blah in the creativity department, this guest post is for you! Cheryl shares five habits to boost your creative thinking.
Take it away Cheryl…
Professional writing is a tricky business. When inspiration strikes, the words flow. And when it doesn’t, it’s a grinding, anxiety-inducing crawl to the deadline.
We are in the business of delivering innovative ideas. But repeatedly delivering on a new perspective and fresh take that many have already spoken about is no small feat. Like so many of my peers, my creativity peaks were sometimes shorter and more elusive, while the valleys felt so long and low.
The constant multi-tasking required of a work-from-home parent leaves little space for the mind to wander freely. The all-in-one environment where work, family, and household tasks intertwine in a heap of stacked papers, half-finished coffee mugs, and laundry piles hardly screams “inspired space.”
And while I’ve done my fair share of productivity hacks and Maria Kondo’d my home to a degree, I lacked lasting answers to fuel my creativity in the long run.
So what if I knew how to “time block” and share the “mental load” with my partner? My creativity reserves were still hovering around empty.
Boost Creativity in the Long Run
Last year I became more intentional about trying new strategies to tackle this challenge. Borrowing from psychology, artistic practices, and sometimes just listening to my own body, here’s what I found cultivated creativity in the long run.
Habit 1: Morning Brain Download
Author Julia Cameron in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way more eloquently calls this the morning pages. No matter what it’s called, adapting a morning brain download into my routine has been transformative.
Basically, you start your day with three pages of handwritten words. An unfiltered stream of consciousness with whatever is swirling in your mind – and I mean whatever.
Although occasional colorful, the morning pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish, angry or bland – even silly sounding. Good! All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye – this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way pg. 10-11
Morning pages felt strange at first. It’s not a diary, it’s not for record-keeping, and you can even throw them away. My inner critic found it hard not to censor what I wrote.
But in a very short time, morning pages became something not only easy to do but necessary. Like a toxin cleanse for your creative mind.
Tip! Keep a notebook right next to your bed, where you eat breakfast, or even in your bathroom. Somewhere in plain sight within the first hour of waking up.
Habit Two: Turn Off the Noise During Boring Chores
As someone who draws a lot of energy from social situations and human interaction, the switch to full-time work from home in 2020 came with challenges. No longer privy to spontaneous office chatter, the consumption of audiobooks, albums, and podcasts in my downtime exponentially increased.
The constant stream of voices and music gave a sense of human connection – but it also brought a sense of mindlessness. It wasn’t until I misplaced my phone on laundry day that I realized how much I muted my inner dialogue. With hands busy folding laundry, my mind was free to wander, think a little differently about upcoming ideas, and daydream. It was energizing, and science seems to back this up.
Researchers at the Academy of Management Discoveries found that study participants who completed mundane tasks and chores first later exhibited higher levels of creativity in the idea generation task that followed.
Routine or “boring” chores put our conscious brains on autopilot, allowing our subconscious mind to come into play.
Tip! Start with one mundane chore you can complete in silence, even if it’s just 10 minutes. Dishes, folding laundry, and pulling weeds are some of my go-to tasks.
Habit Three: Get Outside
Our modern, indoor lifestyles can come with a price to our well-being. We all know the importance of taking breaks when our work is exclusively done on screens. Most of us immediately experience a change in our mood and energy when we manage to get outside. And there’s a reason why…
Even on cloudy days and in all temperatures, the natural sunlight we get from being outside boosts our mood and ability to focus.
Sunlight helps our brains produce serotonin, a chemical correlated to feelings of satisfaction and calmness. Allowing our eyes to experience the change in light at sunrise and sunset has even more benefits. It re-establishes our body’s circadian rhythm and promotes better sleep.
For me, a well-rested, calm and focused mind is the best kind for creative thinking.
Tip! Try stepping outside in the morning with your coffee or tea to expose your body to sunlight earlier in the day versus later.
Habit Four: Do Something Fun
“Sometimes exhaustion is not a result of too much time spent on something, but of knowing that in its place, no time is spent on something else.”Author Joyce Rachelle
In other words, I was feeling tired, depleted, and exhausted at the end of each day, not just because I had so much to do but because I didn’t do enough of what I loved.
It seemed counter-intuitive and even selfish at first to prioritize my own joy in a day. I was so busy ensuring I met commitments to everyone else that, like a cliché, I was a mom who took care of myself last.
For me, joy was doing something for no other reason than it brought me happiness. No agenda, no “how could this make me money?”, just joy. Pulling out old watercolors and following a YouTube tutorial, singing out loud to Folklore and Evermore like a true Swiftie when no one was home, taking an extra-long time to enjoy my coffee while I sat on the porch – all joy sparkers.
Prioritizing a moment of joy for yourself each day builds momentum and enthusiasm to tackle what’s next. It allows time for your mind to wander, experience gratitude, and flex other creative outlets.
Habit Five: Date Yourself
Rounding out this list, I go back to Julia Cameron and another practice she describes in The Artist’s Way – weekly artist dates.
An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness.Author Julia Cameron, pg. 18
She goes on to explain the relationship between morning pages and artist dates as two-way communication like a radio: with morning pages, you are sending out thoughts, and with artist dates, you are receiving.
“Filling your inspiration tank” is another way I see artist dates. You are putting yourself into the world to take in its beauty, information, and ideas and draw inspiration from it. Artist dates can fit any budget, from hundreds of dollars to free.
Tip! Here are some of my top artist dates:
- Taking a camera on a nature walk and snapping photos of the wildlife and flora I see
- Buying a ticket to a local community theatre
- Dropping by an antique thrift shop or flea market and browsing the interesting items
- Trying a new creative hobby at home with an online tutorial (painting, pottery, macramé, etc.)
- Going to a local museum or gallery
While this list of habits is not exhaustive, and I can’t claim a perfect record of sticking to them, these habits are what I come back to when I feel my creativity draining. I hope they may help you!
What habit would you add to this list? What habit do you think could help you the most?
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