I spend a lot of time with companies and individuals to help them unlock their creativity and reach their full potential. Here are some simple answers to the questions I get the most often.
#1. I don’t consider myself a naturally creative person, is there hope for me?
First, Unlearn this! These Are Our Creative Types:
Next, Unlearn This! These Are Our Non-creative Types:
• Insurance salesmen
• Mail carriers
These assumptive categories are popular, but like many generalizations that gain traction, they’re also ridiculous and misleading. Creativity has nothing to do with your job description or a particular set of skills, it has to do with how alert to possibilities you are in any given circumstance. And your sense of alertness has everything to do with your comfort level. Fear and anxiety have a tendency to narrow our focus. The amygdala (the part of the brain which is responsible for basic emotions, such as fear) insists that we focus only on whatever we perceive is threatening us —we wouldn’t want to waste time and energy to consider anything but survival in a life-threatening circumstance. Whether the threat is truly a mortal one; being chased by a rabid dog for example, or an imagined one, such as delivering a presentation to your corporate board members, the effect on your emotions and your physiology are very much the same.
Once you learn some effective fear reduction techniques you become more responsive and alert to the world around you. It is that ‘alertness” that is the essence of creativity. Your level of fear will determine how well you’ll be able to access your previously learned skill-sets; be they your sense of humor, your social skills, your athleticism, or whatever else is important to you. Creativity is what happens to us when we move through the world without fear of judgment.
# 2. I don’t feel inspired and my creativity seems to suffer from that. Is there anything I can do to change that?
The “I” inside us always perceives itself as being apart from the rest of the world, something separate with an unfailing sense of its own uniqueness. This is what’s at the root of what we call: “Lack of inspiration”.
Our five senses are the best ways (currently the only ways—though that may well change) we have of interfacing with the world beyond ourselves. It is that engagement with the outside that stimulates and allows for what we typically call inspiration. And inspiration is the TNT that invariably blows apart the Logjams. When we’re “stuck” it’s often because we’ve become too separated from the world around us. It’s because we’ve found ourselves living too much inside our own heads, half-drunk with the sound of our own habits, biases, and fears. Here are some simple ideas that have helped me break out of my mine:
• Visit a children’s hospital. You can volunteer to read stories or play music or do a puppet show. Being in this highly charged environment is profound and it will shake you out of your own head. Have a look around at the faces of the children, but more important, take a look at the parents. They’re confused, stricken, and full of fear. is is where you’ll restore your empathy, your hope, and even your imagination. We all tend to think of ourselves as sympathetic, sensitive folks, though the truth is, very often we find ourselves rather selfishly locked away in our private, overly intellectualized vacuums. A visit of this nature is guaranteed to pull you out.
• Listen to music. Shut off the lights, shut off the phone, shut your eyes, and listen to music for twenty minutes. Curtis Mayfield, Howlin’ Wolf, Paul Hindemith, Claude Debussy, the Replacements—all work wonders for releasing creativity. It doesn’t matter what you listen to, but it is important to close your eyes and, if you’re able, let the music form visual patterns behind your eyelids. Setting aside time and devoting it exclusively to listening is key, with the sound waves from the outside entering your mind on the inside.
• Exercise. Moving in any way you prefer is perfect. Personally, I like to box. The adrenaline of someone dancing around in front of me and trying to punch me in the head or the stomach immediately takes me out of myself. Running, swimming, walking, and dancing are great too; it matters only that you do something every day that makes you sweat.
• Pray. I can’t stress this enough. Being constantly in touch with whatever your conception is of a force bigger than yourself, is vital to maintaining a sense of humility, a sense of proportion, and a sense that you are not alone in your challenges. I’m not talking about organized religion, necessarily. I’m talking about deep, meaningful, and personal prayer. at is, asking for help in your own words, as a child beseeches a parent. Speaking of asking for help:
• Ask for help. This is so obvious, we’re inclined to miss it altogether. Call a friend, a relative, or a therapist to help you see your problem in a new light. I know so many people who, in the interest of projecting an image of self- sufficiency, go for months or even years without allowing someone to shed some objectivity on their issues. Don’t be one of these people. Pick up the phone and schedule a walk or a lunch where you can talk and a friend can listen. Don’t be worried about being a burden. No one’s going to see you as that, especially if you’re already reluctant to do this.
Finally, when you’ve built enough bridges between yourself and the world outside you’ll find yourself more inspired, energized, and ready to get back to living. e great irony is that with the new inspiration, what we naturally do next is go deep inside ourselves again, dig around to discover new ideas, and then start the cycle all over. Expect this as a natural pattern. You may feel inspired for a while, working with abandon, and then slightly de- pressed afterward—although the more you’re aware of this progression, the less severe the swings are likely to be.
# 3. I find myself unwilling or unable to get started on a creative idea. I feel trapped by the threat of negative judgment. Are there any techniques to deal with that?
Everyone I’ve ever met has a voice, an internal critic in their heads, that fills them with dread every time they try something totally new. Sound familiar? I call that voice Marv or (Majorly Afraid of Revealing Vulnerability)
If we’re already habituated to a certain behavior the threat is almost non-existent. But when we’re discussing creativity, that, by definition, means we’re talking about thinking or saying, or doing something novel. It’s this newness, this lack of familiarity, which causes our amygdala or primitive brain to act as if there’s a mortal threat taking place.
The brain centers that engaged when we’re confronted by a rabid dog are the same ones that are engaged when we’re reading someone a poem for the first time, or when we’re delivering a speech in front of a large crowd for the first time. The potential negative judgment will feel like a mortal threat to our primitive —or emotional brain, as it’s sometimes called.
The secret to dealing with this fear isn’t to wait until you’ve developed some incredible degree of confidence or special abilities that will make you feel impervious to it. The trick is to act. To move forward slowly but surely, with small steps toward your goal. Don’t make the mistake of believing that it’s only when you’re relaxed or otherwise inspired, that you can pursue your goals —it’s especially important to move toward them even when you’re not. I say this because it’s likely that most of us spend most of our time in states of mind that are neither confident nor relaxed. If we waited around for those fear-free moments to act, it’s unlikely we’d ever accomplish anything creative.
The following three ideas need to be understood as the foundation of idea-manifestation for your dreams and ideas to flourish:
Specific: Dream as big as you like, but make sure your dream is specified and broken down into small, actionable pieces. Don’t think, “I want to become a baseball star” without also thinking, “I’m going to the ballpark now to practice my swing for thirty minutes.”
Present: Don’t just think, “I’ll start practicing sometime mid- week.” Instead, think, “I’ll go to the ballpark at 10:35 this morning”—and then actually go.
True: Don’t pursue the dream of being a baseball star because your dad pressured you into it. e dream itself must be self-generated and it must be something you want to pursue, for your own sake and of your own volition.
Finding what is true for you, —true to your life’s mission, true to your value system— is one of the most important things a person can discover about themselves.
Hopefully, the answers to these common questions about the creative process will help you, not only start your ideas but to joyously pursue and develop them at whatever stage they may be at.
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. He is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps unlock innate creativity. Clients include The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The UCLA School of Nursing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. Himmelman is also an alum of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern. His latest book, Let Me Out(Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016 and is available on Random House Tarcher/Perigee
“There’s deep wisdom here along with very practical tools for translating our ideas into the real world.” – Arianna Huffington
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