The life of a writer can be unpredictable. Family, medical issues, housing issues, and many more personal-life interruptions can disrupt the flow of words. Many of you may not have options and write when and where you can write. For example, right now I’m writing in the waiting room of a car maintenance shop. The environment here is nice, but definitely full of distractions.
When we can choose our writing environment, it makes sense to choose a space that optimizes how we write. Keep in mind that not all of us will respond in the same way to the same physical space. In the list of elements I offer below, choose the ones that speak to you, that feel more creative to you.
The theory that people are right-brained (creative, intuitive) or left-brained (logical or linear) or both is a popular myth unsupported by neuroscience. The brain’s right and left hemispheres are not separate organs. While the right-hemisphere performs more complex functions, and the left hemisphere controls most (if not all) physiological functions, the two hemispheres work together.
While the right- versus left-brain theory is a myth, it’s an easy way to understand how people think. At the extremes, a few of us are nearly 100% logical-thinkers and a few are almost 100% creative-thinkers. A few of us fall into the moves fluidly between the two. In a reality, we are all a mix of the two. Many of us continue to perceive one or the other thinking style is our primary way of perceiving the world. We’re not wrong, but it’s more complex than which hemisphere controls what. Still, we can use brain science and psychology to help us set up a work environment that supports our creativity.
Environmental psychology is the study of how our physical surroundings influence us. One of the newer sciences, it came into existence in the 1970s.
Our mental space stands in direct proportion to our perception of physical space.“
In other words, our physical space affects us both as it actually exists and our intuitive interpretation of that space. The more we perceive a space to be open, the more we are open to new ideas.
The height of your ceilings affects your perception of openness. Tall, vaulted ceilings give us a sense of openness. Things that draw our eye to the height like pendant lamps or images enhance our sense of openness.
Most of us cannot do anything about the height of our ceilings. We can increase our perception of space by focusing on lateral space.
Artwork of landscapes or faraway places can give us a sense of space. A window or a doorway with a view of the outside makes a space “feel” open. Furniture placement and a lack of clutter also affect our interpretation of the lateral space that surrounds us.
Some will say that they do better in cluttered spaces. That may be true for specific individuals. Maybe you would feel more creative with an uncluttered and more open environment. Try it. If it doesn’t work, clutter is easy to accumulate.
Humans are compassionate beings. We see someone or something suffer and we want to help them feel better. This is especially true when the sufferer is a family member or close friend. When what we do doesn’t measure up to our hopes and expectations, disappointment can morph into debilitating self-criticism. If we don’t treat ourselves with grace, with self-compassion, our negative thoughts may spiral into depression or other mental health issues. Build your self-compassion toolbox and use it. You’ll not only feel better and perform better—you’ll be more resilient the next time you don’t do as well as you’d hoped.
How Compassion and Self-Compassion Differ
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.“
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.
Compassion is not an automatic response, though it may feel that way for some. It requires awareness, concern, and empathy. It requires you recognize a serious, unjust and relatable situation.
We give hugs, kiss a skinned knee to make it feel better, and offer advice. We sympathize with the other person’s pain, whether it is physical or emotional.
In psychology, self-compassion is self-kindness without judgment. It is understanding common humanity versus isolation and practicing mindfulness rather than over identification. You forgive and nurture yourself as you would your child, parent, or significant other when they struggle.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
Compassion is vitally important to life. Without self-compassion, you may see your faults and inadequacies in such a negative light that it erodes your confidence, self-esteem, and your happiness.
Forgiving and nurturing yourself can result in lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as improve your health, relationships, and your general sense of well-being. For a list of twenty benefits of compassion, read “The Power of Self-Compassion.”
Practicing self-compassion is like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane so you will be able to put an oxygen mask on your child. The good news is that you can learn compassion, even self-compassion.
Build Your Self-compassion Toolbox
You are juggling a lot. You may have a full-time job, a family, friends, pets, and living spaces to maintain. It’s hard to balance all your obligations of choice and responsibility. Accept that you will never be perfect. Acknowledge that you will drop the ball sometimes.
Don’t be perfect, be human.
Understand that being human means mistakes are part of life. Include a note in your toolbox that to be human is to be imperfect. Stop judging and punishing yourself. Be kind to yourself. Reframe your mistakes and imperfections as opportunities or strengths. Thomas Edison… you learned a way that doesn’t work and can move on to another way that might work better.
Evaluate your expectations.
We creatives often have unrealistic expectations. Completing that novel or painting this year may not be possible if you have to pack up the house and move. Look at all your life’s roles and set realistic goals. Give yourself permission to not do everything. Give yourself permission to fail and learn.
Give yourself grace.
I believe that grace is very much a tool. And not only a tool that we try to offer others, but also one that we offer ourselves. “
You’ve been beating yourself up for mistakes for how many years? Learning to forgive yourself for your past, move forward with extra kindness toward yourself will take time and lots of repetition. Give yourself the grace to change, to grow.
Make grace your personal mantra until you believe it.
I am worthy of forgiveness.
I am worth the commitment it takes to give myself grace.
I am worth the time to step away from everything to recharge.
My feelings and needs have value.
I will not explain or apologize over and over why I take this time or make this effort. I deserve it.
Being my best self will trickle down so I can be my best for the people that matter most to me.
Gratitude is restorative kindness. You’re human. Practice being grateful for the body that keeps you alive. Be grateful for the strengths that you have and the weaknesses that give you room to grow.
You’re a creative. There’s at least one skill, probably many more, that you do well. Recognize that. Be grateful for that. Take a few minutes every day to be grateful for one of those skills. If you can’t do that, be grateful for the hands or eyes, legs or senses that allow you to practice your craft.
Give Yourself Permission to Start Over
Recognize that you are human. Don’t fear failure, embrace it. It’s inevitable. When you feel you’ve failed, forgive yourself and keep moving forward. Realize that you’ll never be perfect, but because you’re constantly in the mindset of forgiving yourself, you don’t get stuck in the resilience-killing rut of self-contempt.”
Life is a series of moments. Those moments march forward, whether you are beating yourself up about how you messed up or you are staying in the moment. Give yourself permission to live moment to moment. Give yourself permission to start over, and over, and over.
When you make a mistake, when something goes wrong, recognize that it happened. Give yourself permission to start over. Take a deep breath and if your action or reaction hurt someone else, ask for forgiveness. If your action or reaction hurt you, forgive yourself.
Acknowledge Your Successes.
When you’re in a pattern of never giving yourself grace, you ignore your successes. Make it a habit to look at and see your successes. Make a success scrapbook. Display your most successful moments or products on your walls or shelves. Pat yourself on the back. You did that. You deserve praise.
Keep Your Tool(s) Handy
Starting out, giving yourself compassion or grace may feel awkward. But revel in being unstuck for the moment you give yourself that forgiveness and permission to move forward. In time, this process will get easier and easier. In time, you’ll feel better, stronger. You may only need to pull out your self-compassion toolbox in times of high stress. If you’re not there now, work toward it.
Everyone admires courage. Everyone wants to be courageous. Usually the courage we talk about, the courage we think about and yearn for, is movie courage. Courage in the face of extreme danger. It is an important type of courage, but there’s more than one kind of courage.
What is Courage?
Fear and courage are brothers.”
We can all agree that courage is about bravery and a certain amount of risk taking. But how do we define courage? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, courage is mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
By that definition, there can be many types of courage. Here we will discuss ten types of courage: physical, every day, moral, spiritual, social, emotional, empathetic, disciplined, intellectual, and creative.
Physical courage is bravery at the risk of bodily harm or death. We romanticize this type of courage in superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. It’s also the courage soldiers have at war. There have been many, many people in our world who have shown extraordinary physical courage. I’ll name Witold Pilecki and Malala Yousafzai as two with physical courage. It’s likely you know some who have never made the history books or news.
Everyday courage is about the grit and determination necessary to make tough calls about one’s self, life, and loved ones.
Examples include Stormé DeLaverie who dared to be herself no matter what. It also is a farmer working his field through rain and drought, the person who decides every day to get up and go through their day no matter what, and the child who, despite their fears, walks into a new classroom or situation. It also includes the tougher choices like end-of-life choices, or to walk away from a toxic relationship.
Moral courage means acting on one’s values in the face of potential or actual opposition and negative consequences.”
This expression of courage involves the risk of social embarrassment or exclusion, unpopularity or rejection. It also involves leadership.
Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks had the social and physical courage to challenge segregation. The Native Americans (and others) protesting at Standing Rock expressed social courage. Every person who comes out as LGBQT has social courage. Often introverts flex their social courage muscles in order to appear in public.
It takes a special courage, emotional courage, to be open to feeling the full spectrum of emotional experience, both positive and negative.“
We could classify this as an everyday courage. All of us should be emotionally courageous. But some of us hide behind one emotion and don’t have the courage to face more difficult emotions. It is also an extraordinary courage for people who struggle with or overcome mental health issues.
This is an everyday courage. Every. Single. Day. So many people choose to use this type of courage. I do. You do. Every. Single. Person.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”
According to tepsa.org, intellectual courage is challenging old assumptions and acting to make changes based on new learnings, understandings, and insights gleaned from experience and/or educational research.
This is often the pursuit of truth. One of the most famous types of intellectual courage was Edward R. Murrow’s report exposing Joseph McCarthy as a racist.
You have creative courage when you are doing creative work despite your doubts and fears. It’s opening your mind to fresh approaches, new ideas, and acting on them. Anyone who is a creative who has grown in their talent or skills has used creative courage to get there. Creatives use creative courage every time you face a new project, every time you show someone your work.
More than One Kind of Courage
I hope this brief review of these ten different kinds of courage has helped you see how you and everyone around you use courage. Some are grand, exciting, acts on the world stage. Most acts of courage are quiet. We often label them as “small” because they are quiet. Now that you know there’s more than one kind of courage, don’t compare acts of courage. Honor your courage and the courage of others.
You’re under stress and your creativity has hit the dumper. You tell yourself you must sacrifice your creativity and focus on the stress. Real-world worries haunt you. Maybe it’s the pandemic that’s your stressor. Perhaps it’s a loved one who is ill. Or it’s not knowing where you’ll get the money to pay the bills. And when the news shows you the world is on fire, stress consumes you. It is unbelievable stress for those who are trying to survive. Naturally, it stresses those in neighboring communities and countries. And it stresses many of us who live on the other side of the world. Who is so cold-hearted to turn their back on the flames that are consuming innocents? Stress is real. Stress steals creativity. So creatives, like you, feel the stress acutely. Sometimes you feel as if you can’t or won’t create again. Yet, even in the smallest corner of the world, the world needs your creativity. Always remember, you can bust your stress with creativity.
Yes, your creativity may not cure illness, stop cruelty, or quench the fires of destruction, but it can restore yourself. And if you share it, your creativity will help someone else. Maybe someone else takes aid to those in need or leads a neighborhood, a country, the world to peace.
How Stress Steals Creativity
Do you know how many decisions you make in your everyday life?
It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.”
Shocking, isn’t it? You make some decisions on auto pilot. Others take more deliberation. Some you second guess over and over. All of those decisions take energy and, as the day progresses, cause decision fatigue. According to the American Medical Association decision, fatigue is a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.
Add on the pandemic and all the problems accompanying that. Forest fires, floods, and wars level up your stress to paralyzing.
Stress builds up cortisone, the primary stress hormone, in your system. It triggers the fight and flight response, and dampens or turns off any function that would interfere with all out fight or flight. Creative thought is one of the first to go. After all, there’s no time for creativity when you need to decide to fight or run.
A study, published in 2016, showed that creativity reduces cortisol levels forty-five minutes before and after art making, no matter what kind of art the participant expressed. Seems like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s the yin and yang of our bodies. There are ways you can use that to reduce your stress, even when stress has blocked your ability to practice your preferred art.
10 Ways to Bust Your Stress with Creativity
1. Get creative in a different way.
Use a side hobby or second passion. Knit, crochet, garden, woodwork, play a musical instrument, paint or color by numbers. No matter which art you use, you will reduce your stress.
2. Do something that makes you happy.
You can dance, play, dress up, get your hair done, or watch baby animal or stupid pranks videos, or make art. Choose something that makes you smile or laugh.
3. Get physical.
A mere ten to fifteen minutes will do it. It doesn’t have to be a workout. Get creative. Take a walk around the house, around the block, or make art with your vacuum. Get your blood circulating.
4. Pay attention to your nutrition.
Occasional junk food is all right, but don’t neglect proper nutrition. Your brain needs protein. Choose a high protein breakfast to boost your creativity. Get high protein snacks like nuts, Greek yogurt, or hard-boiled eggs. Get more healthy protein snack ideas. Avoid those high-protein breakfast bars that are full of sugar and carbs.
5. Practice self-soothing activities.
Increase your serotonin levels with meditation, or reading, or listening to calming music, or take a hot shower. Choose something that fills you with as much calm and contentedness as possible. Avoid using junk food or even caffeine to soothe yourself. They will only make you feel worse.
6. Reframe it.
You are creative. You can reframe awful situations into opportunities for expression. That doesn’t mean rub your hands in glee or do a Nero at the suffering of others. It means use the situation to express your emotions, your support for victims, or your rejection of the situation. Need inspiration? The internet is full of knitting patterns, short stories, drawings, photographs, and songs offering solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people. Hackers have even gotten in on the act hacking Russia’s satellites.
Be vulnerable. Do your art your way.
7. Use your fatigue.
According to research by Mareike Wieth, we are more creative when we are tired. Try brainstorming session when right before bed. Spend ten to fifteen minutes brainstorming.
9. Limit your exposure to stressful situations or news.
You have a time of day when you are most creative. Protect that time. Save watching the news or other stressful activities and situations for your least creative time of day. If life or stress prevents that, it’s okay. Deal with the issues, but get back to your creative schedule as soon as possible.
10. Get a good night’s sleep.
It’s not always possible, but do your best to sleep six to eight hours each day. Follow a sleep hygiene routine. Invest in a white noise generator or ultra comfy pjs. Stop using electronics thirty to ninety minutes before bedtime. Decrease your caffeine intake. Apply your creative mind to the problem and get a better night’s sleep.
Reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day. Follow a routine. Schedule at least two or three stress reducers into your day. Five minutes is better than none. Ten to fifteen minutes is better than that, but you can build up to fifteen minutes (or more). Play a mind game if you need. Tell yourself, ”I only have to do five minutes, then I can choose to do something else or I can do ten minutes.”
BUST YOUR STRESS WITH CREATIVITY
You are a human. You are a creative. Some level of stress will exist every day of your life. Don’t be a Nero. But use your creative gift. Bust your stress with creativity and your art will probably bust someone else’s stress. Maybe it will inspire someone to use their creativity to bust stress in a community, a state, and the world. Now go out there and create.
Which of these stress busting tips will you use this week?
Responses to last week’s post “Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter” showed me I wasn’t alone. Many creatives are caught in that self-destructive loop. It revealed that many of us don’t know how to self-validate. We need a set of self-validation tools for creatives.
Creatives often look for validation from creators we respect or from the consumers of our creations. That is not healthy for our arts or for us as individuals. The list of self-validation for creatives is the same as for any human, but many creatives spend their free time developing tools for their creativity while neglecting themselves.
Neglecting yourself either physically or emotionally will ultimately affect your ability to accomplish what you want to accomplish. You know the physical toll your art takes on you. You know how you can counteract that. Do you know the toll your emotional side takes?
You are your most important asset. Invest in knowing yourself and recognizing unhelpful thought distortions.
Our brains protect us from danger. We survive because our brain is always on alert for signs of danger. It makes connections so that hearing a roaring dinosaur or saber-toothed tiger means danger and signals us to fight or run in an instant. When we live in environments where we are often in immediate physical danger, this ability is vital to our survival.
Unfortunately, our brain still works this way when we don’t live in such physical danger. It continues to make connections between thoughts, ideas, actions, and consequences, whether or not there are actual connections. You come to believe certain things are true when they are irrational or distorted or false. You act on those ideas without thinking about them any further. Psychologists call those kinds of thought, thought distortions.
Thought distortions are when your brain lies to you. What? You say that doesn’t happen to you? Consider these common thought distortions:
I cannot do this thing all other creatives can do, so I am not creative. (All-or-nothing thinking)
You miscount your stitches for a dozen rows and give up on that project you’re knitting because you just aren’t good enough. (Overgeneralization)
Several of your beta readers don’t get their comments back to you, which must mean that they hated your book. (Mind Reading)
The more aware you are of your feelings and how other people and your environment affect your feelings, the more likely you will stop thought distortions. How do you increase your self-awareness?
There are many online self-assessment tests to help you learn about yourself. Look for ones by psychologist or mental health specialists. Tests like Myers Briggs personality test may help. Take them, but don’t accept their analysis 100%. Use the results to explore what they mean to you. If you have a strong emotional response to a result, don’t blow it off. Stop and analyze why you respond that way.
Be present. Meditate or do yoga. Practice mindfulness.
Keep a thought journal. Remember, a journal doesn’t have to be a diary, it can be a collage of images, it can be colors—use the ways you best express yourself. Document not only how you feel but what or who affected your emotions.
Read. There are thousands and thousands of self-help books. Find one that appeals to you, one that will help you become more self-aware. Give yourself time to read and think about what it says and how that relates to you.
2. Don’t Over Identify with Your Feelings
There is a difference between saying, I am angry, and saying, I feel angry. Your feelings are not who you are. You may feel angry many times, but you are not anger. Notice how it’s much more likely you will over identify with a negative emotion like anger or fear than a more positive emotion like love. I am love can be just as harmful as I am angry.
Emotional responses are normal. But remember that you are more than one thing. You are many things. You have many feelings. Recognize all your feelings.
3. Practice Acceptance
Notice your feelings without judgment. I feel angry. Sit with your feelings. Allow yourself to be angry or sad, or even happy. Give yourself the time and space to feel that way. Accept your feelings. Comfort yourself the way a kind parent would. It is normal to feel angry in this circumstance. You won’t feel this way forever. It is a feeling. You can feel it and not act on it. It’s okay. You’re okay.
4. Ask Yourself What Do You Need
If you are not used to knowing what you need, this will take practice. Ask yourself, do I need time alone? Often, your first answer isn’t a genuine need. Dig deeper. Do I need to speak kindly to myself? Do I need a hug? Do I need some physical exercise or sunshine and fresh air? Try to recognize your needs without using food, unless you are genuinely hungry. Many of us use food to stuff or not feel our feelings.
5. Turn Shame Into Praise
I didn’t do it perfect, I’m such a loser is hurtful. Why do that to yourself? If you can’t be kind to yourself, you can’t accept anyone else’s kindness. Turn the unkindness, the shame, into praise. Honey, no one gets it perfect the first time. Look at you, you’re learning a new skill. Pretty good for a first try. Look at what you did! You did so much better than your last attempt. You are good enough exactly as you are. With practice sessions like that, you’ll be great in no time.
6. Practice Positive Self-talk
Similar to turning shame into praise, you need to practice positive self-talk. Negative self-talk, like calling yourself names or telling yourself you shouldn’t even try or you’ll never fit in, is more hurtful than someone else saying that to you.
Practice positive self-talk at least once a day. Write three things that empower yourself. Then say those things aloud to yourself at least once a day. Every day. For at least eight weeks, give yourself a dose of positive thoughts every morning. Ideally, you’ll do it every evening, too. Even, or maybe especially, when you don’t feel it. How much better you feel at the end of that eight weeks and how much easier it is to say those things will amaze you. Rinse and repeat with a set of different positive things to say about yourself.
7. Know Your Strengths
Sometimes, it is difficult to know what our strengths are. It may take a lot of self-examination and even then, we rarely see ourselves objectively. Ask a trusted friend to name the strengths they see in you. If this friend is kind and trusted, ask them to name one weakness they see in you.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you perform better. Can help you focus on areas of improvement. Sometimes the best improvements you can make are to your strengths.
8. Celebrate Your Victories
Congratulate yourself for every victory, even the small ones. Find (non-food related) ways to reward yourself for the larger victories. Allow yourself time to watch a new movie or to play a game or walk in your favorite park. Make your celebrations proportional, but give it enough time to sink in.
9. Read Inspirational Things
Inspirational quotes and memes are helpful, but sometimes you need more inspiration. It isn’t always easy to find inspiration. The news rarely reports positive things. You’ll have to look for them. What inspires me and inspires you may be opposite things. That’s okay. Find articles and books (physical, electronic, or audio) that are inspirational to you.
10. Be with Inspirational People
Yes, even in the age of COVID, this is possible. You can practice social distancing and wear a mask at conventions or conferences. Of course, there are many online options like Zoom and Skype. Even reading the biography or the works of inspirational people can count.
If you have clinical depression, are under mental health care treatments, please consult your mental health professional about how these things will work for you. If you are not currently under the care of a mental health professional, please get help. We need you and your unique talents in the world.
Self-Validation Tools for Creatives
There are dozens of more self-validation tools easily available on the internet. Here are links to some of my source material to get you started.
Everyone suffers from some negative self-talk. Certainly, many creatives need to learn ways to self-validate. Even people who think themselves non-creative suffer from thought distortion. But look at you, awareness is half the battle.
Now that you’re aware, what will be your next step to self-validate?