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.
Host J. Alexander Greenwood of the Mysterious Goings On Podcast interviewed me a couple of weeks ago and one of his questions and my response, inspired this post. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, go ahead. I’ll wait… Thanks for listening. Can you guess what inspired this post? It was my last comments about my belief that nearly everyone is creative. And that we, society in the USA, don’t value creativity very much. Even a lot of creative people don’t value their creativity as much as they might, myself included. If that’s true, then what are ways you can value creativity more? Celebrate your creativity.
We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, graduations (particularly this time of year), and the purchase of a new house or car. But we rarely celebrate smaller accomplishments. When was the last time you celebrated writing a page of words? Did you celebrate trying a new twist on an old recipe? Or how about the color you painted on the wall? You wrote a piece of coding that did more than the customer asked is a creative solution. Celebrate.
Why Celebrate the Small Creative Wins?
It’s easy to berate ourselves for mistakes or errors and not just call them failures, but label ourselves as failures. Our caveman DNA means we are on the lookout for problems 24/7. But in modern times, when the problem isn’t a saber-toothed tiger wanting to eat you, we sometimes see ourselves as the problem. And when we don’t celebrate the small wins “we end up diminishing our motivation, and motivation is what keeps us on the right path and gives us the strength to soldier on to the top of the mountain.” (lifehack.org)
You can’t acknowledge what you’ve done if you don’t track your progress. Track it in a journal or on the calendar or by scratching off items on a to-do list. Acknowledging what you’ve done helps you see progress, especially in long projects. Celebrating your accomplishments gives you a dopamine hit, which increases your desire to work on the next step to get another hit. Not only that, when you increase your dopamine, you increase your pleasure and your happiness throughout the day. Celebrating the small successes gets us “addicted to progress” because we want to repeat that dopamine hit. We want to feel that pleasure and happiness.
The progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”
We are wired to respond to rewards… it’s another way how our brain works. So those small-step celebrations boost our self-esteem and our self-confidence. When we feel better about ourselves and our projects, our productivity increases.
The positive psychology research has shown that celebrating the small wins, the small accomplishments, and more frequently has a bigger impact than waiting for that one big thing to celebrate. It keeps you engaged. It helps you to remember that you’re on a path that’s working and you feel good when you get a chance to celebrate the small thing.”
The trick in rewarding yourself is to make it meaningful, but also to keep it tied to the progress you’re making.
How do you do that? You create small-step goals. For example, use things you consider rewards, but it would work something like this: a coffee at the end of the week of successes, an hour of television at the end of the month, and a fancy dinner out at the end of the quarter.
If you have a goal aversion, tie your rewards to your efforts. Three hours of focused work on the project earns a reward. Six hours win a bigger reward, etc. Up the “ante” of your rewards proportional to the amount of effort or work you’ve accomplished.
Got it? So what do you use for rewards?
Reward Your Creativity
Your rewards don’t have to cost money. They do have to be specific to you, feel like a reward to you. Still need examples? There are literally thousands of ways you can reward yourself.
Raise your arms in triumph and literally jump for joy.
Give yourself a gold star. X number of stars and you get a “bigger” reward.
Write yourself a note of praise.
A cup of your favorite beverage (like coffee or chai latte).
A window shopping trip.
TA trip to a museum or zoo or a movie.
An accessory—jewelry or scarf or fancy belt buckle or shoes.
An extra half hour of sleep.
A long bubble bath.
An extra hour of reading.
An hour of watching stupid pet tricks on YouTube.
Watching an episode of your favorite reality show.
An extra play date with your kids or pets.
An occasional dinner out can be a reward
Tickets to the next game played by your favorite local sports team
Play a video game or a game of hopscotch.
One caution: don’t reward yourself when you haven’t done the work. That doesn’t mean you can never have a dinner out or play a video game except as a reward. It means be aware of what your “fix” is. If you get addicted to the reward (a glass of wine, or a favorite food—chocolate anyone?), then your focus isn’t on the goal (finishing the painting or the sweater you’re knitting.)
What happens when you celebrate your creativity?
You may feel awkward or dismissive of the celebration the first time you celebrate your creative small step. Remind yourself that your creativity is of value to you and to others. You earned the reward because you did something creative.
Besides feeling better about your creativity, you are giving your creativity positive feedback. And that positive feedback perks your creativity up and leads to another idea and another. So celebrate your creativity. Heck, spread the joy and help another creative celebrate their creativity. Let’s change our corner of the world and teach ourselves and others how to value creativity.
What’s one way you’ll celebrate your creativity today?
Are you a creative waiting for inspiration to arrive? Most likely you’re out of luck. Inspiration is fickle and lazy. It is far more reliable and rises to the occasion when you exercise it every day.
Why Waiting Doesn’t Work
Inspiration isn’t a spontaneous burst of an exciting original idea. Nor does inspiration mean you immediately get up and take action and create something. We can’t go out to the garden and pick the latest ripe fruits of inspiration. And there’s no department at the hardware store where you can pick up a batch of inspiration.
Why do we think that inspiration comes through inactivity? It probably goes back in history. The Greeks had their muses to pray to and get inspiration from. Perhaps it goes back to cave men’s tall tales told around the campfire. I think it comes from the emotional response we often have when we see an original idea displayed as a completed project. We think, wow, I would never have thought of that. With that thought, we transform the work the maker put into that creation into something mythic. Inspiration like that becomes an unattainable goal only reached by some sort of magic.
There are lots of writers who tell us inspiration is spontaneous, it comes without intention, and it’s transcendent. Well, yes, and no. Inspiration appears to be spontaneous when you don’t pay attention to how your creative brain works. In other words, you don’t know where that idea came from or why. Often, inspiration comes without intention, in that you hadn’t thought of that approach or idea before. And it can be transcendent.
Unfortunately, when you sit and wait for inspiration, it rarely happens. Inspiration is fickle and lazy unless you set up the right environment for it.
It isn’t Biological
Unlike hunger, inspiration isn’t a biological need. If you don’t eat, you get hungry. If you ignore that need, your hunger gets stronger and stronger and stronger until all you can think about is getting food. You go long enough without food and you’ll die. But when inspiration doesn’t happen spontaneously, there are no signals from your body that you are missing it. There’s no biological need to find it. Some say this is because inspiration isn’t natural. I say it’s because inspiration is lazy. It comes from our subconscious mind. And our subconscious mind only allocates the amount of energy needed to reach a goal (whether that’s a goal we’ve chosen or it’s a subconscious choice.)
Inspiration and Excitement aren’t Enough
We’ve all gotten an idea, gotten excited about it, maybe planned out all the steps to take it from idea to completed project. Then, the excitement passes and somehow we never get around to doing anything more about that idea. Why do we do that?
Excitement isn’t motivation. According to Merriam-Webster, when something excites us it is “a call to activity” or it arouses “an emotional response,” it “energizes.” But excitement’s energy is limited.
So, waiting around for inspiration—you aren’t putting any energy into it. It’s doubtful you’ll get energy or inspiration out. Waiting for inspiration your motivation, your drive is to maintain the wait. And wait.
Instead of waiting, rewire your brain and your habits to encourage and be ready for inspiration.
Motivation is a stimulus, or influence, or incentive, or drive. When you combine the proper motivation with your inspiration, that incentive or drive keeps you going to complete the project. If you have a deep desire to be creative, that’s at least part of your motivation and where I think the study got confused.
I think this short video gives a much better explanation of how inspiration works.
So if you feel uninspired, how do you wake up your fickle and lazy inspirational muscles?
ReWire Your Brain
Stop thinking that inspiration is out of your control. There are ways you can cultivate inspiration and if you’re ready, you can pluck ideas like fruit off a tree.
Instead of creating an environment that waits and hopes for inspiration, set up a nurturing environment where inspiration can grow. Make certain your work area is pleasant, well lit, and has bits of inspiration around you. Bits of inspiration? You know, that piece of art that wows you or the photo that reminds you of a time great inspiration. Music, or figurines or toys or books, can be inspirational. Give it some thought. Maybe you’re inspired by a crowded and cozy office with overstuffed furniture. Or you might find a minimalist office to be best for you. Some studies suggest that the color blue inspires creativity . Maybe you find a rainbow of colors to be more inspirational.
Be mindful—everywhere and all the time. Observe people and creators and nature… By being mindful of what is happening, what sensory details exist, you’ll start noticing things you’ve never noticed before. You may have to practice. Go to a park, a museum, a coffee shop and take five minutes to be mindful. Don’t take notes during those five minutes, just be present. Take it all in. After the five minutes, record what you noticed. Writing it down or sketching it helps solidify the practice. It makes it easier to do the next time… and you’ll get better at noticing random details. Inspiration thrives on random details.
Recharge Your Curiosity
Did I mention inspiration thrives on details? Give yourself permission to do a deep dive into something that sparks your curiosity. Did you ever wonder how they make boards bend for curves or what some foreign country was like? Indulge your curiosity. Build your sense of wonder. I wonder if… If you are like me and can get lost following detail after detail like Alice followed the White Rabbit, use a timer to limit your “lost” time. True, the bit you indulge learning about today may not be today’s inspirational moment, but it’ll be sitting in that subconscious mind of yours waiting for the right mash up that will spark the next idea.
Practice Pie-in-the-Sky Thinking
Set time aside to dream the impossible. Consider even the most outlandish ideas. Force your lazy inspirational muscles to stretch and come up with new ways of thinking. The fantastic will open you up to possibilities. At first, this might feel as if you are wasting time. Don’t give in to the logical brain. Let that creative, imaginative, subconscious feed you crazy ideas. This teaches your subconscious that it can mash together things your logical brain wouldn’t dare. Record your crazy ideas. You never know when that crazy idea crashes into another and becomes the best inspiration you’ve ever had.
Find the Practice that Works
What you find inspirational won’t be exactly like what I find inspirational. I offered 13 ideas on how to be more imaginative in a previous post. Repeat after me. Inspiration is fickle and lazy, so I make it work for me.
What’s your best mind-hack to rediscover your inspiration?
Sometimes ideas seem to hit you like a tidal wave. They come so fast and so hard you can barely keep track of them all. Other times it’s as if you’ve awakened in the middle of of the 5.5 million square miles of the Antarctic desert. Cold. Dry. Miles from anything resembling a creative idea. What do you do? You start in the dark to reignite your creativity.
Start in the Dark
You’re looking at me like I’m crazy, right? Give me a minute. You’re already in the dark as far as your creative ideas go, so why not give it a little therapy? Step away from your creativity.
Drink in other people’s creativity. What do I mean? If you’re a writer, read a really good book. Or a terrible one. If you’re a knitter or quilter or painter, visit a museum or art display of your favorite artist. Feed your muse with inspirational examples from others in your field.
Good or bad, doesn’t matter. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds and textures and world of your area of creativity. Two words of caution: no comparisons. You’re looking for different angles, not to judge how worthy or unworthy you feel. Give yourself permission to ask what if? What if I could do this? How would I do it differently?
Let it go. Er, let go of your inhibitions and play like a child. No, your play doesn’t have to be within your area of creativity. No rules. No limits. Just have fun. Splash in a puddle. Finger paint with your non-dominate hand. Sing nursery rhymes. Read poetry aloud in a Bugs Bunny or Betty Boop voice. Chose an activity you remember enjoying in your childhood and do that for an hour or two. Remind yourself of the imagination and energy you had when you were a child. It’s still there, just buried by the demands of society and responsibilities of adulthood. Let it out as often as you need it to reignite your creative sense of play.
I created the video below a few years back, but I think it speaks to why you should play.
Your creative light can flicker or dim whether you’ve just started or have been at your creative craft for a very long time. When that happens, fear often floods us. We’re afraid we aren’t good enough, or that we’ve used up all our talent, or that we’ve lied to ourselves about our abilities. Remember,
Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. “
Dune by Frank Herbert
Use your mental imagery to see your goal. Make positive connections with your craft. See yourself being practicing your craft successfully. Where are you? Who is there with you? What are you wearing? Be specific.
In another kind of play, play with your senses. All five of them. Take one at a time. Focus on just that one sense for as long as you can. You’ll be amazed how much more you discover when you’re focused on one at a time.
It doesn’t matter what type of creativity you’re involved in. Find something to look at that you can look at for a long time. What colors and shapes do you notice first? What do you notice when you’ve been looking for more than a few minutes?
Engage your hearing. Listen to music, poetry, nature, or even total silence. Take a deep breath and listen. What do you hear? What else can you hear?
Focus on taste. Try something new or an old favorite, but really focus on what that tastes like and how that taste changes what you feel and think.
Take a sniff of a flower, a seasoning, or the air. Close your eyes and draw that aroma in. What memory or emotion does it stir?
Touch. Let the world of textures and shapes talk to you through your fingers. Let your fingers take a stroll across new shapes and textures. Then try feeling some familiar shapes and textures. How does the new make you feel verse the familiar?
Remove the Negative
Sadly, sometimes the most negative people in our lives are family. Sometimes they are quite vocal in their negativity. Sometimes it’s their energy that is negative.
It can be difficult to keep your passion alive when those around you think your art or your talents are worthless. Focus on finding positive people who can help keep your energy and passion up. Online communities can help. Search your favorite social media site for like-minded individuals. Ask your librarians if they know of creatives like you. Find your people. Supportive people. Tune out as much of the negative energy as you can.
Give to Get
Give back to your creativity community. Share your passion. Share your knowledge. Volunteer to teach a youth group. Support others by going to their shows, their book releases, or whatever. The more you share, the more give, the more you keep your passion alive.
Ask Yourself Questions
Ask yourself the right questions. Not can I do this, but if I knew I could not fail, what would I do? You can be or do anything. Put it in writing and place that writing where you will see it every day.
Ask yourself how will today’s creative decision affect my life ten or twenty years from now?
Finally ask yourself, does this bring me pleasure? If it’s not bringing you pleasure, why are you doing it? If it’s for delayed pleasure from your craft—say you’re learning a difficult skill—then remember the big picture.
Reignite Your Creativity
You are not alone. Creative energy ebbs and flows for all of us.
I’m here to help fan those creative flames. But you can’t rely on me or anyone else to keep you passionate about your projects. Only you can keep the flame that is your dream alive.