Articles

Emotions & Resilience

No Reason: The Problem With Asking ‘Why?’

I was browsing some social media groups for business owners this week, when I saw a comment asking how people find their own sense of power when they’re struggling. This is something I feel I can offer support with, so I clicked the comments, and saw two responses essentially stating: “Ask yourself why. Get the root of the problem to solve it.”

The Core Reason

Now, if you know what has triggered, brought up or caused a particular obstacle of difficulty, that can be hugely useful. I would never say that seeking that possible trigger or core reason is unhelpful in the first instance.

However, the human existence isn’t quite that simple, and sometimes, asking ourselves ‘why’ can dig us deeper into the hole of frustration, low mood or stress. In short, sometimes there isn’t a definable reason.

The Effects of Questioning

When we question, or even make a judgement on how we’re thinking, feeling or behaving, we sometimes end up dropping further into that spiral which has a hold on us.

Partly, we feel there should be a reason. Which makes not knowing it very distressing or frustrating. Equally, when we can’t find it, we feel useless or defeated, we feel victimised and perhaps even out of control.

When there is a reason, its good to reflect, to recognise it. However, this reliance on believing there must be a reason can also be unhelpful.

The Alternative Path

We deep thinkers are often caught up in the shoulds, and it’s definitely a hard habit to break. But it can be done. When I’m focused on an emotional state, I complete three steps.

  1. Check you’re not in horrific danger.

This is a grand move for those of us who are prone to pockets of anxiety. I ask myself three questions, to check I’m okay:

  • Am I physically injured? Essentially, do my five senses still work, and am I in pain?
  • Am I breathing? Can I still breathe?
  • Is the earth still under my feet?

If the answers are all yes, then I know I have time to deal with whatever’s going on. If not, I assess the most important next step. But in that case, ignore this advice because it doesn’t apply, and panic away!

  1. Reflect on whether there is a known or recognisable reason for how you’re feeling.

As I said, it doesn’t hurt to ask this question once: sometimes knowing why you feel as you do can take all the pressure to “not feel this way” and can stop us from searching for “a reason.”

  1. Finally, DISTRACT. Seriously. 

If there ISN’T a ‘core reason why’, accepting it and not giving it any more of your precious energy and attention is key.

Distractions may include:

  • dance to happy music
  • do 10 press ups
  • play with a pet
  • draw a silly stick-figure doodle
  • count backwards
  • name five things which are green in your environment

If you don’t have a clear reason, then you won’t gain anything else in continuing to focus on the unhelpful feeling.

~

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Pressure to Improve

Dealing with “New Year” Criticisms

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. Then I used to spend December reflecting and consolidating the year gone, ready to plan “thorough goals” for the new year. Then I stepped back, and chose a “Word for the Year” instead. Finally, I used a guiding word to ‘theme’ my goals for the year, broken into sections.

But equally, I see all this “Forget the new year, it’s meaningless.”

So I’m beginning this post with a disclaimer (and a free worksheet at the bottom to help you find out which method works for you).

You do not need to wait for New Year’s Day to have a fresh start.
If you find the buzz and shared support of the community starting all together helpful, Go For It.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to make change.
And telling other people what will or won’t work for them doesn’t benefit anyone.

Right. Now we’re clear on that.

~

That was kind of the point of this post, but it’ a tad short. So here’s a little reflection on what works for me. Maybe it’ll be useful to some of you.

The Revelation

In 2011, I chose the word “Strength” to guide my year. By February, I had split this into 3 categories: Sprint/Mind, Energy/Diet and Exercise/Physical. But what made this year the most powerful for me in terms of the results, wasn’t in what I achieved. It was about the motivation to carry the word with me throughout the year.

So many statistics talk about how many people give up on resolutions by the end of January. But I reviewed Strength every single month, and somehow, managed to do *something* for each category each month.

How To Stay Motivated

This is not a new concept, but until I’d seen it work in my life, I didn’t really take the idea on board. It’s somethign that threads all the way through Danielle LaPorte‘s Firestarter Sessions and Desire Map [Affiliated], it’s an underlying theme of creating a vision board, or using the law of attraction and visualisation.

For many of us, motivation is not driven by an end goal of accomplishment, but rather a sense of being: an experience of feeling.

At the beginning of 2011, I wrote out a little paragraph about why I’d chosen Strength as my word.

Inspiration Leads to Desire

Without bringing the tone of this post down, I grew up in an environment which primed me to fear being weak.

So in a way, this had a deep underlying factor. I wanted to be a “skilled, strong woman. To have the knowledge and ability to heal, teach and advise. I want to train my mind-body connection.” 

Even reading that back, I get slight chills.

I thought back to the heroes of my childhood: Piper Halliwell, Xena the Warrior Princess, the Amazon Myrina from Theresa Tomlinson’s series. I am called toward my ‘personal quest’ of being the advisor; the medicine woman; the teacher and guide.

I’ve talked before about building a strong motivation for change, and this is where I really learned that lesson first-hand.

If aiming for a set accomplishment or goal doesn’t work for you, or if you don’t KNOW where you want to b at the of end of 2018, this might be something to try:

Find the core desired feeling or value you want to have.

One of my clients spoke about wanting to map her potential, but not knowing which direction was right, and not knowing how the destination might look. So we spent a session focused on the values that had guided her to now, and how she wanted to feel in the coming months.

When I look at 2018, I’m focused on the ‘attributes’ I admire. On the values I really… well, value. I focus on how I want to feel.

For now, I’m just reflecting on this year, reminding myself of these motivations, and giving myself space to wonder where 2018 could lead. Focused on the possibilities of how I could experience it.

~

Creative Tools

On Soothing Imposter Worries

Psst! At the end of this post is a link to my free worksheets on managing those imposter syndrome fears, so you can make progress on your personal quest.

As human beings, we worry. Our minds focus on the problems we might be faced with, and try desperately to do fix those problems before they arise: we plan for conflict, or confusion. We question what we’re doing, and if it’s okay to be doing it. Especially when thinking about starting or transforming our lives or business.

That voice creeps in, sometimes amidst the excitement of expansion, other times it lurks in the back of your mind as you stare up at the ceiling.

We ask ourselves “What do I have to offer?” or “Why would anyone trust me? Can I really deliver what I promise? What if they don’t like my work, or feel cheated?”

Fears of not being good enough, or feeling like an ‘imposter’ can change our behaviour: either our self-talk or the way we behave. This often results in downplaying what we do, and missing out on opportunities.

Often people worry about not living up to a set expectation, fearing they actually can’t do what they’ve said they can, or just don’t know what to expect of a change.

But these thoughts are just that: thoughts.

And our thoughts are not facts.

Honest.

And not only that, but we actually have some level of control over how we think and what we say to ourselves or other people. Let’s get started:

  1. What are you afraid of? Really define the worry that is holding that fear hostage. When we know the specific concern, it’s much easier to really question it, and make a balanced judgement.
  2. Is this worry ‘real’? Ask yourself if there is some truth behind the concern. Have you let people down before, or received negative feedback that you haven’t analysed and made changes based on? What evidence is there behind the thoughts?
  3. Is there another side? Our thoughts do come from something, so it’s likely you found some evidence for that concern — but we often forget to look at the whole picture. What evidence do you have against the concern? Have you ever completed a task or created something that you didn’t feel ‘qualified’ for, and it didn’t go entirely wrong?
  4. If this worry came true, how bad would it be? Often the worries we have are quite out of proportion to the ‘realistic’ outcome. If the event were to go badly, or someone didn’t like it, would it really be as bad as you think?
  5. Balance it out. Use the evidence you’ve found to balance out the worry. “Although I may not be an expert, I can definitely help my client improve in this skill, which is all they are asking for.”

Our imposter worries come from a place of self-preservation – we want to be liked, which is especially useful in business. We want our clients to be happy with our work to buy from us again!

Therefore, it’s good to remember that these concerns aren’t ‘bad thoughts trying to harm us’ but actually a tiny worried voice that just needs some reassurance.

~

Want to download the free worksheets on actually working through these Imposter Worries? Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. Youll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up for the Managing Imposter Worries Worksheets! 
This post was originally published on Her HustleIt’s been refreshed and re-shared here for your enjoyment, with a link to it’s new companion worksheet.

feeling-like-crap
Emotions & Resilience

Six Ways to Clear Mental Space When You Feel Like Crap

When we feel like crap, there tends to be a shift in our sensation of mental space. No one is happy all of the time. It is the dips in mood and experience which makes life the adventure it is. But some days, you just feel like crap, and all your brain can offer is “but you have no reason for this.”

Thanks brain. You tried.

So here are six tools to try out, the next time your monkey mind is full of emotional crap.

~

1: Brain Dump

The first step is always to actually face whatever’s going on. Avoidance doesn’t help, and if you feel like crap, you’ve got nothing to lose by thinking about what may be contributing.

My favourite way is to set a timer for 60 seconds, grab the back of an opened envelope and biro, and write down everything going though my head at that moment.

If you like writing stream-of-consciousness or “dear diary” conversations, then go for it.

If you like lists, just bullet point the categories of item: * bills * mum’s birthday * health appointment *work project 3.

Once it’s all on paper, it creates a little bit of pressure of HOLDING it all, and remembering everything. Feel free to jot down items any time you feel overwhelmed so you can stop worrying about it, and clear a little bit of that space for vital information, like your favourite name for a pet lizard.

2: Make a Plan or List

Once you have a list of the issues, you can plan a solution for at least a couple of them.
* mum’s birthday can become a calendar appointment at 9pm tonight “buy mum’s present online.”

Anything you can either cross of the list immediately, or put a solid, concrete, practical plan into action to make progress on it in a timely manner will help ease the intensity of your thoughts.

3: Distract

Sometimes, when we’re feeling crap, it’s because we’re thinking about things that aren’t current: bad memories of the past or worries about the future. Perhaps it’s because we’re thinking “why do I feel so crap?”

Stop thinking, and distract yourself. For some people, putting on a comedy clip on youtube is enough to snap us out of the moment. For others, drawing or a hobby will help break that moment.

4: Connect

We are social beings, and one of the key things to build up that sense of positivity is contact with others. It can be as easy as texting a friend, or sending a video of baby goats racing to a friend online. That sense of connection naturally have the impact of making us feel less alone, and can impact the intensity of negative emotions.

5: Rest

Let yourself feel a bit crap, and curl up on the sofa with a nice film, or let yourself have a nap. Especially if you’ve tried the things above and still feel like shit. Let yourself rest for a bit, in case that helps. We so rarely let ourselves breathe.

6: Act

Focusing on how we feel emotionally, and on our thoughts, which often say unhelpful things, can sometimes increase how we PERCEIVE those feelings. Behaviours, or taking action, is often the best way to create mental space. Washing up a plate, dancing to a song, doing 5 press ups on the living carpet, or even just pacing up and doing. Get your body moving, take an action from that list we made above and get that sense of progress flowing.

~

Of course, this list is not exhaustive of every option, but these are some good places to start when you just aren’t feeling great, and want to have a break from the emotions.

What do you find helpful in clearing mental space?

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Pressure to Improve, Reflection & Patterns

Which Self-Development Practice Is Right For You?

When it comes to self-development advice, we’re bombarded. Even I have a bundle of worksheets to help people find the tools which actually work for them. 

One thread comments on the importance of setting actionable goals. Another strand emphasises the role of visualisation and acting ‘as if.’ A third route professes the strength behind gratitude and just letting things naturally form in their own way: finding the opportunities and just saying Yes.

In reality, this is as useful as writing advice. The secret really is elusive amidst all the various advice and opinions:

What works is the tool or technique which ends up with you doing the thing.

Some writers need to plan ahead, to plot out the scenes and follow the map. Others find themselves inspired by hitting each crossroad and making the directional decision once they reach it. Some writers wake at 5am and do 3 solid hours of writing a day. Others stay up late, getting the words out in short, 15-minute bursts.

As for dieters, you know yourself best. I can easily stop eating chocolate by not having it in the house. I may crave it, but I’ll find honey or cocoa powder in a protein bar meets the need fine. However, if I have a 5-pack of chocolate bars in the house, I can’t just have 1 at a time. It’s not how I work.

In terms of self-development, the same rule applies.

Do What Works For You.

Now, this is mostly frustrating because at the beginning, its trial and error. And that includes that forbidden F-word: failure.

But equally, knowing which tools to try can be daunting. We’d all like to fail the fewest times possible before finding success, right?

The thing most people forget to do in this process, is Review each technique. Think back to the last goal or habit you attempted.

What ‘technique’ did you use:

  • an all-or-nothing approach
  • a well-planned strategy
  • small-but-steady steps of change
  • on-a-whim decisions
  • something else?

And did it work for you, this time?

Through reflecting on what worked for you, you’ll be able to learn which techniques are worth trying again.

Of course, we all change, and different situations may require approaches: but having an idea of what progress does or doesn’t look like for you, will speed up the process in both achieving your goals, and changing course as you notice things aren’t working.

It’s not the answer people necessarily want, but in reality, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We are all unique, and reflecting on our uniquity is the best way to discover what will lead us to the best results when it comes to self improvement.

 

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Happiness in nature: log pile
Empowerment & Seeking

Happiness: The Truth about Self-help Tools

I began studying the psychology of my own experiences in 2004 with a book on Psycholinguistics and one on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Since then, I’ve studied a bunch of qualifications, and have worked in social care, education, mental health and youth work fields.

Yet, there are some ‘lessons’ you don’t fully comprehend until you’ve lived them.

A few years ago, Christine Kane wrote an article about smiling after challenge, and a particular comment she made really stood out for me:

“That’s because when it comes right down to it, happiness is a lot about training.”

I sat and stared at that sentence. Happiness is about Training your Mind. That kind of rings true… and of course, it’s the whole point of my work, in a way. I want to share all that I know about training the mind to be healthy, happy and effective at learning, feeling and being.

Beyond all my talk about empowerment and inner strength, all my motivation for being a mentor to help people feel equipped for their personal quest: happiness is probably the most common desire in all of us.

The Personal Training Effect

Across the last 15 years or so, I’ve focused on any practise that may allow me to reach that potential, to complete my own personal quest.

I have all this knowledge about meditation, gratitude, visualisation, learning, associations, triggers, challenging our thoughts, and re-defining. But in reality, they’re all tools for experiencing happiness in the moment.

We’re all seeking happiness as someone hiring a personal trainer seeks health and wellbeing. And much like those sessions, it may take a few difficult tasks, pushing against our limits and trial and error to find the workout that gives us the desired results.

The Horizon Never Moves Closer

Similarly, goals generally require us to try various tools and methods, to fail until we learn enough to succeed.

Because really, growing in skills, ability and experience is what makes us human. Personal growth, in my view, means we’re really living.

Christine also reminds us in that article that we’re “…never going to ARRIVE at the horizon. That line where earth and sky meet will always be out in front of you.”

Which is amazing, really. In some ways, the true reach of human potential really is infinite.

It’s something I never remember, especially when I’m feeling bad and can’t explain why. It’s something I know, but can’t access the knowledge of. These little steps are the easiest, and perhaps most effective… But it’s important not to focus on the horizon, just focus on where you want to put your feet next.

If you feel lost in your path to complete a personal quest, grab some free tools to help you blaze the trail.

 

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Reflection & Patterns

Reflection :: A Key to Self-Improvement

There’s so much pressure in the modern day to be continually improving: to attain ‘success’ and to feel fulfilment at every moment.

Defining Self-Improvement

As a millennial [defined very broadly as being born between 1980 and 2000], we’re expected to work, play, have perfect instagram feeds, be polite, never feel depressed, raise or support a family, and de-clutter our lives all the time.

And yet, the price of food compared to our wages has a wider gap, and we tend to be expected to work longer hours. Having access to work emails on mobiles doesn’t help us balance our time on things which will sustain us.

And yet, where on earth do you start on the path to self-improvement? With so many different theories to follow, never-ending research papers and variable results depending on the person, it’s hard to know how to begin.

The Inner Drive

I bought my first self-help book when I was around 12-years-old, and every step of my path has focused on the idea of improvement. Thinking back, I can’t remember a time I didn’t seek reaching some unknown potential. I was quietly obsessed with unlocking inner strength. Although I can’t explain where this unwavering faith in my possibilities comes from, I’ve had it for decades.

I’ve tried everything from CBT and taking up Karate (green belt, you know) to Desire-focused Planners, looking at my use of language and a regular practise of loving-kindness meditation to unlock this consistent sense of betterment.

A Key to Long-Term Success

It’s hard to advise what may work for different people, except via trial-and-error, but one method that’s at least worth considering is the idea of “Small Steps Add Up.” There’s a Japanese term described as Kaizen, which focuses on improving in 1% increments. The philosophy also considers the whole of self-improvement as a journey, rather than a destination.

As a seeker of my potential since I was young, I wage inner wars about this idea: that I can never truly reach my fullest potential because we change with life experience. Yet, it is through striving to be better that allows us to improve.

Remembering Your Level

This week, a friend and fellow write Ellie Di Julio posted about a multi-story car park sign, and the meanings associated with its message: Remember Your Level.

In the midst of that post, she wrote something that really struck a chord with me:

“But the key to leveling up is knowing where you are now.”

This is so often the missed-out-step in self-improvement. How can we measure if a 1% increase, collective baby steps, make a difference without knowing where we started?

I’m currently running my Bring About Balance group program, and it’s been interesting to watch how various people ‘take stock’ of their current situation, and what may be working well, as well as the perceived desires for change.

“Knowing where you are in relation to where you were is how you get to where you’re going.”

It’s time to reflect: What’s your level?

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Flower in garden
Emotions & Resilience

How To Manage Difficult Emotions :: Recognition

Around ten years ago, I was part of a Buddhist meditation class. After a particularly stressful week, in which I’d not been allocated a supervisor for a project, I came into the class in a pretty low mood.

When I checked in, my teacher’s first question wasHow does that feel?”

I feel betrayed, hurt and angry.

“Okay. Why?”

Because that means all three of my choices were given the option, and turned me down.

“Okay, so it feels personal. Is it really though?”

Well, they’re over-subscribed and they can only take so many people, so I know it’s not intended personally, but it still hurts.

“Okay, good. What if you couldn’t feel that betrayal and hurt? Stop thinking and feel. What would it be like if you could not feel hurt? Who would you be without them?”

Erm.. I’d still be me, just me who didn’t feel betrayed?

“Alright.. I mean what feelings and what is left of you if you couldn’t feel betrayed?”

And I stopped. And felt. Really felt my body, my headspace – explored the possibilities.

Tired.

“Ahh. You feel tired. So this is tiredness.”

The idea of the exercise wasn’t to stop feeling the emotions or to block out my experience. If anything, it added to the feelings; I noticed that I’m full of worry, of fear and of tiredness, beneath all those feelings of anger, betrayal and hurt.

However, I noticed that those emotions; they’re not in my head; they’re in my body.

I’m generally familiar with feeling my emotions but this was a revelation to me.

This was a technique Hiro Boga used in a Sovereignty Kindergarten class back in 2010 too – and I remember I only tried it once that summer, but got really strong feelings from it. The focus was different, but the technique was the same; the results of a profound “Woah, I feel like this and I had no idea” are the same.

Since I first tried this in meditation, I’ve been trying to check in with it; with the “Vedana” or sensations; the emotions I feel within my body. Sometimes we can go so long without actually ‘being’ with ourselves.

~

So today I’m asking you to connect. Consider this post your little reminder to check-in with your body.

Let’s start the conversation between mind, body and emotion.

  1. Have you found yourself feeling frustrated or angry lately? Where did you feel it?
  2. What feelings are behind, under or embracing that anger? If you removed that ability to feel frustrated: what would be left?
  3. And where do you feel that in your body?

How do you see your emotions?
Do you ever look beneath the surface?

Share your thoughts below and let’s get a conversation going about how we feel. If you found the post useful, please do share it with your friends. We’re discussing emotions a little more in the Fierce Seekers community: join the group to partake in the discussions and ask your questions.

 

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Emotions & Resilience

Understanding Emotions :: Conversations with Fear

Fear. We all experience it.

But we often don’t recognise it for what it is.

Many coaches talk about the unhelpful responses in different ways: they may be defined as “limiting beliefs”, “unhelpful automatic thoughts”, the “gremlins”, the “inner critic”, your “mean-girl voice” or even “monsters.”

However, at the end of the day, we all experience this voice; and it’s often hard to know how to handle it. I call mine Kitten.

Katy with A Fearful Kitten

What The Voice Does

  • The voice stops us.
  • It makes us feel low, causes us doubt and worry.
  • It criticises us and finds fault in what we’re doing.
  • We begin to feel de-motivated.
  • Our progress on our tasks slow.
  • Often, we slow down. We stop pursuing that dream, or we take a rest from that job.

But in doing this, it’s doing something very innate. Very instinctive. It’s powering those emotions for a reason.

Your brain is trying to protect you.

“Your monster is small and vulnerable and fuzzy. And it just wants to know that you’ll be okay. And that’s why it makes itself so big and fierce — to scare you into letting it take care of you” (Havi Brooks, 2010.)

What The Voice Wants

It wants to keep you safe.

Honestly, if you really dig down and ask where that voice came from, you’ll find one thing at it’s base: FEAR.

What If…

  • I fail, like running out of money?
  • I end up alone?
  • I’m embarrassed?
  • I can’t make it work?
  • I don’t survive?
  • Everyone else is right and I can’t do this?
  • I never recover?
  • I lose all my reputation?

This is the hind-brain: the reptilian part of us which is trained to perceive threat and plan the possible ways to stay alive, safe and uninjured.

The lizard brain does not know that the worry, the anxiety, the concerns are about your social reputation in a public speaking event.For all the instinctive brain knows, you’re hidden in a bush from a hungry tiger out to eat you.

Your voice is trying to help you: to problem solve all the possible options: including perceiving those threats so you can make an informed decision.

This understanding doesn’t change the emotion, but it can inform how we respond to those moments.

How You Can Manage Unhelpful and Fearful Thoughts

  1. The first thing I did, was stop being upset with it. I call mine Kitten, to remind me of the vulnerable, frightened voice it really is.
    • This isn’t a Mean Girl trying to bully you because you’re a failure. It’s a tiny kitten saying: “Are you sure you’ll be okay? I’m worried.”
  2. The second thing is to uncover the fear. Have that internal conversation to really explore what the worry is about.
  3. Now you know the worry, you can find the appropriate response.
    • Is the worry true? Is it likely to happen? If so, how would you handle it?
  4. And, although a little ‘woo,’ I find it helpful to visualise an actual kitten, because it just takes away some of the power in how I perceive this negative voice.
    • It doesn’t hurt to be grateful for the information your brain has told you because it worries you’ve not made a plan and thus might panic in the moment.
    • Reassure your voice that you’ve got this -> You’ve made a note of the concern, here is the action plan and it can go back to sleep now.

How do you manage those unhelpful thoughts and worries?

If you’d like some support to manage your inner kitten, sign up for the email list or apply for mentorship sessions.

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Creative Tools

Why Creativity Matters, and How To Cultivate It

Creative thinking is a tricky thing to define. Some call it a skill; one that you either have or you don’t. Some say it requires inspiration, while others say it can be cultivated and “learnt”.

When I looked at creativity as a student, Einstein was viewed as a creative scientist, Leonardo da Vinci was seen to be a creative artist and composers like Mozart had their own version of creativity.

However, the definition is still hazy around the edges. Is creative art the same as creative science or even “innovative problem-solving?” Are engineers and mathematicians creative too?

What might the difference be between the Mona Lisa and the Theory of Relativity? Would you call one more creative than the other?

Despite these differences, two common aspects of defining a creative thought are purpose and novelty.

One of the purposes I can usually find for creativity is that it allows us to problem-solve. If you feel stressed and need solutions, or you’re faced with a new change, your creativity allows you to stand up to that event or situation, and find a way through it.

Therefore, nurturing our creativity is part of nurturing our resilience.


The Process

The scientific view of creativity and creative-thinking seems to have a short-fall in the literature. However, the explanations of some movement practises and anecdotal experience can give us a peek at the neuronal systems which support this event.

For those without a neuroscience degree, essentially, our brain is a bunch of wires which connect all areas to nearly all the other areas. However, the wires are not all linked to each other directly; but via many connections (i.e. A-B-C-D connects A-D, but there may not be any no wires from A to C or A to D directly).

In practices which utilise a mixture of skills, our brains can actually create these short-cuts and join areas which previously didn’t communicate at all, or only slowly (via ten little paths). This is where the “epiphanies” or new, creative ideas stem from: new or improved communication between parts of the brain that didn’t previous chat leads to insights we hadn’t previously accessed.


Connecting the Dots

Each time you act, neurons fire along the wires in your brain, and that path gets strengthened. For example, if you were to cross a field, you may find it slow-going. You trip over the molehills while falling down the surprise ditch and weave around the dog excrement and broken glass. It takes effort and time to watch out for danger and keep in line with your destination – a tiny gap in the fence at the other end which takes you onto the pavement.

After walking the route 5 days a week, for 2 years; the grass is flattened where you walk; the molehills are squashed down and you automatically hop over the ditch without even thinking. It takes you less time and energy to get across the field than it did before.

In your brain, there are little pulses of energy which travel down wires. In between two wires; there are ditches. If they use the same route enough; the neurotransmitter is increased; creating a kind-of bridge at the ditch so you save time; not even having to jump over it. The pulses slide down the wires instead of pushing through the bracken, so the whole journey is faster and more efficient.


So, creativity can aid our resilience: our ability to ‘bounce back’ from set-backs in our lives.

Want more creativity to flow your way? 

1. Do Things Together

The best way to connect your brain is to learn new things; or do things differently. Mix these up with something you find easy or is automated to draw on an already-existent connection.

So for me, brushing my teeth is an automated process. I don’t have to think about how to hold the brush or which tooth to brush next; it just happens. So, I can change the hand I hold the brush with to start changing my neurons. My balance is mediocre, so maybe I’ll stand on one leg throughout brushing my teeth too.  If that’s not your thing, what about re-learning the second language you took in school? Stick up a list of Irish verbs on the wall; and read them while brushing your teeth. (I did this every day for a year… “Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!” is a useful phrase.)


2. Mix It Up

You want to mix the areas of the brain up; using a bit from each. So we have spatial, verbal, numerate, physical movement and visualisation/planning which all have their own areas.

This is why the above example uses movement (brushing teeth), spatial or balance (where my leg is in space), and verbal (second language learning), which will likely use visualisation if you visualise the action / object vividly.


3. Short but Strong

Do these mixed-up-items often, intensely, but for short bursts. And rest a lot between them. I brush my teeth 2 – 3 times a day, for 3 – 4 minutes each time.  That’s enough for a big change, and is more efficient (and less time-consuming) than spending two hours on one day each week doing it.


4. Keep Changing It Up

Once it becomes habit, switch it up! Keep that brain learning new routes! Move onto algebra equations and tap-dance or hold one arm out while brushing your teeth. Or waiting for the kettle to boil. Put 100 new Italian nouns up to learn on the wall by your bed.

How do you get creative?
What ideas do you have to build up your connections?
 

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