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Six questions to expand the creative you

Does your creative spirit ever feel tamped down or just-around-the-corner-but-out-of-reach? When that happens to me, I have two approaches to rediscovering my groove. The first is to get into action and start making—anything.

I may not feel “creative” but I have to remind myself that creative is a label or an adjective and “to create” is a verb. In writing, verbs trump adjectives.

That’s why it doesn’t matter whether you call yourself “creative.”

My pen does not care whether I call myself a writer—as long as I write.

The second approach is to consider where I might be stuck and answer a few questions that can move me from “I can’t” to “When can I?” Here are six that I use:


1. What false messages are haunting me?

Outdated beliefs are sly—and when we have an opportunity to flex our creative muscles they hide in phrases like “I just don’t wanna,” or “I’m too tired.” Face it, we’ve all been labeled. Some critiques were nasty and left their mark. (“You can’t carry a tune.”)

But, even “good” labels can limit us. Suppose we were told as children, “You are so musical and such a good little violinist.” While that sounds nicer than “You have no musical talent,” children who are praised often start slanting their native abilities toward what they think adults want and lose the innate joy that comes from discovering what they like.

When faced with misguided labels and self-concepts, I turn to author Byron Katie for her four life-changing questions:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

For example, here’s how I might have answered a couple of years ago when I said, “I can’t draw.”

  1. Is it true? It seems to be—at least, I have some evidence from grade school that I wasn’t any good at it.
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? No, I can’t, because I really haven’t tried as an adult.
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought? I feel like my playpen got smaller and I’ve been left out of something that would be really cool. And I’m disappointed because I’ve secretly wanted to draw.
  4. Who would you be without the thought?  An explorer. Someone who notices the world in new ways. Someone who takes pleasure in sketching.

2. What’s on my list of delights?

Another way to pull ourselves forward is to track on delight. When I identify what delights me (a purple pastel, the sun before dawn), I can get out ahead of my self-constricting mind. I think of my dog Royce, crazy with delight as he bounds across the field chasing a robin, with nothing in his mind but “bird! bird!” (and no intention to heed my call until his target has escaped.)

Delight helps us avoid the trap of thinking about “good” results.


3. What am I curious about?

Curiosity is a healing balm. When I’m curious, I follow my nose (see above) without worrying about the outcome. The world opens to more magic.

4. What puts me in the mood?

It’s hard to move from the kind of highly mental frenzy I experience with “regular life” into a state of intuitive flow. But we can design little rituals that help us make the transition. An extremely talented and prolific illustrator I know says that whenever he sits down to create, he gets the message “Toast.” Eating a piece of buttered toast becomes the ritual that guides him into the intuitive state he needs to enter to draw. (He’s an athlete so the calories don’t count!) I shift gears with a cup of tea. Special music. Or walking outside.

5. What increases my sense of wonder?

Awe, like curiosity, puts us into that judgment-free zone. And we can get there by slowing down, spending more time noticing, and giving ourselves experiences that shake us out of our habitual patterns. For me, it’s always simple—I go into the woods.

6) How could I connect with similarly seeking others?

A lot of the creating I do requires solitude. And yet, sharing with others, even online, is one of my best motivators. Periodic classes, face-to-face or virtual, phone calls, and coffee with my creative friends are like booster shots for me when my motivation is lagging.

Plus, I can learn from others, as we brainstorm our way throgh challenges, and share our successes, struggles and work-arounds.

That’s my starter series.
What questions open your urge to create?

Next week, I’m launching a “collaboratory” in my hometown of Vashon Island (Vashonistas, please spread the word) called “Unleash Your Creative Expression.” I’m hoping we can release a few blocks, enjoy some experiences, and map our way to a more creative life.

I wish you could all be there. Short of that, go enjoy the natural expression of you. Which is always creative.

2 Responses

  1. Sally – I LOVE your 3rd question: What am I curious about? To me, curiosity is the door-opener to a new understanding, a new way of seeing, to our very Soul. Artificial Intelligence is digital, binary, mechanical and has no curiosity.

    Thank you dear friend!
    LOVE is KEY!

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