I got an email out of the blue from my old friend Sam yesterday. In his former life he was a stand up comedian, flat broke but completely happy. And now, many years later, in a lucrative and highly demanding corporate career he confessed to feeling completely overwhelmed with his current state of work and life.
He had lost his creativity and as a result, the funny.
When I knew him long ago as a hilarious, hard working and quick witted person, I had no doubt he would always land on his feet. His unique take on life was likely the reason why he was so successful in the business world. He could improvise, play and think innovatively. So, how could a guy like that just lose his creativity?
We all go through peaks and valleys but as I thought about Sam's email, I wondered, is creativity something that everyone needs to cultivate?
We all came into this world with some form of creativity. A new world filled with wonder, make believe and daydreaming. But why are some people just naturally "creative" and others more "logical" and how do we find that magical sweet spot in-between?
There have been countless studies done on creativity over the years including one by Siyuan Liu and Allen Braun, neuroscientists at the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland.
They used MRI’s to study the brains of rappers while performing freestyle rap to discover which areas of their brains were being utilized during such intense creative thinking.
" We think what we see is a relaxation of executive function to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity"
"We think that the creative process may be divided into two phases" he says, " The first is the spontaneous improvisational phase. In this phase you can generate novel ideas. We think there is a second phase, some kind of creative processing (in) revision,” Liu says. (Read more: http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/121115/srep00834/full/srep00834.html
So, just as I finished reading about their paper, I looked across the room to see my "logical" fantastically executive functioning husband dressed in a suit, putting on a pair of socks. And, of course, I asked him to spontaneously sock rap.
The result of my impromptu experiment, was much laughter and not a lot of rhyme. And his confession of " That was the best rap I've ever done, of course it was the only rap I've ever done " .
His wonderfully disjointed freestyle "song" made me realize that all folks can be creative. Some just need to cultivate their creativity a little more than others. And even those who are naturally creative and funny like my old friend Sam, need to exercise their muscles to prevent creative atrophy.
Here are a few ways that I "cultivate my creativity" as an improviser, actor, creative writer and a Mom of a 4 year old which may help them both.
1) Breathe: Box breathing is a great way to calm your mind so you can think! Here’s more on that (http://www.livestrong.com/article/74944-box-breathing-technique/)
2) Imagine: Envision yourself somewhere else (change the scenery, the weather, the time period, the company, the food etc. Think like Willy Wonka )
2) Write: (by hand) Try free form stream of consciousness writing once a day, for no one to read, without judgment, just your random thoughts to paper
3) Improvise: Yes and. Say yes and add onto an idea you hear in a meeting, read in the paper, or see on the internet and see where it takes you
4) Create: Open your refrigerator or open a can of Play dough- enough said.
5) Meditate: Sit for 10 minutes of "quite time", stay in the moment and clear your head for positive creative thoughts only
6) Think: Brainstorm ideas with a friend or coworker you trust, remember there are no bad ideas
7) Play: Bring back the "make believe" and play where anything is possible. Create voices, and games and move like a kid. Stop at the Dollar Store on your way home and grab a ball, a bat, a skipping rope and go to the park
8) Sing: in the shower, in the car, at a concert, with your kid, anywhere, just sing
9) Colour: Keep crayons or markers and a colouring book in your desk (just tell your colleagues it is in case a random kid drops by!)
10) Laugh: "LOL" has become an overused virtual stamp of approval. But really laughing out loud increases endorphins and makes you feel really good. So, when all else fails, follow the funny.
Creativity isn't a measurable asset you can log into a spreadsheet. We often overlook it's worth, but let's face it, without it, we'd still be living without fire. So for those of you like my old friend Sam, or my executive functioning husband, go cultivate your creativity and transform your work and life. It all starts with a quick trip to the dollar store on your way home.