Opening to Creativity through Mindfulness

Professor Amanda Sinclair, in her book Leading Mindfully, devotes a chapter to the theme, Opening to Creativity.   She argues that one of the ways that mindfulness releases creativity is through “turning down” the self-judging function of our brain which invariable acts to thwart creative activity.  This negative self-assessment is a major blockage to creativity.

Amanda writes about the negative thoughts and stories that were circulating in her head as she contemplated writing her book – “no one would be interested in reading it”, “it will be just another management/leadership book”, “academics will view it as lacking rigour because it will include anecdotal information”.  These negative messages blocking creativity delayed her writing, and even as she wrote, they took on different forms in a sub-conscious attempt to undermine her creativity.

Once Amanda started writing, she was able to quiet this internal chatter through mindfulness and give herself permission to create the book.  She was able to tap into her research, life experiences and the experiences of her friends, contacts and colleagues to craft a book that was a different contribution because of her original integration of her perspectives developed over a lifetime of insights.

For instance, Amanda was able to draw on the seemingly devastating experience of Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered a stroke at the age 0f 37.   Jill, a brain scientist, gave a TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight, about how her brain had changed physically because of damage to parts of her brain, including the areas that controlled speech and “self-talk”.   In her presentation, she explains how the stroke and resultant physical damage to her brain gave her the freedom and permission to be creative.  She no longer had to manage the negative thoughts and stories because her brain could no longer produce them and thus they were not able to impede her mind’s creative endeavours.

Amanda’s experience in starting out on her new book writing venture, after having successfully written other books,  resonates with the experience of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love.  In her TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth spoke about the fear-based, negative talk that almost immobilised her writing following the stellar and unexpected success of this earlier book.  Her internal message, reinforced continuously by others, was fundamentally a concern that she could never match the success of Eat, Pray, Love and that her life would be a failure.   Elizabeth described her succeeding book that was about to be published  “as the dangerously, frighteningly, over-anticipated follow up to my freakish success”.

Elizabeth, through developing her insight and self-awareness, found a unique strategy to quiet her negative thinking to enable her to create the follow-up book.  She ascribed her creativity to some divine genius within her that she could blame in the event of failure (as long as she did her bit of daily, disciplined writing).

Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur, considered one of the most influential thinkers in business, maintains that we each have to find a way to quiet The Lizard Brain, the amygdala, which sabotages our creative efforts through fear-based messages.  Mindfulness is one way to address these negative thoughts and to become open to creativity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can release our creative capacity from the capriciousness and irrationality of our internal negative messages that assault us whenever we risk creative endeavours.  Mindfulness enables us to “turn down” the internal chatter and be open to creatvity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of lukasbieri on Pixabay

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Writing: A Pathway to Mindfulness

Albert Flynn DeSilver has written a book titled, Awakening through Writing:  The Space Between the Words, as a wake-up call to the power of writing as a means for exploring our inner landscape.

In an interview with Tami Simon, Albert identified some of the key messages in his book and I want to reflect on them here.

Time as a Construct

The concept of time is a human invention to enable us to communicate, collaborate and manage our lives singularly and collectively.  We need this agreed convention to be able to function in our world (and across the world).

However, own own sense of time – “I don’t have enough time”, “there are not enough hours in the day” – is a personal construction.  It is a consequence of choices that we make – the kind and level of work we choose to do, our commitment to the quantity and quality of our work, our family structure and established norms and rituals, and how we choose to spend our leisure or “left-over” hours.  It is a reflection of our prioritising, our sense of self-esteem and empowerment (“my time is not my own”), our goals in life, our need for recognition, our willingness and ability to negotiate “time” to meet our own needs.

When we discussed what you are going to do with the surplus in your life, we highlighted the need to create space in your life.  Albert reminds us that to realise the benefits of writing and meditation in terms of being able to achieve awakening or to grow in mindfulness, we need to look at the way we spend or “expend” our time.  We have to “make time” to engage in writing and meditation on a regular basis.

Assess your motivation – why write?

If your writing is aligned with your personal goals and values, you have a better chance of sustaining the effort through the ups and downs of life and the writing cycle.

I have to constantly remind myself why I write so regularly.  I’ve found that having multiple reasons for writing (some primary, others secondary) enables me to maintain the momentum.  So I have reflected on my motivation and identified the following:

  • to keep mindfulness at the forefront of what I am thinking about and doing
  • to use writing as a journey in self-exploration
  • to learn more about mindfulness and mindful practices
  • to engage my mind in learning new things
  • to share what I learn with others so that they can better handle life stresses and overcome the negative impact of depression and anxiety
  • to integrate what I have learned from my various roles in life – as a student, manager, trainer, educator & consultant
  • to help myself and others realise our creative potential
  • to better understand what I can contribute to creating a better world.

I used to say to my doctoral students, “Do your research on something that you are passionate about, otherwise you will not be able to sustain the effort through the vicissitudes of daily life”.  The same applies here if you are going to write on a regular basis, you need to be passionate about the topic and the audience.  The motivation has to come from you – not from what other people say you should write about.

Reading

Many of the great writers were great readers and this is often reflected in their books or novels.  You will often see writers quote poetry or the works of other authors to reinforce a point or introduce a new idea.

Reading can become a source of personal reflection, offer new perspectives on an issue, illustrate key ideas or points through life stories or act as a stimulus to your own writing.  I would include here podcasts and videos as a source of ideas.

I find that if I am stuck for a topic to write about or for something to say on a topic, I will read an article/ report that is relevant, watch a video or listen to a podcast as a way to stimulate my own thoughts and reflections.

Discipline

Albert stresses the importance of discipline to advance your writing and insights.  He points out that most great writers have a routine that fits their own lifestyle and personal work style.

You need to develop your own writing routine that will enable you to sustain the effort of writing.  Great writers often warn about not just writing when “you are in the mood”, but pushing through the emotional barrier in a disciplined way by sticking to your routine, even if ideas are not flowing.

It may sound trite, but the reality is to become a great writer, you need to write…write…write.

The immersive element

If you are able to persist with researching and writing about a topic or an area of interest, you gain the benefits of immersion – you see connections that you did not see before, you deepen your knowledge and understanding of yourself and the world around you, you improve your self-management (via discipline & insight) and you are better able to make a significant, original contribution.

You also gr0w in mindfulness and your capacity to be fully present to what is happening in your life and world.   Albert maintained, in his interview, that to make the commitment to develop mindfulness through writing requires courage:

I think for people to look inside, and to pause, and to really show up and be present in the world takes a tremendous amount of courage. And it seems to be more rare than ever, which is alarming. That’s why I’m so devoted to this work. Because I want to keep reminding people this is the most important thing we can do as human beings. Without changing consciousness and awareness, and having that positive influence, we’re really going to be kind of screwed as a species.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay

3 Minute Journaling

One of the most powerful things that we did during the two days of the Search Inside Yourself public program  in Sydney was a process described as 3 Minute Journaling.

The basic idea is to write your responses to a number of stimulus questions without lifting your pen from the paper.  Often there are three questions.  These penetrating questions are combined with the three minute time limit to reduce the likelihood of “editing” – to get past your rational mind and allow your thoughts and feelings to flow unimpeded by self-censorship or the felt need for grammatical editing.

Given the time limit, you do not have time to form proper sentences or to worry about logical flow – you just write in a free form manner, akin to “speed writing”.  Often this quick approach to journaling, involving a “stream of consciousness“, is used within the context of more formal daily journaling.

The surprise comes when you read what you have written.  The process of 3 Minute Journaling invariably turns up some remarkable insights into your own motivations and behaviours and opens the way for greater self-knowledge, awareness of your environment and the feelings of others.  In lots of ways it is a journey into yourself.

Some of my posts on this blog have flowed from using the process of 3 Minute Journaling before I sat down to write the actual blog post.  You can use a simple idea or insight to start the process or alternatively write responses to two or three questions that have some relevance to you and that encourage you to explore some unexplored terrain or to go deeper into familiar terrain.

Below is an example of three stimulus questions used during the Search Inside Yourself Program in one of a series of three minute journaling sessions:

  • When I feel understood, I…
  • When I’m at my best, I…
  • What I really care about is…

These are penetrative questions that get to the heart of what motivates you and what you really enjoy doing and care about.

I have often used 3 Minute journaling within the context of a manager development program.  One of the sets of questions I ask relates to the role of the manager in creating the culture of their workplace:

  • What kind of culture are you trying to create in your workplace?
  • How congruent is your own behaviour with that culture?
  • What kinds of messages are your words and actions giving?

3 Minute Journaling is a powerful process that takes so little time but provides rich results in terms of self-awareness.  If you undertake it on a consistent basis, you are well on the way to growing the habit of mindfulness.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com