Your ability to be creative is as much a part of your nature as playing and running is for a dog.
When a dog trainer begins working with an upset or misbehaved dog, the first thing they ask the owner is “do you take it for walks?” This one question gets to the heart of the deeply evolutionary reason why the dog might be disgruntled. Dogs are meant to do work. Work that is essential to their nature, like walking, running, herding— expressing themselves the only way they know. When they are deprived of their ability to be natural, they begin to suffer and misbehave, no matter how many treats they are fed.
The same goes for us humans. When we are deprived of our true nature, we begin to suffer, regardless of how many treats (raises, promotions) we are fed. Our suffering, if allowed to linger, kills our motivation, saps our energy, and dulls our senses. We live our lives as a shell of what we could be, all as a result of ignoring the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being.
Of the five basic needs on Maslow’s hierarchy, the first three (psychological, safety, belonging) are usually the ones we spend our first 20-30 years focusing on exclusively. Once these basic needs are met, and even when they’re not, our human brains tend to drift into the fourth and fifth phases: esteem and self-actualization. I boil these two down to one word—happiness.
Esteem I have referred to this in previous posts as status, and less directly, money, and it is where we spend most of our next 20-30 years. We chase accomplishment. We pursue validation. We begin building our legacy and prestige. We want to know that our efforts are appreciated in order to fill that gaping hole in our minds reserved for self-esteem. It’s really what keeps each and every one of us going. It’s simply in our nature.
Self-actualization I have also previously referred to this as meaning, and less directly, wealth. It is where we typically spend the third trimester of our lives. It is at the heart of the typical mid-life crisis, when we begin to question what all of that esteem-chasing really means. After spending the lion’s share of our lives searching, and assuming the first four needs are met, we begin to make the time to breathe, step back, and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We realize, as one reading The Alchemist would, that all we have been searching for over the course of our lives has been right in our backyard all along. We now have time to focus on things that matter: family, friends, creative pursuits, and appreciation of time—the only finite resource we really have. So we wake up every day at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, intent on making the most of these things.
You might disagree with me on this timeline, but that becomes irrelevant when you begin to realize that adherence to timelines (consciously or unconsciously) is also irrelevant.
There’s a reason why creativity is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. It is the height of human existence. It is what makes us distinctively human. It is what brings us alive.
Creativity is what makes us most happy.
To put it simply, we humans are hard-wired for the pursuit of happiness. For me, happiness has always come, not just as a result of, but as a companion to creativity. The happier I am, the more creative I become. And the more creative I am, the happier I become. It’s the cycle we should all aim to get caught in.
Ever since I quit the 9-5 cubicle life and left the 80 hour workweeks of restaurant life, I’ve begun to develop the creative powers that have lain dormant for so many years. Not so coincidentally, my stress levels have lowered significantly, my happiness has risen to all-time highs, and the meaning I derive from the self-directed work I do is profound.
It’s as if the faucet has been fixed, the drain unclogged, and my freedom from constraints has allowed my creativity to flow naturally and unimpeded.
Instead of being the one-dimensional office worker (mindless work), or the two-dimensional restaurant manager (mindless work + leadership), I’ve begun to pull back the curtain on a third dimension that gives meaning to the first two: creativity.
How does one build the muscle of creativity? How does one reinvigorate the arid desert in a mind that was once a creative oasis?
The simple act of writing or journaling, first thing in the morning, has been the centerpiece to my personal revolution. As it turns out, writing down your thoughts is a powerful way to unstick your mind. Journaling acts as a catapult for the creative mind. Turns out, it’s not just for junior high girls!
A few years back, I read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It impacted me so much that I gave it to my mom, a talented artist in her own right, to help her express more of her own God-given abilities. The book explains over and over again the importance of writing in regards to the creative process. What Cameron calls “morning pages” (read the book to learn more) is at the center of getting a productive and creative day started, and is something I have returned to doing regularly.
Oh, You’re Not a Writer?
Writing, as a daily practice, is not just reserved for the writer. Even if you’re not a “writer”, morning pages could be any writing practice you choose. Write a list, write a poem, write a chapter of a book, etc. As long as you set the pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and fill the blank page (a monumental task some days) with whatever comes to mind. Over time, with consistency, you’ll begin to notice the effect it has on your creative mind. Anyone, at any level, can benefit from this habit. Writing doesn’t only benefit the “artist” or the “writer.” Writing will help you get the creative “juices flowing,” and in turn, help you move closer to your true nature with each day.
In addition to an elevated creative state, writing (you guessed it) contributes to an elevated mood. Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor, wrote the book “59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot.” It’s an entertaining discussion of small actions you can take to live happier, perform better, and become more effective in many areas of life. In it he talks about the power of journaling and the effect it has on one’s happiness. Ultimately, journaling fits into any of five main types, all contributing to one’s overall creativity and happiness:
1) Expressive Writing. Simply putting your feelings down on paper. You’ll always feel better after you’ve done it.
2) Gratitude Journaling. Spend some time writing about what you’re thankful for. Your world becomes less focused on scarcity and more on abundance.
3) Describe your best self. Remember a time where everything flowed. Everything just clicked. These moments represent high water marks of your happiness history.
4) Affectionate Writing. Write to someone you love. It makes you feel amazing, and it makes them feel amazing-er!
5) Progressive Review. Write about what is going well for you. About the progress you’re making. About the breakthroughs you’ve made. Don’t dwell on the negatives too much.
Yes, it’s hard enough to fit everything you want to do into one day. Between exercise, meditation, to-do lists, and everything else you need for a balanced and productive day, writing can easily fall to the bottom of that list (or off the list altogether). But the rewards are too significant and too immediate to be ignored.
Starting a small, consistent, daily writing habit will set off a chain of events that will enhance your creative abilities and change the fabric of your life. And you’ll only know if you give it a try.
Skip that useless email to a coworker. Write to yourself every morning next week and rediscover happiness and creativity.