How to Be More Creative: 3 Ways to Recapture Your Childlike Creativity

30 06 2009

Did you know that by the time we are 40, we are expressing less than 2% of the measurable creativity we demonstrated as a child?

Children are naturally creative. Think of all the ways a child can take an ordinary object and turn it into something extraordinary. Like how a tattered t-shirt can become a magical cape that makes you fly, how a sandcastle turns into a mystical land full of castles with dragons and princesses, or how an imaginary friend stirs up adventures to pursue.

When we are childlike, we give ourselves the space to play with new concepts, to see things from a shifted perspective, or to imagine something entirely new. As adults, we express less creativity than we did as children because of: 1) having years of exposure to the “usual” or “accepted” approach, and 2) being limited to the practicality and logic of our adult minds.

There is a lot of creative value when we approach the world with childlike wonder and imagination. So how do we maintain the creative spirit as we grow up?

There are some key characteristics that are more abundant in children and add to their creativity. When we can recapture some of these characteristics and apply them to our creative process, we help open our minds to more imagination and creativity.

Characteristics of Childlike Creativity

  • Curiousness
  • Playfulness
  • Imagination
  • Open-mindedness
  • Adaptability
  • Questioning
  • Spontaneity
  • Wonderment

“The best place to go with a child is in their imagination.”  Amie, age 16

3 Ways To Recapture Your Childlike Creativity

1. Let Your Imagination Run Wild
An active imagination is at the heart of creative thinking. For the young child, fact and fantasy, dreaming and waking, wish and reality, are all without clear distinction. In a child’s world it’s finding how a t-shirt can become a magical cape; in an adult’s world it’s looking at how to make a man fly, cure disease, or walk on the moon.  When you let your imagination loose without the confines of the common approach, you open yourself up to new ideas and creative possibilities.

2. Be Curious and Open-Minded
Believe no idea is a bad idea—consider and be open to anything. Curiosity and open-mindedness prevent stagnation in creative enterprises; without these qualities, some creative longevity is lost.

In Rob Eastaway’s book, “Out of the Box: 101 Ideas for Thinking Creatively” he says that there are three stages of life:

From 0 to 4 years old is the “Why not?” stage.
From 5 to 11 years old is the “Why?” stage.
From 12 onward is the “Because” stage.

When we remain curious (why/why not) we keep our minds open to new perspectives. As we get older, we enter the “Because” stage and start to lose the “curiosity and wonder about the world that leads us to ask those crucial questions, “Why?” and “Why Not?”

3.  Think Outside the Box: Embrace a New Perspective
As adults it is easy to get trapped into seeing things from one perspective—mostly because we are exposed to the usual approach and how things are normally done. When we can look at things from a different perspective, we can see a new way to do things—this is where innovation happens.

I just read a story about a little girl who was watching her sister’s dance recital. After watching the ballerinas dance on their toes for a while, she turned to her mommy and wondered, “Why don’t they just get taller ballerinas?”

To help gain a new perspective, ask yourself:

  • Is there a new way to approach this?
  • What hasn’t been tried before?
  • What am I not seeing?
  • Who can I talk to that might have a fresh perspective?

The greatest thing about creativity is that there is always room for new perspectives and learnings, no matter what age.

  • A pen and paper are all you need to create a new world. Michelle, age 13
  • You should never jump out of a tree using trash bags as parachutes. April, age 10
  • Childhod is not preparation for life. It is life.  James, age 9
  • I like to draw because it makes my mind flow. Todd, age 10 Read the rest of this entry »

Make the Most of Life: Don’t Take Today for Granted

23 06 2009

If we don’t penetrate the profane and common—the ordinary—we risk living only on the surface of life and miss out on the richness, dimension, and beauty it has to offer.

Too often, we miss promising moments because we do not recognize them until it’s too late.  We rush by so fast that we miss the beauty and texture of what life and the world has to offer. When we are able to appreciate the ‘little things’, it not only transforms the monotony of daily life, but takes our life to a whole new level. And, not to be morbid, but we never know how long we have. Just think of the people on the DC Metro rail train that crashed yesterday…I bet you most of those killed didn’t think when they woke-up that morning that they would not see tomorrow. We can’t take it for granted that tomorrow will be there for us…so let’s make the most of today.

Enjoy this little video I put together and posted on You Tube.

How to Awaken Your Greatest Self: Step Into the Unknown

22 06 2009

Most people spend the majority of their life in the place of the known.

Perhaps they are reluctant to follow their dreams or try something new because of fear of failure or from uncertainty about what might happen. They mask their true selves because they are afraid to stand out and want to fit in. They lack the immense hunger, drive, or desire needed to explore and venture out into unchartered territory. They do what others might expect them to do, follow the crowd, or construct their life based on what is normal and common.

Living in the land of the known is simply making a choice to stay imprisoned by fear—where a part of you slowly dies because you limit your ability to become more of who you were created to be.

Living in the known is one of biggest blocks to reaching your true potential.

It is in the unknown where new possibilities exist. It is a space that allows us to explore possibility, step-into into our gifts and talents, and use those gifts and talents to contribute something spectacular.

Life in the Land of the Known vs the Land of the Unknown

Think of a world where on one side is the Land of the Known and the other is the Land of the Unknown. The only thing separating these two lands is the Great Big Pond.

The Land of the Known is relatively safe; there is minimal risk and it is predictable, common, and ordinary. In fact, most of the people here tend to do the same ordinary things. This is where you will find a lot of people doing what they’ve always done, because that’s what they always do.  They think small. They don’t see what else is out there in the world. They settle for less than they can be. But overall, it’s a nice, ordinary place to live and there are a lot of satisfied and even some happy people there. The sad part is the people don’t know what they are missing because they’ve never left the comforts of their home.

The challenge is to get to the Land of the Unknown you have to cross the Great Big Pond.  While most people in the Known believe there is something better out there for their lives, they know that crossing the Pond takes a lot of effort and can be difficult at times. It takes courage, commitment, and a willingness to face some fears. Many never cross the Pond because they are fearful and afraid of all the challenges, obstacles, and uncertainties that might come up. Plus, they rationalize that life in the Known is pretty good after all.

However, once you cross the Great Big Pond you see that life in the Land of the Unknown is very different. It is more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. The people living here just seem so much more alive and vibrant—they are all very unique, yet extraordinary in their own ways. They each have their own unique  story about the risks and challenges they took to get here,  but they all share the benefit of living a life that they were destined to live. In the Unknown, they have been able to discover their true selves and have been able to largely contribute their gifts and talents to the world. In fact, all of the people that reach the Land of the Unknown say that they wish they had the courage to come over here much, much earlier because their life is better than they could ever have imagined.

It is on the other side of your fears that you will discover what you were meant to do and who you were made to be.

“Fear not the unknown for it is where your greatness resides.”

The motto in the Land of the Unknown:
May you shine so brightly that, at the end of your days, all will pause and say, “Ah, there was one who lived life fully and completely.”

Start Pruning Your Life: Cutting Back to Grow More

18 06 2009

It’s hard to argue that we are living in an over-stimulated society with an ever-increasing variety of distractions. It is these distractions, habits, and commitments that can detract from our growth, focus, and happiness, as well as sidetrack us from other opportunities. We need to be careful not to let things or people take time away from areas where we could better use our time, focus, and energy.

The Discipline of Pruning
Just as it is healthy to prune trees so that they may grow, we also need to prune our lives so that we can make way for new ideas, growth and opportunities. Pruning involves cutting off the superfluous branches in our lives. And pruning doesn’t just involve cutting off the dead branches—it involves cutting off some healthy branches as well.

Recently I was talking to the owner of a vineyard about pruning—he said that he often prunes the healthy vines from his trees because it allows for the other vines to grow even stronger and healthier—by having less branches, it allows for more minerals and nutrients to go to the grapes on the remaining branches, thus making better wine.

Not all the things in our lives that need to be pruned are obvious, or are even necessarily a bad thing. I have a friend who is involved in a variety of athletic activities that take up a lot of her time—one night it’s track practice, the next night it’s a kickball team, a few times a week it’s rowing practice. And while all these activities are ‘good’ activities—it takes time away from other areas of her life. She is spread so thin in many areas that she can’t concentrate on fully growing one single area.

Distractions aren’t always obvious. Many distractions are little things that don’t seem to take up to much time and may go unnoticed, but when we combine a lot of those little things over time it can make a huge difference in our lives.

Pruning gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate where we should be spending our time, and gives ourselves the space to open up to areas that can make a bigger and better difference in our lives. The Discipline of Pruning helps us cut back to grow more and create the results we most desire.

How to Prune
It is up to us to be aware of the distractions or obligations we schedule in our lives, and to decide which ones should be pruned.  Besides cutting out certain habits, activities, or obligations, one of the simplest ways to prune our lives is wisely using the words “yes” or “no.”

The book, The Power of a Positive No, says that if you learn how to say “no” skillfully and wisely, you can create what you want, protect what you value, and change what doesn’t work.

By saying “no” to competing demands for your time and energy, you can create the space for the people and activities that matter to you most.

What are you missing out on because of distractions in your life? What can you start pruning today? What could you say “no” to? How will these decisions change your life?

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Some Statistics about How Distractions Negatively Affect Us

  • 59% of Blackberry users check email the second it arrives, 83% check it while on vacation, and 53% even check it when they are in the bathroom.
  • A study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment 10 points. That is the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours—more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.
  • Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distractions are a contributing factor in 8 out of every 10 police-reported traffic crashes, or an estimated 4 million crashes per year.

Create an Extraordinary Experience: Run a Marathon

9 06 2009

Every great journey begins with one step. When I signed up to do my first marathon, I never anticipated how much my life would change because of that one decision. I’ve now run four marathons in different places around the world….even though after finishing my first marathon I swore out-loud that I was “never, ever going to do another marathon again”.  Now with San Diego, Alaska, Stockholm, and Copenhagen marathons under my belt, I’m realizing that running a marathon(s) has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

So what keeps me coming back year-after-year to run and train for another 26.2? It’s the journey. It’s the amazing friendships I’ve made along the way—the people I’ve met running that have now become some of my best friends. It’s the pride of having the identity of being a “marathon runner.” It’s about getting to meet others and listen to why they are running a marathon—like a man I met who ran an entire marathon in a seven-foot rubber rhino customer for charity, or the daughter running in honor of her mother’s losing fight with cancer. It’s how a spectator, a mere stranger, inspired me to finish by cheering encouraging remarks as I ran by (and how they’ll never probably know that they were the reason I didn’t give up), or about the tears I shed from being so touched as I ran by loved ones excitedly cheering on their runners in the pouring rain and cold four hours into the Alaska marathon.

Running a marathon is what you make it—you can remember it as ‘grueling, hard, losing toe nails, or getting up at 6am on Saturdays (yes, all true), or you can remember it as “an incredible moment in your life where you were dedicated, committed, working towards a goal, spending time with fellow runners, and stretching yourself more than you thought you could.” It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.

But mostly it’s about the memories that come from all of this that will last a lifetime. It’s about running the Alaska marathon with my best friend—and being mesmerized by the awe-inspiring beauty of the course, getting soaked in a torrential downpour the last half mile, or getting attacked by a huge grizzly bear along the course (just kidding about the bear part!) It’s about giggling to myself during the entire Copenhagen marathon after noticing “Pace Setters” are called “Fart Holders” in Dutch—and they even have it written in bold letters  (FART HOLDERS) on the back of their shirt. It’s about the time spent with friends during training—the breakfasts after our longs runs, complaining about our running injuries, or running with friends on the beach during sunrise. It’s about sharing in the pride and excitement when someone qualifies for Boston, or gets engaged during the Great Wall of China marathon. It’s to know I’m living life to the fullest—to be part of the 1% that crosses the marathon finish line.

No extraordinary experience can be obtained ordinarily. The journey of the marathon runner is definitely no ordinary experience—and the memories, friendships, and experiences that have come from this journey are indeed beyond extraordinary. Choosing to run a marathon has been a life-changing experience that I am beyond grateful to have created.

How to Practice Mindfulness and Increase Inspiration and Creativity

2 06 2009

What keeps us from accomplishing what we desire, from finding inspiration, or from following through on our endeavors? How can we open up our creativity, imagination, and inspiration?

There are many obstacles that get in the way of our creativity and ultimately our ability to follow through on our ideas—scattered thinking, over stimulation, lack of focus, stress, being judgmental, presumptive, or self-critical…just to name a few.

One way to overcome these obstacles is to condition your mind to be more present, focused, and thus open to inspiration (it’s hard to be inspired when you are stressed or regularly distracted by lots of external stimuli). The practice of mindfulness is a great technique to consistently use to begin to overcome these obstacles.

Mindfulness has been around since the time of Buddha, but has lately been getting some mainstream attention as a beneficial practice with real tangible results. In fact, just earlier this week, an article about mindfulness was on the front page of discussing its benefits in reducing stress.

So what is Mindfulness?
The most basic definition of mindfulness is ‘paying full attention to what you are doing, moment by moment’.

In a nutshell, mindfulness is the practice of being attentively present. It is called a practice in the same way that we say that people practice the piano because it takes time to learn and cultivate. While mindfulness is the simple ability to relax and bring forth an awareness of what is happening in the present, it can be hard to do. Especially in the day and age of reduced attention spans and constant stimulation.

Mindfulness can be highly effective in helping bring calm and clarity to the pressures of daily life, and help direct our minds and bodies to be more focused.

Examples of Some Practical Ways People Practice Mindfulness

  • Focus on deep-breathing exercises (i.e. inhale for 4, hold for 8, exhale for 6)
  • Consciously direct focus on an ordinary task, like eating a piece of food or doing a chore around the house, and solely focusing attention to that one task.
  • Take yoga, tai chi, or other similar classes where you focus on the relation between body, mind, and spirit

So how can mindfulness benefit creativity?
When we can be more mindful in the process of creating—whether with words, music, art, brainstorming, or innovation—we are able to focus with a clear mind and open ourselves up to a space where inspiration and creativity can flow more abundantly.

By being mindful, you are able to put yourself in a place where you can gain perspective. You are focused. You are curious. You discover something new. An idea is sparked. Inspiration strikes. A distinction is made. A perspective shifts. You are able to open yourself up to new possibilities. You are not distracted.

By practicing mindfulness in daily activities, you will begin to condition your mind and body so that you can learn to be focused and have mental clarity in other areas of life as well, including opening up your mind for inspiration and creativity.

Exercise: How You Can Practice Mindfulness

  1. Choose one routine physical activity that you perform most days and experiment with doing it mindfully. This means doing just this one activity while you are doing the exercise, for example not listening to the radio at the same time. It is also best to let go of any concern about the results or in finishing quickly. Remain in the present as best you can. What do you notice? What do you feel? Activities you might choose include brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, or some routine act of driving or walking.
  2. For one half-hour period during the week, maintain some regular attention of your posture as you go about with some normal activity. Without straining, assume a posture that is alert and upright. Notice what happens to your mood, thoughts, feelings, presence, and degree of mindfulness as you do this exercise.

Article from CNN on Mindfulness and Reducing Stress