Counter-Intuitive Ways to Get Creativity Flowing

184-1013-A0186Once we realize that creativity isn’t solely about painting or writing or other more traditional, artistic pursuits we can see that the more creatively we approach life the better life we’ll live. Creativity is linked to happiness and well-being. It also boosts our productivity, helps us find our passion, and solve problems.

But how do we access this super power in the middle of a busy day? That’s something I think about a lot, when I’m sitting before a blank computer screen trying to come up with the next book or article idea before my daughter arrives home from school.

Here are a few surprisingly counter-intuitive life hacks, which, research reveals, can invoke our creative spirit.

Tackling the Mundane

Alright now, find a phone book – seriously, I know we don’t use them anymore but the folks from the yellow pages are dropping them in your driveway — and start reading. Yep, open a page, and read through the list of numbers right there in the phone book.

Turns out this kind of boring and mundane task might be just what we need to work into a more creative mindset.

In a couple of small experiments by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, people who took on passive, more boring activities – like reading or copying numbers out of a phone book – were more creative problem solvers. It seems the more boring tasks allow room for more daydreaming which may explain why many of my best ideas come while unloading the dishwasher or folding clothes.

All this has got me thinking: is there greater potential for those who are bored at work or living in isolated environments to create great novels or paintings or other works of art? Who knows? But as we ponder the fate of these bored and faceless, but, oh-so-creative strangers, we might just feel another creative nudge.

Thinking of Others

That wouldn’t be all that surprising to Evan Polman and Kyle Emich. Their research indicates that we tend to come up with more creative ideas and better solutions when we are thinking of other people. The theory is, that when we are stewing over our own circumstances we tend to be more concrete and rigid in our though patterns. This is stifling to our creativity.

But, when we distance ourselves and focus on someone else’s problem – poor schmucks — we become more expansive, our perspective broadens and we become more flexible and abstract in our thought patterns. Enter: innovation and interesting ideas.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and not only will you be more kind and compassionate – by-products of empathy — but you might just stumble on a compelling and creative idea. Or you might literally stumble over it, on a walk.

Going for a Walk

Walking appears to alter our physiology in a way the fires up our imaginations. Research out of Stanford University indicates that we come up with the most creative ideas while walking, but that creativity lingers even after. Those study participants who sat throughout the experiment, not so creative. Those who walked, whether on a treadmill or outside, pulsed with creative energy.

Exercise has long been linked to creativity and if I must choose between the boring task of sweeping the family room or going for a walk, well, I’m lacing up my sneakers right now.

When I get back, the dirty floor will still be waiting, by then though, I expect I’ll have something else to write about.


Pinpointing Your Purpose


with brave wings fly

While our expression of purpose is broad and ever-changing our purpose or focus in life usually remains consistent. And it helps to know what that direction is.

Uncovering your purpose then starts by paying attention. Start noticing what you are doing when you feel really good. When you feel connected to life and others. Take a look at what excites you.

When do you feel like you are the most engaged and passionate in life? In the flow? What are you doing when you feel like you are making a positive contribution?

If you can’t answer these questions now, think back to another time when you felt fired up and excited and recall what you were doing, in vivid detail.

What skills did that role require? Where were you? What talents did you have that helped you in the situation? How you were you interacting with others?

What Talents and Abilities Do You Bring?

For example, if you felt great during the client meeting, what was it specifically that turned you on? What did you share of yourself, which skills did you use that helped the meeting flow?

If you were meeting with patients or helping your daughter with homework, or cooking a meal for your family when you felt most engaged, what did you bring to those situations that made them so successful?

Perhaps it was your ability to communicate, your humor, patience, compassion. Maybe it is your passion that draws people in or your intelligence that helps you manage these situations.

Find the Pattern

Now, look for the pattern. Which times do these skills and abilities show up in your life? If you are able to fairly and comfortably negotiate a business deal for the benefit of all, is that a skill you also use at home to keep peace between family members?

If you are a corporate trainer, do you also find yourself teaching other volunteers how to help students in the classroom? If you are a teacher or a counselor, do you also find yourself empowering and encouraging others at the gym?

Match the times when you felt you were making a meaningful contribution with the skills and abilities and talents expressed during those times. Then, look for the three or five elements – the skills, roles, emotions, duties — that show up every time you feel that impassioned. Look for the pattern.

In my case, I feel great when I’m able to help someone identify their own strengths and power. I feel like I’m making a difference when I provide an information or support that helps someone improve their life. I feel in flow when I’m learning and connecting friends, family, even strangers in a deep way. Those feelings seem to appear when I’m speaking or writing on personal development topics, when I’m supporting someone through a difficult time, when I’m overcoming my own adversity, when I’m laughing and connecting with friends and others. See the pattern?

Uncovering the Patterns Help You Find Purpose

These patterns are an expression of your purpose. Your purpose, then, is the over-arching quality that brings them altogether.  Your desire to nurture, or inspire, or teach, or love, or advocate. See how this works?

In my case, many of my talents and also the times I feel most connected and alive center around my roles as a communicator/teacher inspiring people to live better lives. So, my purpose then, is to inspire, teach and guide others to live better lives.  Now that I know that, there are a bajillion ways to do that from my most intimate roles as a wife and mother to global expressions as a speaker, author, volunteer.

Look for the patterns in your life. Notice how your talents and skills and abilities link up with the times when you feel most engaged, most alive. The times when you feel as though you are making a difference. Then, identify the big-picture theme within those patterns and you will identify your purpose. It’s already within you, it’s just a matter of uncovering it.



Image by: Erin Cairney White

Erin Cairney White uses mixed media – acrylic paints, gelatos and a variety of papers, inks and stamps to create her work from her Snohomish, Washington studio. She is a wife and mother of four who also teaches art classes and works with educators in the Snohomish School District to support special needs students. When she is not creating, or working with kids, Cairney White and her husband raise pygmy goats. Her original artwork is available through the little details company.