"Creativity" is something I've struggled with for most of my adult life. My focus has been on achieving my goals, striving to maintain total control of my environment, and doing it all to some impossibly high (and incredibly unrealistic) expectation of perfection...only as a superwoman could. I was too hard on myself to endeavor into creative expression. I "didn't have time" to be creative, I told myself. In reality, I was too scared to let myself open up to the vulnerability that creativity requests; too afraid to come out from behind the veil of perfection and control.
Yesterday I attended a creative yoga class. Our intention was to keep the channel open and find joy in creative expression.... through the act itself, not by producing any particular or perfect end result. I cast aside all wishes of creating a perfect masterpiece and instead set a personal intention for openness and curiosity. I gave my Self permission and freedom to play. I had no ideal in mind, other than to enjoy the process and see what emerged. I chose to stand rather than sit so I could get my whole body involved and so I had the mobility to see what I was creating from multiple perspectives. I had to trust my inner guidance to know when I was done (a struggle for this recovering perfectionist...to know when something is done rather than ceaselessly striving and then over-doing!).
I wasn't worried about what wasn't getting done while I was creating. I wasn't afraid of what others would think of what I created. I wasn't looking around, comparing what I was creating to what was being created by others in the class. I was fully present with my Self and my art. When I was done, I turned around and said to no one in particular, "That was fun!" Something was ignited in me and the joy flowed freely.
And as if the Universe was making sure I had learned something deeper from this experience....as I was trying to get all of my still wet paintings loaded into my car at the end of the class, I dropped two on the floor. They folded up onto each other and onto themselves, altering what I had created. A year ago, the perfectionist in me would have been really upset that my creations were "ruined." The emerging artist in me today sees beauty in the flaws, like they were meant to be. There is no perfection in creativity. As there is no perfection in life.
There are many ways to be creative, and art is only one. We can bring creativity into anything we do. Creativity, and life, asks that we be open, be curious, and be fully present. It helps if we give ourselves permission to bring a sense of playfulness into all that we do. These actions may require us to lean into our vulnerabilities and fears. But presence helps us with this. The more present we become, the easier it is to let go of the fears that masquerade as control and perfection and that hold us back from reaching our full potential in life.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once (she) grows up." Pablo Picasso
I’m prone to over-thinking, which shows up as ruminating and worrying about things I’ve done (or not done) and said (or not said). My tendency to over-think also occasionally shows up when I’m trying to make decisions and at times can stop me in my tracks. I spend too much time weighing the options, worrying about what could go wrong, or stalling because I’ve not found the “perfect” way forward. It’s not always as simple as “just decide and move on!” Can you relate to any of this? If so, here are four tips for to overcome over-thinking mode and move yourself forward.
1) Align to your values and strengths. It’s not always necessary or helpful to do this for smaller decisions (when you’re in the midst of choosing new dishes, for example). But when deciding on what gets my time, attention, and energy, it is critical that I consider how the situation and the choices align to my core values. The more important or riskier the decision, the more important to me that the choice I make aligns to multiple values and that I leverage one or more character strengths.
2) Get some space. Sometimes as over-thinkers we want to keep working the problem until the solution comes. And sometimes that’s the worst thing we can do. When I notice that I am pushing too hard, I’ve learned to give myself space and set the decision process aside. I might work on something else for a while, or I’ll take a break, read a book, grab a coloring book and some colored pencils, or go for a walk. When I have the luxury, I’ll let the decision rest for a few days or a week. When I’m really stuck, I leave it alone even longer. With enough time and space, the right answer emerges naturally. Some of my best ideas and resolutions have come when I’m walking in nature.
3) Process with others. I tend to process problems in my journal and often see things more clearly after I write everything out. But sometimes after trying this or the other tactics mentioned above, I’m still stuck. I am very fortunate to have a very active support network I can turn to when I need help. I’ve processed problems with a family member, a dear friend, a trusted colleague, my coach, my accountability partner, and my spiritual director. Sometimes I discuss the same problem with multiple people for two reasons: each time I talk it through, another piece becomes clearer and each person adds their unique perspective. I have experienced both small shifts and major breakthroughs after discussing my challenges with one or more people.
4) Notice your body’s response. Recently, I was contemplating making a fairly significant change to the scope of my work. There was one type of service in particular I liked doing less than all others but for a variety of reasons, I was having a hard time deciding to let it go. After contemplating this off and on for nearly a year, the time came when I needed to decide. I brought this up during a session with my coach and she asked me, for the sake of our discussion today, what if you just set that aside? You know it’s there, you can come back to it later. But what if for now you just let it go? I noticed immediately that my body felt lighter, my shoulders relaxed, and I felt a wave of positive energy coursing through my body. The next thing I noticed was that it was my mind that had been fighting this decision all along. My brain was trying to drag me back down into the swirl with questions, doubts, and fears. But the message from my body was too loud to ignore: You’ll be much happier without it. I decided shortly after that call to let that kind of work go for now, assuring my worried mind that that I can always come back to it again later if I needed to.
So, fellow over-thinkers, which strategies work best for you? I’d love to hear what else you’ve done to release the grip of over-thinking, make your decision, and move forward.
The character strength Love of Learning involves exploring new topics, mastering new skills, and increasing your knowledge. It’s easy to view learning as a discrete event: we read a book or we take a class, for example. But learning can occur at any time as we go about our daily life. Here are three ways to exercise your learning muscle throughout your week.
1. Strive for personal excellence. Rather than seeking “perfection” or competing with other people, focus instead on becoming the best version of you that you can be. This is one of the reasons I love the VIA Character Strengths so much and why I’ve been blogging about them for the last several weeks. Bringing more attention to our character strengths is empowering, energizing, and motivating, and enables us to take our effectiveness to a whole new level. When I feel myself struggling, I can draw upon the strength of learning and ask myself “What am I finding so challenging in this situation?” or “What is preventing me from being at my best right now?” When I approach these questions from the perspective of learning, I am more open to seeing where the opportunities for change lie.
2. Fully engage with people to learn about them and learn from them. When you’re talking to people, make it a goal to learn about them by asking questions and really listening to what they have to say. Just the other day, I was talking to someone I’ve known for two years and until that conversation, hadn’t realized that at one point in our careers, we had both worked in the same building at the same time. You can also learn from the people you’re interacting with. Over the past week I’ve talked to two different people about a particular challenge I’m facing and I walked away from each conversation with new perspectives and ideas to consider. Each of these individuals helped me look at my challenge from a different vantage point and their insights were incredibly helpful in me getting one step closer to clarity and resolution.
3. Look for opportunities to try something new. We grow when we encounter new and different experiences and stretch outside of our comfort zone. Tackling big fears certainly moves us out of our comfort zone, but we are not limited just to those. We can grow just as much by doing something on a smaller scale. Last year, I made it a personal goal to have at least 40 new and different experiences, which included tackling my big fear of heights by parasailing and tackling smaller fears by trying aerial hammocks, doing hot yoga, and being on the radio. No matter the “scale” of the experience, I learned something about myself from each new thing I tried.
What do you do to keep your learning muscle fresh? Challenge yourself to seek at least one new and different experience this week and see what you learn from it.
Resources: Character Strengths and VIA Survey
Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2009). Classifying and measuring strengths of character. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2nd edition (pp. 25-33). New York: Oxford University Press. www.viacharacter.org
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. www.viacharacter.org