As a writer, Mason Currey struggled with how to get into a creative mindset for the tasks at hand. In a bid to avoid work, he chose to research the creative rituals of some of history’s famous names. Currey’s bout of procrastination provided the material for his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. (on Amazon) This book will be a source of several examples in this article.
Many people struggle with getting into a creative mindset when required. This problem isn’t limited to those in the field of arts. If your daily life or work requires you to put together two or more elements to form something new, then you are creative. This, by the way, means that everyone is creative. We’ve all created something new, whether it was cooking a meal or rearranging a space to fit our style.
However, there are some cases where we need to apply creativity using a structure. Or within a timeframe. An assignment, a literary piece, a design, a software problem requiring a solution. Or coming up with ideas to solve a social issue or innovative within your social enterprise. These are examples of times when we may need to be creative.
Except our minds aren’t always willing to do that work. We may suffer from a lack of creative energy or thought. Or we may be interested in creating something other than the task at hand (like Mason Currey). In such cases, we can benefit from improving our ability to enter a creative mindset to apply ourselves to the task at hand.
Creativity is a fluid phenomenon that cannot be given one definition. It is seen as originality (a novel creation) and appropriateness (adapting something that already exists).
Mindset simply refers to a person’s way of thinking and their opinion. If we put these concepts together, we can conclude that a creative mindset is a state where you have the freedom to think and act with the intent to create and recreate.
The book Daily Rituals reveals something pertinent to us. There’s no strict set of rules for entering a creative mindset. This mindset cannot be achieved by copying the exact routine of someone who has found success in their creative process. Every individual has unique requirements to get into a creative mindset. This is because of the differences in our personalities, thought processes, goals, the things we value, and everything else that makes us unique.
While there’s no absolute list of rules for the creative mindset, there are personal changes you can make to help achieve creativity. Everyone can make these changes, adapting the improvements that work for you. Finding and exploring your creativity will be a unique journey. One that is personal to you.
Being able to recognize what works for you and what doesn’t, is important to your creative process. Everyone can benefit from understanding who they are and their self-systems. Some motivational speakers may convince you to start your day at 5 am and laser-focus on work till noon. But you may have commitments that make that process hard for you. Or it simply might not work for you at all. Following a regimented system will not necessarily help your creative process.
Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, practised, lectured and wrote books through his career. He was able to manage all these on 8-9 hours of work per day. His method was to take non-negotiable time off work once in a while. During that time he would meditate, cook his own meals, and write for two hours per day. He recognized that his self-system needed a slow but steady pattern. By adapting his personal routine in the context of his self-awareness, he found a way to create that suited him.
Creativity is possible when there’s room for growth and change. A growth mindset allows you to see possibilities for improvement in your talents and abilities. It is a belief that you can get better at anything through hard work, commitment, practice, counsel from others, and other positive practices. We can aid our creativity by breaking the barriers limiting what we can achieve, to give a better result every time.
In this TEDx talk, Swedish educator, Bosse Larsson, speaks on the benefits of a growth mindset for a creative mind.
Creativity is not unidirectional. It involves combining elements that we know of to make something new. It can be quite difficult to create something new without a variety of information and references to draw on. Nicholson Baker, an award-winning novelist, admits in Daily Rituals that reading is an important part of his writing process. He would read widely in preparation to get his mind “revved up” for the work at hand.
Books, blogs, research papers, shows, movies, and podcasts are some examples of content you can seek out. Try not to limit your preferences to your field. Learn about things that are beyond your field of expertise. Expand your horizons. New inputs may prompt the creative spark you’re seeking.
Ideas hardly ever come to people fully-formed. No successful writer publishes the first draft of anything. Creativity is a process of refinement; adding and removing elements until you achieve an outcome you’re happy with. Therefore, rough ideas should be embraced until their lack of value has been proven.
Joyce Oates, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, works for about 8 hours a day. She revealed in Daily Rituals that she writes and writes and writes, and rewrites, and may only retain a single page of work from her entire day. However, she makes sure to put all her rough ideas down on paper because all those pages eventually add up to some value.
A creative mindset may not always seem like a state of ‘flow’. Ideas may come to you in pieces. Regardless, hold on to them and seek to transpose and expand them. Playing around with rough ideas can help you find the creative result you’re looking for.
Jane Piirto, a teaching artist and researcher, refers to self-discipline as a core attitude for creativity2. Through discipline, you can foster the ability to overcome your weaknesses and barriers to creativity. The creative process is not an easy one. It could be hours, days, or even a lifetime of what at times can feel like mundane work. If we want to get into a creative mindset, we should discipline ourselves to start the process. Even when we don’t want to.
The well-known creatives of our time and the times before us thrived on routine born from self-discipline. Haruki Murakami, a famous Japanese writer, kept the same routine every day without variations. He quit his bad habits (like smoking) and exercised regularly to stay healthy. This allowed Murakami to have 5-6 productive hours daily. John Adams, an American composer, explained that creativity is very labour-intensive. To get the work done, you must discipline yourself into not-so-glamorous work habits.
Some people handle distractions better than others. Chuck Close, an artist and photographer, likes to paint with the television or radio chattering in the background. Meanwhile, Somerset Maugham, a popular English writer of his era, always had his desk facing a blank wall. He couldn't focus with the smallest view out of a window.
Regardless of your level of tolerance for distraction, manage how much you allow into your creative process. Distraction can also come in the form of other tasks. While a pressing task may seem like too much to handle, you may choose to do less important things to avoid priorities. In Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy refers to tasks as frogs. He advises to ‘eat your ugliest frog’ first thing every day before moving on to the others. For you, that frog could be applying yourself to the problem or task that requires a creative mindset.
Give yourself time to do nothing. Creative work can be stressful for the brain. The brain is also the powerhouse of the body. It works so hard that it consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen. Your brain needs time to rest. But rest does not mean a total shutdown. The brain does a lot of work in what is known as ‘unfocused or default mode’ when resting4.
When your brain isn’t being worked so hard, it makes some default repairs such as retrieving memories, linking ideas, and improving self-connection1. All these repairs are important to the creative process. This is why you can spend the entire day mulling over a problem, go home to sleep, come back to your office desk the next day, and solve that problem in a few minutes. Your brain did some problem solving while you weren’t looking.
Resting periods go beyond sleep hours. Allow yourself to take time off work, go into a different environment, and relax. Avoid your work computer during the weekend, spend time with friends, and take more vacations. On particularly tasking workdays, take a short nap to relieve your mind and improve cognitive function3.
The essence of creativity is in linking a multitude of thoughts, ideas, references and tasks. And your ability to self-regulate. To get into a creative mindset, you should be willing to incite change and embrace growth. Not just in your work life, but every other aspect of yourself. Your creative process will be discovered through trial and error. Over time, your self-awareness and ability to recognize the practices that will work for you should improve. The changes you choose to embrace will help you get into a creative mindset when needed.
|Beaty, Benedek, Wilkins, Jauk, Fink, Silvia, … Neubauer. (2014). Creativity and the default network: A functional connectivity analysis of the creative brain at rest. DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.09.019|
|Piirto, Jane. (2010). The Five Core Attitudes, Seven I's, and General Concepts of the Creative Process. Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom. 142-171. 10.1017/CBO9780511781629.008.|
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|A default mode of brain function. Marcus E. Raichle, Ann Mary MacLeod, Abraham Z. Snyder, William J. Powers, Debra A. Gusnard, Gordon L. Shulman. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2001, 98 (2) 676-682; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.98.2.676|