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5 Ways to Think Like An Artist (Or At Least to Look Like One)

5 Ways to Think Like An Artist (Or At Least to Look Like One)

Looking to boost your creativity in 2016?  Whether you’re starting a novel, painting a masterpiece, recording your first album or just enhancing your life by busting some salsa moves in the evening, the most important first move is to break yourself out of your routine, practical thinking–and into the mindset that will allow your creativity to flourish.  This terrific TED video by Cindy Foley based on new research from Project Zero at Harvard lays out the basic elements you need in order to think like an artist (or wow people at dinner parties by making them think you must be one!)  Here they are, broken down into five key techniques:

1. Be comfortable with ambiguity.

As a coach working with creatives, I find that one of the key issues my clients face is that they are struggling over their work.  Why are they struggling?  Because though creative work can be exhilarating when you’re in a state of flow, the state of total, rapturous absorption described by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (for extra creative credit, try pronouncing that name five times before breakfast), on many other occasions, creative thinking by definition will take you beyond what you already know or understand.  This state of not-knowing, of ambiguity, can be deeply uncomfortable–which ironically is the key to many creative breakthroughs.  What I tell my clients is that the problem is not that they’re struggling–the problem is that they’re resisting the struggle.  For an artist, writer or musician, developing the ability to stay with this state of not-knowing and ambiguity is the cornerstone of creative work.

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2. Go for volume over quality at first.

One of the key definitions of creativity is your ability to come up with as many new ideas as possible in a short period of time–which is the basis of the gold-standard of creativity measures, the Alternative Uses Test, in which you’re given a few minutes to come up with as many uses as possible for a common object, like a brick or a paperclip.  The Harvard researchers call this process “idea generation,” and it’s not dissimilar to Julia Cameron’s morning pages, in which you write like a demon every morning for a few pages without stopping.  Whatever you call it, the process is the same: you crank out as many ideas as possible without censoring yourself, loosening the grip of your inner critic for a while to give every idea, even the really crazy ones, a moment in the sun.  Often, once you start throwing down ideas, the most interesting ones will come in the second or third round, once you’ve gotten past your usual thoughts.

3. Play.

Now that you’ve embraced ambiguity and allowed your ideas to come pouring out, give yourself permission to play, using a spirit of “what if…?”  Pick your wildest idea, the one that maybe you think is a little nutty but that kind of appeals to you, and see what happens if you go with it for a while, not in the spirit of creating the greatest masterpiece of all time, but in a mood of fun, just to see what happens.  The essence of all art is what Jacques Derrida calls “jouissance,” an exuberant (and for you francophiles, hell yeah, it’s also sexual) all-out joy  So now that your inner critic is on a mini-break, pack him or her off on an hour long vacation by reminding this grim logician that professors at Harvard have told you that play is essential.  Enjoy!

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4. Follow Your Curiosity.

Now that you’re throwing yourself full-out into your creative work, you’ll often find that your mind is teeming with questions and new ideas.  “My ideas are having babies all over the place!” a client of mine once exclaimed. Let’s say you’re a writer, and you’ve thrown yourself into a new series of short stories.  All of a sudden, everything you see may seem like a possible story. Who lived in your apartment before you did?  Why did they move out so suddenly?  Who built your car?  Why does that guy with the law degree now run your favorite doughnut store–what’s up with that?  Instead of shutting down these thoughts as irrelevant, keep a small notebook with you and scribble notes. Ask questions (politely), look closely, find out the deeper meaning of things. What you discover may become the basis for your next novel, painting or song.

5. Nerd out.

The Harvard researchers, being Harvard researchers, call this process “transdisciplinary research.”  In other words, do a deep dive into a subject that fascinates you, and then incorporate it into your work.  If you’re a novelist fascinated by the history of California, follow that passion.  Drive up the coast visiting every mission, or take a walking tour of the old theaters of downtown L.A., or learn about the Gabrielano Indians.  If you’re a science geek, study the stars, or new tech developments, or read a history of Galileo.  Your new knowledge will fuel your creativity, sometimes directly, by becoming the subject of your newest work, and sometimes indirectly, by sparking new ways of seeing the world, new ideas and even new friends.

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Above all, in 2016, give yourself permission to be creative.  If you haven’t noticed, these five steps are not just the key to producing great creative work–they’re the key to living a full and joyous life.  Here’s to a happy, creatively productive new year!

Featured photo credit: The Artist/martinak15 via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

The ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow. But we are often afraid to take that first step.

In truth, comfort zones are not really about comfort, they are about fear. Break the chains of fear to get outside. Once you do, you will learn to enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process.

Here are 10 ways to help you step out of your comfort zone and get closer to success:

1. Become aware of what’s outside of your comfort zone

What are the things that you believe are worth doing but are afraid of doing yourself because of the potential for disappointment or failure?

Draw a circle and write those things down outside the circle. This process will not only allow you to clearly identify your discomforts, but your comforts. Write identified comforts inside the circle.

2. Become clear about what you are aiming to overcome

Take the list of discomforts and go deeper. Remember, the primary emotion you are trying to overcome is fear.

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How does this fear apply uniquely to each situation? Be very specific.

Are you afraid of walking up to people and introducing yourself in social situations? Why? Is it because you are insecure about the sound of your voice? Are you insecure about your looks?

Or, are you afraid of being ignored?

3. Get comfortable with discomfort

One way to get outside of your comfort zone is to literally expand it. Make it a goal to avoid running away from discomfort.

Let’s stay with the theme of meeting people in social settings. If you start feeling a little panicked when talking to someone you’ve just met, try to stay with it a little longer than you normally would before retreating to comfort. If you stay long enough and practice often enough, it will start to become less uncomfortable.

4. See failure as a teacher

Many of us are so afraid of failure that we would rather do nothing than take a shot at our dreams.

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Begin to treat failure as a teacher. What did you learn from the experience? How can you take that lesson to your next adventure to increase your chance of success?

Many highly successful people failed plenty of times before they succeeded. Here’re some examples:

10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

5. Take baby steps

Don’t try to jump outside your comfort zone, you will likely become overwhelmed and jump right back in.

Take small steps toward the fear you are trying to overcome. If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.

Take a look at this article on how you can start taking baby steps:

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The Number One Secret to Life Success: Baby Steps

6. Hang out with risk takers

There is no substitute for this step. If you want to become better at something, you must start hanging out with the people who are doing what you want to do and start emulating them. (Here’re 8 Reasons Why Risk Takers Are More Likely To Be Successful).

Almost inevitably, their influence will start have an effect on your behavior.

7. Be honest with yourself when you are trying to make excuses

Don’t say “Oh, I just don’t have the time for this right now.” Instead, be honest and say “I am afraid to do this.”

Don’t make excuses, just be honest. You will be in a better place to confront what is truly bothering you and increase your chance of moving forward.

8. Identify how stepping out will benefit you

What will the ability to engage in public speaking do for your personal and professional growth? Keep these potential benefits in mind as motivations to push through fear.

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9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Risk taking will inevitably involve failure and setbacks that will sometimes make you look foolish to others. Be happy to roll with the punches when others poke fun.

If you aren’t convinced yet, check out these 6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously.

10. Focus on the fun

Enjoy the process of stepping outside your safe boundaries. Enjoy the fun of discovering things about yourself that you may not have been aware of previously.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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