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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 June 13, 2019

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

Think you have a boring life?

The definition of boring is dull or not interesting. Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing and living the same life for too long, or maybe your daily routine is limiting your growth and happiness. Whatever your reason is, the following list of 20 things can definitely make any day more interesting. Some of them are silly, while some are more meaningful, so hopefully just reading the list makes your life less boring and sparks your creativity.

Let’s dive in the list to quit your boring life and start living an interesting (and meaning) one!

1. Channel Your 7-Year-Old Self

What would he or she want to do right now? Color? Paint? Run around outside? Play dress up? Eat with your hands? Play that instrument hiding in the back of your closet that you haven’t touched in years?

Just because you’re a grown up doesn’t mean any of this stuff will be less enjoyable than you remember it. Give yourself permission to play.

2. Go Play with Kids

Speaking of little kids, if you have your own or access to any (in a non-creepy way, like they’re your niece or your best friend’s kid, you get the idea) go play with them!

They didn’t create an entire show called Kids Say The Darndest Things because kids aren’t hilarious. They also keep things so simple, and we can really stand to be reminded of this and stop allowing ourselves to get bogged down in boring details.

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3. Order a Hot Dog

While you’re eating it, Google: “What’s in a hot dog?” You decide whether or not you want to finish it.

4. For the Ladies: Wear Your Sexiest Lingerie Under Your Work Clothes

Your “little secret” will leave you feeling anything but boring all day!

5. Play Cell Phone Roulette

You’ll need at least one buddy for this. Scroll through the contacts in your phone, stop on a random one and call the person.

You could spark an incredible catch up session or be incredibly awkward. Neither are boring.

6. Fill out a Pack of Thank-You Cards

Give them to random people who probably don’t get thanked too often for doing what they do ever day.

Ideas: police officers, librarians, servers, baristas, cab drivers, sanitation workers, teachers, people behind any check out counter, receptionists, your friends, the guy at the falafel stand, etc.

7. Sign up for a Class in Something You’ve “Always Wanted to Do”, or Something That Makes You Really Uncomfortable

Ideas: pole dancing, salsa lessons, improv, pottery, cooking, knitting (yup, there are classes for this, too!), karate, boxing, something techy like the workshops they run in Apple stores, get Rosetta Stone and learn that language you’ve always wanted to speak, etc.

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What’s good about joining an interest class is that you will also meet new people!

8. Interview Your Grandparents About Their Lives

You can bet they’ve had some crazy experiences you probably never knew about.

9. Get up on Stage at an Open Mic Night

Whether you’re funny or not, get up on stage and just talk funny. And if you’re not, memorize a few of your favorite jokes and tell those!

10. Do Something for Someone Else That You Wish Someone Would Do for You

We all have a few ideas on this list. I promise you will feel amazing after and anything but bored.

11. Start a DIY Project in Your Home

It doesn’t have to be super complicated. If you need ideas, there’re plenty on Pinterest. Or you can also check out these 30 Awesome DIY Projects that You’ve Never Heard of.

12. Plan a Weekend Trip or an All-Out Vacation

This will give you something to look forward to.

Even if you don’t have the time or money to go on a vacation, plan for a staycation, which is same fun and relaxing!

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13. People Watch

Find a bench in a crowded area (centers of transportation like airports, bus stops and train stations are great for this!) and just observe.

People are infinitely interesting.

14. Eat Something You’ve Never Eaten Before

Bonus points if it’s a random fruit or veggie.

15. Dance

You can get your friends together for a night on the town or just pull up a video on YouTube and bust a move from your own living room.

If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even dance in public and get other people involved.

16. Go to YOUTUBE and Search “Funny Pets” or “Funny Babies”

This is also a great quickie ab workout as you will be laughing hysterically.

17. Pick up a Book and Start Reading

Check out the NY Times Best Sellers lists and grab a new book you can get lost in.

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18. Step Away from the Computer and Go Get Some Time with People You Care About in Real Life

Facebook stalking doesn’t count as real social interaction. You can even share this post with your friends and vote on which one you’d like to do together!

19. Check out a Museum You’ve Never Been to Before

OK, depending on your interests, this one might actually be boring. If you love learning, art or different cultures though, this one is for you!

20. Write a List of Things You Desire and Truly Want

This is a great way to help you figure out the real reason why you’re feeling bored about your life. Maybe you haven’t really done things that you truly enjoy? Maybe what you’ve wanted to do all the time has been left behind?

Think about the list of things you really want to do, and ask yourself why you aren’t doing these things (yet). Then start taking your first step to make what you want happen.

Now go make your life interesting and live your dream life!

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Featured photo credit: Kev Costello via unsplash.com

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