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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 December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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