Your Creative Environment. MIND. Unlimited and Underestimated.
This is the 2nd part of preparing your creative environment. Our mind (and mindset) is a part of our creative environment. Maybe the most important one. You can read the first part, on Time, here. And the third about SPACE here.
Our mind will often prevent us from making progress, creating and accomplishing our plans. There is the resistance, self sabotage, negative vision of the future, self doubts, and other “demons”. None of them are conditions independent from our thinking – in fact, our thinking helps to sustain them. In the same way we can create a mindset that is supporting the process of our creative work, and direct our thinking process to support our vision and productivity.
What is the best state of mind for creating?
How can we deliberately change our mindset to make the work go better?
In this post I cover this exciting bunch:
Vision. Focus. Self evaluation. Brain frequencies. Rewards. Big and small steps. I don’t know if there is an order, though I know that these elements affect and intertwine with each other.
1. The Categories of Focus
A. Reset. Enter your own world. To create anything in arts you need to enter your own world of possibilities. Leave everything else behind. It helps to disconnect yourself from whatever took place before your work. To reset.
You can set up your method of separating your creative work place from any energy that distract you. This method is a type of a BRIDGE that connects both worlds, but lets you be fully on the “other side”.
This bridge can be something as simple as taking a break and having your favorite tea sitting alone on a patio, watching birds. You could take a long shower. There will be as many possibilities as there are people.
My “bridge” is to sit and do nothing for 5-15 minutes, with a lit candle, and to imagine a strong energetic boundary around my place. Meditation helps to refocus: neuroscientist, Giuseppe Pagnoni, noticed that after being interrupted meditators were able to return to the activity they were doing faster than non meditators.*
B. Intense or relaxed. Who doesn’t have a problem with focus? Few people it seems. But not those that make progress. You can probably notice that focus can be intense to the point it hurts or it can be relaxed. You are looking for the relaxed one, but intense enough to do the work. Your focus may go from soft to intense depending on a problem you need to solve.
A TIP when you are BLOCKED: If your concentration becomes so tense, that it hurts, yet you make not progress – realize that you may need to take a break, come back to the source of stillness within, or put away the work until tomorrow. Moving the body helps a lot, this may be the hardest moment to make a decision to stop working, and go for a walk or for a swim, but it will help you relax, clear the mind and come back with a fresh approach. Igor Stravinsky did a brief headstand when he felt blocked, which he believed cleared the brain.**** (Do at your own risk)
C. Have it on your mind. All the time. If someone relies just on the “inspiration” and they are doing whatever comes their way, deliberate work will very rarely happen.
A TIP: When you are away from the place where you work and have nothing important to do, come back in your mind to your project and revisit it mentally without pressure. When we do that in settings where our mind can wander freely, (in a bathtub or in a line in the Department of Homeland Security) we may find another path of approaching the creative task.
A book to read: The ADD expert, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. in his book “Driven to distraction at work” gives great practical advice on increasing focus and productivity.
D. Focus fortifying activities:
doing nothing / not engaging with your thoughts / practice of being “here and now” / any leisurely activity done without technology in hand / engaging in a physical task mindfully / exercises in paying attention what’s around you, for the sake of noticing what’s around you / getting unrelated but problematic task off the way (by taking care of them first or scheduling them for later time) / planning your schedule realistically with spaces in between tasks and appointments
E. Focus sabotaging activities.
1. Nothing kills creative mindset like browsing the internet. It’s a different thing to browse for relaxation, and find something that inspires you. However when you are already in a mood and mindset to create but you just want to check on something, or check what other people write on the same subject.. boom! The energy is gone and you say: others do it better!
2. Believing that you need to be available for everyone all the time. Something I wrote about in part 1- Time. turn off notifications. Block time for yourself. It will have a huge effect on your ability to focus.
2. Timelessness and the Alpha State
The purpose of crossing the bridge between the creative part of your life and everything else, is to enter alpha state of mind (8-13 Hz brainwave frequencies) which I decided to call Timelessness. (And I’m guessing this is what Martha Beck calls Wordlessness). This is a relaxed state in which you can easier access your subconscious (your treasure chest, your genius zone). The great minds call it “an universal source of creativity”, since it feels like it is something beyond them. If you are a frequent visitor there – you know what I’m talking about.
The best way to access it is thru mediation, and if not that, contemplation, or a repetitive physical activity, in any way that makes your mind still.
The choreographer, George Balanchine, loved doing laundry. He said “When I’m ironing, that’s when I do most of my work.” ****
Kurt Vonnegut called reading a type of Western meditation. I will add to it driving. When you are long enough on an interstate highway, driving in silence, at night, you can suddenly hear music coming to you… straight from the stars…
A TIP: Meditate with a pad of paper and a pen. I can’t tell you how many times I sat down and before I took the second deep breath, the solution or a great idea was given to me.
Steve Jobs wrote about meditation and creativity, that when you sit and observe, over time your mind really calms down and when that happens you are able to hear more subtle things – that ‘s when your intuition starts to blossom. You see much more than you could see before.**
Though there are writers – Elizabeth Gilbert is an example – who stop meditating when they work. “Writing is a meditation in itself” – she says – “and I would not be able to quiet my mind when I’m working. I wouldn’t want to.”
3. The Vision. A living, breathing thing.
If you ask people to describe what is their vision for themselves or whether they have a 10 year plan, they may look perplexed (or start to hate you.) We are caught up in a day to day activities without a plan, a vision. It has only been recently when I changed my plans from just a week ahead to about 2 years. (Don’t ask me about my 10 year plan, please)
A. When it comes to a “vision”, something is better than nothing. We may be truly afraid to claim and imagine anything. But we can always change it. You are not risking anything when you create a vision. That is true – it may come with an investment of money, but most often it will be an investment of time spent planning, expanding and imagining.
A TIP: Your vision must feel right to you. You must feel tingling in one of your chakras when you create it. (I’m kidding. Or not.) Maybe your eyes will water a little, too. Your vision may seem improbable and too big, it may have too many legs and it may scare you, but when you get there, you will be dreaming even bigger. Remember though, that your vision must be accompanied by actions.
Ask to see a big picture. Right now I’m busy creating a bigger vision for my art. Pun unintended.
The most creative man in the Silicon Valley – Michael Ray – helped practitioners to connect with their sources of creativity. He did it basically by creating and environment in his courses where people addressed two root questions of creativity “Who is my Self” and “What is my Work”, where “Self is the highest Self that transcends pettiness and signifies our best future possibility.” And “Work” is not one’s current job but one’s purpose, what you are here on earth to do”.*** How could it not be about Vision?
B. We underestimate ourselves. Thinking about vision may be a perfect place to ask yourself – am I underestimating myself? Is this vision, this plan, enough for me? I see a lot of people around who underestimate themselves. Self doubts, not asking for more, not asking for more of themselves, wasting their enormous abilities. But claiming “more” comes with need of making more effort.
4. Self Criticism on a short leash.
- Feel free to mess up. (Unless you are performing a brain surgery or fix an airplane) If you think you finished, or if you are stuck, put away your work for a day or a week. When you get back to it after that time, you will have a better, cooler judgement about what you did.
- Be happy when you make a mistake or write a bad page. You can’t write your best pages without writing bad pages, says creativity coach, Eric Maisel. You just made progress, and got closer to better work!
- Be bossy. Have an official talk with your inner perfectionist, who is often dressed up as a critic, who communicates with you in condemning statements (which you hear in your head.)
- It’s still good to do some sort of healthy self evaluation. I can remember to this day one arrogant student, who painted such horrible paintings, as if he never took basics in canvas preparation. Yet when I approached him and asked about his plans, he said that he will not stay at the University, but will go to Academia next year (Academia was the more prestigious choice where less than 20 students a year were accepted) Good luck with that without self criticism!
5. Forget about a reward.
This quote by Lao Tzu have been hunting me for over 20 years…
In the essence: “when an archer doesn’t shoot for a reward, he controls all of his senses.” The full version:
“When an archer is shooting for nothing he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold he goes blind or sees two targets
– he is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning than of shooting and the need to win
drains him of power.”
No agenda, no looking for approval – which is perhaps the most difficult when we create any product we want to sell. Inspiration and creativity are inhibited by increased stress and plans to please others. Many experts point out that we are doing much better when we create while playing, in a positive mood. Not when there is a financial gain and a reward waiting.
6. Big plans – small steps.
The bigger the task, the easier it is to lose yourself in the labyrinth of the work, feeling overwhelmed. Even with things of a smaller caliber I’m not always sure what is the beginning, what is the middle and what is in between. I used to be paralyzed for months not knowing where to start. Now I just start in the middle wherever I recognize flow of inspiration – I do this. I’m not saying this is the only way. It may work only for some…
A TIP The key is to make lots of organized, easy to track notes. Big things consist of small steps made daily. There are free online tools like asana.com that will help with any project.
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* and ** “Thrive” Arianna Huffington
*** “Theory U. Leading from the future as it emerges” ” by C. Otto Scharmer
**** “Daily Rituals- how artists work” – Mason Currey