As a creative, you’re familiar with these two problems.
# 1: You have a stellar idea. For a novel. Business. Workshop. But you’ve been disappointed before. You don’t have the umph to follow through this time.
# 2: You have numerous ideas. You’re an idea machine. But you lack follow-through.
I gave a lecture on creativity to about 200 people two weeks ago at an innovative center on Paradise Island, Bahamas. A woman came up to me afterward. “I’m frustrated,” she said, “because I felt creative in college and then life did its thing. Plus, I’m really lazy. I have a lazy gene.”
We talked about habits – namely habits of speech and habits of action.
I suggested she try another way of speaking about herself: “How about saying, ‘I have been acting lazy for a number of years’? Does anything happen to your view of yourself?”
She smiled. Said she’d try that. Maybe that’s simplistic. We only had a few minutes together, so I didn’t have time to consider all of the variables that might account for this one person’s self-described “laziness.” But I’ve seen too many artists and other creatives change their lives by changing their habits not to know the value of changing actions so the mind can follow.
THE PERSISTENCE HABIT
Do some creative people just “have” the sweaty gene while others have the lazy gene? I doubt it. Few psychologists would say that qualities such as intelligence or creativity or persistence are pre-determined genetically.
People we describe as “creative” are in part by definition persistent. But they’re not “naturally” so.
Crafting a creative life means being a habitual creative problem-solver.
Consider Joan Acocella’s realization. This writer for the New Yorker gathered 30 of her biographical portraits of artists, dancers, saints into a collection. She said she realized these innovators’ distinguishing traits:
“What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but … tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.”
There you have it. The nuts and bolts of creativity. The mantra of Scott Belsky & the 99%ers, Malcolm Gladwell. Mark McGuinness and Lateral Action. And a slew of other renowned writers, artists, CEOs, and high-flying idea-preneurs.
Persistence is the sweaty will that brushes off your pants after you’ve fallen down. The sweet kick-in-the-pants that keeps you engaged in creative action.
Patience is the calm complement to persistence that doesn’t expect instant fast-food-level pleasure. The wise breeze that knows true gratification comes from steady, focused work.
Practice is the stabilizing framework of habits. How you act. How you speak about yourself and your work. How you focus the mind’s thoughts. Not just what you do, say, and think BUT ALSO how you do, how you say, and how you think, day in, day out – that’s practice.
A PERSISTENCE PRACTICE
I have a modest proposal for a persistence practice. Mobilize the Body Electric.
Behance team members have their 4 pm stretch (but Belsky himself admits in response to the team member’s article, “Now I need to make this a routine”), and Jumpsters at Jump Associates have their morning jumps and romps. But an energizing physical practice does more than iron out your neck’s kinks and shoulders’ cricks.
In 2, 5, 8 minutes at a time, you can take advantage of numerous tools with the body and breath
connect with your work’s purpose
develop the fire to persevere and master
and – yes – create the brain chemistry and body chemistry of joy & delight that keeps us coming back for more.
That sounds like a hell of a promise. But I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t have the experience, witnessing, testimonials, and science behind me.
To change your mind’s habits, you can change your body’s and brain’s chemistry.
You need regularity without rigidity.
Check out the following video for a brief demo and explanation.
You’re not going to become persistent overnight. The trick: This practice feels good and arouses your sympathetic nervous system without over-exciting it.
Here are some take-aways from the practice:
Juice up divergent thinking: When you plug in the Body Electric, your mood shifts. Positive emotions contribute to greater cognitive flexibility. The work of Paul Gage and other neuro-scientists has shown clearly for over 10 years that repetitious movement that ups your heart beat and jump starts your blood flow creates new brain cells in the emotional part of the brain responsible for memory. More brain cells = more pathways for handling novel situations, according to Gage. The first two tools do just that.
Set an intention to connect to purpose. Purpose more than performance motivates most of us creatives. If we feel that purpose circulate throughout our acting body, then we affect the how of our actions. And we’ll be more likely to return tomorrow. Even if we get disappointed or distracted. That’s what setting an intention does. Center yourself. Put your hands on your lower belly to anchor thoughts. Ask, “What am I creating [writing a blog or book, building a business, etc.] for?”
Fuel up without burning out. If we force our way through the day with caffeine and superficial force, our body likely pumps out a lot of adrenals and cortisol. Over time, the body’s cells don’t have sufficient time to replenish, and we’ll feel fatigued. Possibly chronically so. A simple physical practice can raise your blood sugar and still moderate the body’s cortisol level. Hence, you’ll stoke your creative fire without burning out.
The sun-stoking breathing tool has been shown indisputably to stimulate alpha wave rhythms in the left hemisphere – a pattern associated with increased clarity, motivation, and optimism (all qualities associated with persistence).
Did you get that? Breathing this way every day for four minutes can make incremental but essentials changes in your body’s chemistry. Moderate your Body Electric, and you optimize your mind’s potential.
Feel good. Positive emotions help people thrive during challenges & crises and ward off the pits of depression. (See the work of Barbara Fredrickson, U of NC at Chapel Hill.)
Descartes’ Error, Our Huge Mistake
Descartes, by the way, did the best he could living in plague times in the mid-1600s. He established that the mind can influence the body. What he didn’t account for was how the body does, in fact, influence the mind’s thoughts, feelings, rhythms, and patterns.
That was Descartes’ error. And it’s all of our huge mistake if we continue to disregard this fact.
In an upcoming article, I’ll offer some tips on flow and maybe even show you parts of the Creatives’ Concentration Sequence.
Drop in the Hut:
How do you plug in your body electric and, in turn, plug in your optimal mind? What practices can you share? What do you struggle with physically that affects your creative output?
See you in the woods,
Psychology Today blog, Tracking Wonder
If you’re hungry to experience The Body Electric yourself, join me:
Tracking Wonder / Yoga As Muse Retreat for Creatives
Taos, NM, Mar 20-25 Snag one of the last spots.
From Reactive to Creative in Times of Fertile Confusion
Kripalu Centre, Western Mass., May 22-29 Register here.
Yoga as Muse TRIBE Facilitator Training
May to September (long-distance w 9-day residency in Aug., NY’s Hudson Valley) Read the tempting details & application here.
Where It All Begins: A Course in Writing, Yoga, & Wonder
UNM’s Taos Summer Writer’s Conference, July 10-17 Find out all about it here.