Call me hopelessly Romantic in the 19th-century sense, but I believe deeply in creativity as the wellspring of a meaningful, productive, and happy life. I am never more joyful than when I am fully engaged in puzzling out a challenging problem, making something with my hands (including wiggling my fingers on a keyboard to craft something digitally), or building on the work of others to invent new ways for my students to learn. My philosophy of teaching, then, stands on a foundation of creativity.
As it turns out, others who know way more about such things than I do have found good reasons to connect creativity to happiness. The Human Resources Department of the University of California, San Francisco, nicely captures ways to “Enhance Your Well-Being through Creativity” by calling on the research of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago. Apparently creative people love what they do and thrive on the process of exploration and invention, even to the point of finding it relaxing. Being lost in creative “flow” motivates us even more. According to the article, “Csikszentmihalyi suggests that we focus on ways improve the opportunity for creativity to be experienced in our everyday lives. In general, many social scientists researching creativity encourage society to promote and to pursue creativity in all age groups as a way to enhance societal well-being.”
Thus, here are my 12 wishes for all learners in our global society to embrace creativity in the new year.
Wish #1: Look around.
Notice things. Pause and pay attention. See complexity, or simplicity, where you never saw it before. Be open to amazement. I like how Patrick Winfield offers “Design Inspirations to Jumpstart the Creative Process, including things like looking at book covers and exploring websites that celebrate serendipity.
I like to spend time with creative people and soak up their positive energy. This is best in person of course, but not always possible. Maybe that’s why hanging out in Pinterest is so addictive or why I’m so fascinated by Bored Panda’s “20 Creative DIY Project Ideas.” Even if I don’t actually get out my scissors and miscellaneous buttons box, I’m energized by the invention and industriousness certain people have for creative projects.
The important point here is that we need to open up to the inspiration for creativity all around us.
Wish #2: Explore.
It’s equally important to become an active seeker of creative inspiration, rather than simply waiting for it to arrive. I might dive into my bookshelf or head to an art museum or gallery. Online, I might browse for the latest TED Talk. Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius” is a good place to start. I’m also happy I stumbled upon Hallie Seckoff’s slide show for the Huffington Post, “10 Creative Apps We Love: From the Getty Collection’s Highlights to T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land” for inspiration about inspiration.
Wish #3: Warm up.
Not only should we poke around, but we also need to try things out. I used to write letters as a way to warm up my writing muscles (I actually miss this part of the process now that I write so frequently). Kim Roach suggests, in “How to Become a Creative Genius” for Lifehack, keeping basic tools for creativity on hand at all times – that is, a notebook and a pencil. I also like her suggestion to invent “imaginary dialogue,” an affirmation that talking to yourself is part of the creative process.
We often make the mistake of telling our students – or ourselves – to just go and “be creative” with a task or project without considering this very important part of the process, as if merely by invoking the word creativity can be called into existence.
Wish #4: Play.
Although I completely accept the need for play, and even long for it sometimes, I am usually much too serious a person to let go and join in the fun. My relentless work ethic and sense of duty to whatever pressure I feel making demands on me is difficult to push past. I’m the sort of person who will use wait time when on hold or sitting around an airport to organize my computer desktop or clean out my email inbox.
Now I’ve committed myself to finding ways to play in those off moments, as a way to keep my creativity batteries charged. I like to play with new digital tools, so I’ve located some sources to help me always have something on hand to play around with:
- Common Sense Media, “Best Creative Apps” (lists apps for students by age grouping)
- The Best of iPad Apps, “Best Apps for Creativity”
Identifying what we like to play with is the hard part – next, we just need to make sure it’s easily accessible.
Wish #5: Unplug.
I don’t mean to convey the idea that every creative impulse need be pursued digitally. In fact, I suggest “unplugging” right here in the middle of my list because it is such an important part of the creative process.
Put your digital stuff away (I’m telling myself as I write this). Go for a walk. Work out. Do some chores. Listen to some live music. Be with yourself without the constant interruption of digital input. Meditate. Take a nap. Get to know the quiet spaces inside your own head. You may be surprised at what you find there.
Wish #6: Reflect.
Unplugging clears room for reflection. It’s important to acknowledge your forays into creativity, to assess them, to become conscious of where they have taken you. Yet, this is another part of the creative process that we often leave out as we rush back to pick up our non-creative lives or follow the next creative impulse.
Reflection allows us to value and appreciate our creativity, to study and learn from our mistakes, and to rest and recharge our creative selves. I like Douglas Eby’s post on “Developing Creativity by Staring Out the Window,” especially as he discusses reflection as a way of renewing “the imaginative life.”
Wish #7: Make stuff.
Inhabiting creative spaces in your mind isn’t everything, however. Making things in a physical sense taps our kinetic learning and makes our creativity tangible. Anyone who cut out paper dolls or built model airplanes in his or her youth knows this. Anyone who bakes bread or tinkers in the garage feels this.
Dr. Carrie Barron reinforces the need for this kind of “Creativity Cure” in her article “Creativity, Happiness and Your Own Two Hands” for Psychology Today: “It isn’t as much about reaching one’s potential as doing something interesting – less about ambition and more about living. When we are dissolved in a deeply absorbing task we lose self-consciousness and pass the time in a contented state.”
I’ve just discovered Make Magazine, and I’m wondering where it has been all my life.
Wish #8: Fail.
I think of all my failed sewing projects as a teenager when I reflect on making things with my hands. Yet, we must allow ourselves to fail in order to learn. If we want to be creative, we need to give ourselves permission to fail, and we need to fail on purpose.
I recommend embracing failure with gusto. Write a bad poem, write a bad song, or make a bad painting. Come up with stupid ideas for… (fill in the blank). This makes it easier to take when we don’t mean to fail, and it provides practice in learning from failures.
In “10 Great Ways to Jump Your Creativity” (Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life), Jay White recommends “reject your first ten ideas” and “experiment: don’t be afraid to fail.” These things are sometimes easier said than done, right? Yet, if we call our attempts and failures “experiments,” will that make our failures easier to bear? What if we think of failure as the starting place for our next creative venture?
Wish #9: Be dorky.
Related to “play,” but slightly different, “being dorky” means letting go of inhibitions and doing something silly or even beneath our consideration. Sometimes trying out something we would never see ourselves doing is just the thing we might need to get unstuck in our non-creative life.
Composing a vision board, for example, may smack too much of “pop psychology,” but the outcome may be surprising (see “How to Make a Vision Board – Find Your Life Ambition” by Martha Beck for O Magazine). The dorkiness factor, plus the problem-solving involved in selecting images and collaging them together, makes such a project work.
“Being dorky” may also mean being less purposeful on purpose, that is, giving over to randomness. I like “creativity boxes” that suggest strategies and approaches for generating creative thinking in a non-hierarchical way with stacks of cards. Oflow, an app created by Tanner Christensen (creativity guru at the Creative Something blog), looks to be a digital resource built on the same idea – and I am eager to try it out.
Wish #10: Share.
Most simply, sharing means giving rather than hoarding, displaying rather than hiding, articulating rather than dismissing. Sharing makes us open up about our creative sides, take the risk of exposing our attempts to build and make and invent to others’ judgments. Sharing also allows us to receive praise and affirmation, which most of us need at least to some degree, solicit feedback in order to improve, and spark collaboration for future creative ventures. Sharing forces us to overcome embarrassment and take ownership of our creative selves.
When we were young, we were not afraid to share our ill-formed creative efforts with others. Why are we ashamed to do so now?
Wish #11: Find collaborators.
Merging diverse perspectives, drawing upon varied talents and experience, nurturing an atmosphere of super-charged problem-solving and anything goes inventiveness, collaborative groups can nurse hotbeds of creativity. Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman describe the ways “great groups” function as fiercely creative collaborators in the first chapter of Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. (reprinted in the New York Times). Embarking on a project with other creative people can provide equal doses of challenge and enrichment, all the while igniting the kind of creative atmosphere that can light up a room because the participants feed one another’s creativity from moment to moment.
Wish #12: Make creativity a daily habit.
I used to know someone who promoted the idea of “mandatory fun” in our lives. I think of creativity in the same way. We need to adopt daily habits of creativity – just as we seek ways to promote lifelong learning. This was made clear to me as I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (see her Happiness Project blog). Creativity, like happiness, need not be elusive or fleeting – it can be made practical, do-able, and accessible.
In “Pursue Creativity” by Stefan Mumaw for Parse, I am reminded that creativity requires action in response to imagination and appreciation. We have to do it regularly to make it work optimally. We need to seek out connections and applications to test out new skills and ideas. Creativity, once revved up, need never choke and die.
Plans and Further Inspiration
Writing this post, I have found that much like creativity itself, one path of investigation has branched outward to many more. I want to relish and review the “4 Lessons in Creativity” offered by Julie Burstein’s TED Talk. I want to spend time with the resources from PBS’s This Emotional Life: Creativity. I’m taking Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works with me on vacation.
My personal “creativity project” for 2013 involves gathering together a group of friends and acquaintances, all educators, who want to nurture creativity in their lives. On a monthly basis, we will share our stories as creative learners, learn together, and, yes, make stuff. In this way creativity is a promise, not a wish, not a resolution, that I will give myself in the new year. As I learn to embrace creativity on a daily basis, so too will my students.