A study of children from 2 to 4 revealed 95% to be considered highly creative. This means these children are imaginative, innovative, they are curious and have tremendous capacity for abstract reasoning and for creating imaginative images. Those very same children were tested again at the age of 7. Only 4% were now considered creative. Between the ages of 4 and 7 children are repeated told things like “Make sure you only color between the lines.” “Don’t touch that!” “That is not the way you are supposed to do that.”
When I heard the numbers involved with this study I found it alarming, but not entirely shocking. Looking back on my formative years I can recall some of these same lessons. Without abstract thinking, however, most of the great solutions and leaps of growth would not have occurred. It is the ‘out of the box’ thinking that allows our scientists and entrepreneurs to bring some of the most wonderful things into the world
The wonderful news here is that creativity is not lost if you do not use it. What happens is that is becomes a latent talent, waiting to be dusted off and used again. Your creative muscles may have atrophied a bit, but fear not you can begin to strengthen them today. With the advent of things such as adult coloring groups, which I was just made aware they have at our local library, it is once again cool to be creative.
What is the big deal about being creative? It is really a two-fold win. First, it helps to create what scientists call brain plasticity. In layman’s terms, this means the ability for your brain to continue to grow. I do not think I need to go into much detail about why this is beneficial, but I will touch on a few of the big points. Exercising your brain in such a fashion can help keep degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia from gaining a foothold or at least slowing their advancement. It also leads to an increase in the ability of problem-solving. The applications for this is only as good as the areas of your life that have problems…that usually ends up being most of them.
An increased ability to solve problems and continued learning lead to our next benefit – increased self-confidence. Keeping your wits sharp will make you feel good about yourself. Tony Robbins, the famous life coach, said “It is progress that will lead to happiness.” If we think about that, isn’t it true? As we are working on and making progress towards a goal, isn’t that when we are happiest?
The final reason for being creative is equally important. IT IS FUN! As we grow older and take on additional responsibilities, it is the fun that often takes a back seat. That fun almost always includes the creative arts. This may stem from hearing “You can draw when your homework is done.” or “You will have time to play when your chores are done.” I can’t speak for all of you, but my chore list is often several days long. If I were to put off any creative or fun time until all of them were completed, my fun time would be far and few between.
Fortunately, the importance of play has come to the forefront once more. Those who have what we like to call a ‘work/life balance’ are often some of the most mentally and emotionally well-adjusted individuals. It is important to include some creative individuals in your inner circle. My beautiful lady, Margie, reminds me how important creativity is every day. I don’t know how she would test out in the well-adjusted scale, but I can tell you she has great taste in who she is dating.
If you don’t have creative friends in your circle, maybe you will have to take the lead and become one. Host an art night. Maybe form one of those adult coloring nights? Get a group together for one of those wine and painting nights. Margie and I host board game nights with friends that are not only creative, but always lots of fun. Your heart, your stress level and of course your brain will thank you.
Everyone has heard of the value of positive thinking. In fact one of the best books one can read is “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale. That being said there is a problem with positive thinking. I believe it was Tony Robbins who said “The problem with Positive thinking is you have to think about it” What we need is a change in perspective. You must train your brain to think as many positive thoughts in a row. Our brains have been trained since birth to find the problem in any situation in order to fix it. This kind of thinking sure does have its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. First, it keeps us focused on what is ‘wrong’ with any situation in our lives, which in turn prevent us from focusing on what is right and beautiful. Second it creates neural pathways in the brain that keeps us focused on our problems instead of our blessings. It has been said that people routinely focus on the ten percent that is wrong in their lives to the detriment of the ninety percent that is right. Initially that sounds hard to believe, but just imagine having a toothache while on a vacation in a tropical paradise you have won and you get the idea. It is not our fault that we think this way. When we are young our parents teach us what not to do and how to address problems that may arise in life, which is surely good advice. Then in school far more intention is placed on correcting our deficiencies than growing our talents. The same holds true in the working world. So how do we change this life-long way of thinking? Start employing several of the ideas listed here especially the one in the post entitled ‘Start out easy’ which will help us focus on the positive aspects and events in our lives. Second, here is a fun game you can try with yourself. The first time I tried this is shocked me how ‘badly’ I did. That being said remember you are fighting against a learned behavior that has been ingrained over years, decades, maybe even longer. So be patient with yourself. The idea here as with all of my posts is to have fun while working your way towards a more amazing life. Here is the game. Try to think as many positive thoughts as you can in a row. These can range from “My what a beautiful garden” to “I am so grateful for my dog”. As soon as a negative thought pops up you must start over. You will be surprised at the amount of negative self talk going on inside your head. Again, be patient with yourself. When I first started this I thought to myself “Hey Mr. amazing life blog writer, Mr. happy book author, you’ve got this” My personal record for the day…five. Yes that’s right I could not get past the fingers on one hand. So why play this game? To depress us with how negative our thinking really is? No, to begin to retrain our brains to incorporate the positive as well as the challenging. Life is all about balance and dancing around like Mary Poppins is not going to help us learn and grow. That being said neither is sulking like Eeyore. One other interesting fact that I happened to notice is how insane some of the negative thoughts that honestly would pop up in my head without me even noticing. I think if counting how many times I called myself stupid, dumb and countless other things in my own head during this test I would’ve needed fingers and toes. Not only did I notice those thoughts as ‘ruining my streak’ but noticed how ridiculous they sounded. I made a mistake and was usually harder on myself than anyone else it affected was on me. So be patient with yourself, have fun with this and let’s see if you can beat five!
Evaluations, we all do them every day. What is an evaluation? It is really a question. Was that concert good last night? How good was the concert last night? What does all this have to do with you and living an amazing life? Another good question. Here is what I hope you will find to be a good answer. Asking yourself the proper questions can make all the difference between success and failure. It is another way to take advantage of the way the brain works. Let me give you an example. I have a friend who constantly dates men who are not right for her. After the relationship fails she always asks the same question, “how could I be so stupid?” When your brain hears this it subconsciously goes to work on finding out why you could be so stupid and usually supplies the conscious mind with several answers. Normally when you receive answers to questions you ask it should make you happy? If you are always asking disempowering question like the one above, or see if you can ever remember asking yourself questions like these. “Why does this always happen to me?” ” How come I can never get this right?” “How come I can never get ahead?” These are all perfect examples of questions that will lead you nowhere. Start asking yourself empowering questions. If you find yourself always dating the wrong person, ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” or one of my favorites is “What do I have to be grateful for in this situation?”. Sometimes the little devil on your shoulder will scream “Nothing you idiot, this situation sucks!” Even if it does, there is always something to be grateful for. So how do we get past that little negative voice in your ear? This is where fun things like tricking your own mind comes into play. Ok, so I don’t feel like being grateful for anything, but if I did want to find something to be grateful/happy/optimistic about what would that be. That way you are giving that voice room to do its thing while still focusing on the positive. So pay attention to the questions you ask yourself. They can literally empower or disempower you. So do yourself a favor and ask the right question.
Yesterday we spoke of doing things from our youth and how it can prevent our minds from growing old. There is another way to keep our minds young and flexible. Acting crazy. Now before you think I am going to suggest something that would land you in jail or a nice comfortable padded room with a jacket that fastens in the back, let me explain. What way to you drive to work? Have you ever arrived there and not remembered anything about the trip there? Providing you arrived sober let me explain what happened. When we travel the same course five or six days a week it becomes almost ingrained in our mind how to get there. So much so that much of the duty of arriving there safely is delegated to the subconscious mind. Think of the act of driving itself. When we first learned to drive our minds were on overdrive. There seemed so much to pay attention to. How fast are we going, don’t look at that too long, check the review mirror every 8 seconds. After a few months we pretty much just get into our car and well, drive. We don’t think about making sure our foot is on the brake before we put it into drive. It all seems to happen automatically. So what is the problem with this? Well, when we lose our focus on the present two major things occur. One like physical exercise if we use our brain for the same things over and over again we plateau. We cease making new pathways in our brain and it fails to get a workout. How many times has a new business opened up on the path to your work and you fail to notice until somebody else points it out to you? Just because you are not looking for something you ‘know’ is not there. The other thing that happens is we fail to appreciate the beauty of the present. A lot of what we do on a daily basis is nothing short of a miracle and was considered, even by ourselves in the beginning, to be a monumental task.
So, how can we avoid getting in these ruts? How can we keep our brain sharp? I am going to take a lesson from the Shaman. For those of you who do not know Shamans were spiritual, and sometimes political leaders of indigenous Peoples. Quite often people would think of them as crazy. They would do things like walk backwards, eat hot food cold and cold food hot, wear ridiculous outfits, or even say things that seemed to make no sense. This all was part of the way of keeping the shamans mind from falling into a rut. Now I am not suggesting you come into work dressed in drag as the boss may frown. What I am suggesting is do a few things to shake up your routine. Take a slightly different path to work. Eat a breakfast meal for dinner. Most of the things we do out of habit are really not all that serious. It will give your mind a jolt and keep it sharp!