Viewing the World Through Creative Observation

In the never ending battle between right and left brain thinking I too often let the left hemisphere rule. When I drive I seek the most efficient route rather than the nicest one. When I shop I have on blinders in the form of an explicit list and I exclude everything else from even the consideration of purchase. And when I work I focus intently on the logic behind what I’m building.

None of these left brained tendencies are bad. But left unchecked they become authoritarian dictators that squeeze out exploration, wonder and the beauty of design. This is why I’m trying to make it a concious point to approach events in my life through a lens of creative observation. I don’t always make it happen. Sometimes I’m in a hurry. Sometimes I need to accomplish something that requires a logic-only process and I neglect shifting into a right brain thought pattern. But whenever I am able to view the world in a creative, spatial or exploratory way, I tend to be more satisfied at the end of the day.

Do What You Love

My son and I were looking for a new video game to play today when we came across one called CTRL-CV. Your character tries to navigate different rooms with platforms, spring loaded platforms, spikes and holes in the ground. At the same time you have doppelgangers that multiply rapidly around you.

The longer you wait to move, the more difficult it is to distinctly see yourself and where you’re moving. It gets disorienting very easily. But, if you move quickly, before you get swarmed by your other selves, you can see clearly enough to get through the obstacles unscathed.

The game reminds me of how early adopters of things like blogs, Youtube and Twitter were able to capitalize on those technologies and build huge followings. Now, there are so many millions of content creators and consumers on these and other channels that it’s extremely difficult to have your voice heard.

I love blogging, tweeting and posting on Youtube. But to have anything I produce discovered on a large scale by others I either have to rely on luck or find different channels that haven’t yet hit their peak. And who can tell what parts of the web will take off and what parts will disappear into the void next week?

It just goes to show that when you write, produce videos or any other creative online endeavor, you’re better off doing it because you love the journey. Not because you want to get online famous.

Hacking Your Mind

Have you ever been watching TV show where someone is having a heart attack and you start to feel a tightness in your chest or a pain in your left arm? Or maybe someone is standing on top of a tall building and you start to feel dizzy? When you watch a show or read a book you can get so engrossed in the story that your mind convinces your body that you are the one living it out.

When our minds encounter a story, they become extremely susceptible to the suggestions those stories put across. You can use this phenomenon to your advantage and hack your mind and body into doing what you want. You simply need to tell yourself the story you want to have come true.

OK, maybe that’s a little simplistic. Telling yourself you want to be in shape will not make it so. But telling yourself (with conviction) that you are athletic and can easily get into shape with the right exercise regimen will go a long way to getting you there.

If you say or hear something over and over, you will start to believe it’s true. If you believe something is true, your actions will typically support that truth. This is why self-help gurus are so big on mantras. They help shift your mind into a gear that’s in sync with what you want. In fact, many business writers suggest telling yourself that you are already successful before you actually are. Shifting your mindset

Of course this trick can be used negatively too. If you find yourself constantly mumbling things like “Nobody would ever hire me” or “I’m such an idiot”, you are much more likely to never get hired or do stupid things. Some people have been known to be chronically ill because they continually tell themselves they don’t feel good.

So whether you’re wanting to get healthy, become a better photographer, get an A in a class or improve your relationships, you should have a positive outlook on your situation. Not only that but you need to continually tell yourself the story that you want to have come true. Write it down and read it or say it out loud to yourself to ingrain it into your psyche.

Speaking what you want out of life is no a guarantee that you will get it. But you will be much more likely to get where you want to go with a positive outlook and consistent self-messaging.

I Never Knew That was There

I’m always trying to find somewhere interesting to go on my daily morning walks. Going on the same route every day gets boring after a while. Yesterday I walked to two nearby business plazas and walked along the store fronts looking at what businesses were there.

Now, I had been to these plazas before to go to a restaurant, a bookstore and a martial arts studio. I also drive by them almost every day. But I was surprised at how little I knew about the other businesses that were in there.

By my count I walked by 32 businesses. I had only been to three of them and before yesterday I couldn’t tell you the names of more than one or two of the other ones. I’ve written before about being observant and really noticing things in the world around you. The problem is, there’s so much to notice and a lot of it isn’t relevant to your immediate life. For example, I didn’t need to know there was a women’s hair salon or a travel agency and SCUBA dive shop.

Your brain is very good about blocking out unnecessary distractions and only allowing you to see what you need to see to get you through your present situation, whatever that might be. Mindful observation is a way to hack your brain’s normal functioning so you can be aware of more around you.

I was practicing mindful observation as I walked up and down the business plaza’s parking lot looking at store fronts and making all of the early arriving employees nervous.

OK, who cares? So I made a point of paying attention to a bunch of stores in a couple of strip malls. Is this supposed to mean something? Well, sure. It means that I’ve purposefully put diverse input into my mind. That input is combined with other knowledge and ideas I already have in my head and has the potential to become new creative ideas or solutions.

Of course, I don’t yet know how my mind will combine the ideas of a prosthetics shop, a yoga studio and a cat lounge but at least the comedic implications are obvious.

How to Overcome Creative Block

Creative block happens to everyone whether you’re a writer, programmer, salesman or builder. I’ve found the best way to overcome creative block is to do something else creative that’s totally different than the thing you were originally trying to do.

For example, if you’re stuck trying to write a chapter for a book, leave it and go sketch a landscape. On the other hand, if you can’t think of anything to draw or paint, go play the guitar, write a nonsense poem or try your hand at flower photography.

When you have creative block the problem is usually that you’re thinking too hard. You’ve allowed the “rules” of your art to put up a barrier to the creative freedom that you need to be able to come up with new ideas or develop existing ones. The exercises above give your brain permission to play and not be inhibited by the arbitrary rules it has placed on your original task.

When you go do your alternative artistic task, tell yourself that there are no rules. It doesn’t have to be good, presentable or even sensible. It just has to be you creating something new.

I find my original task is much easier to get started on after doing something different for a while. It’s amazing how quickly your mind can be convinced to abandon rules and embrace creative freedom. 

A few days ago I couldn’t get very far past just staring at the wall. I decided to get out my sketch book and draw something. Instead of starting with an idea of what I wanted to draw, I closed my eyes and just drew a squiggly line on the page. Then I started using the random shapes I’d created to sketch out whatever came to mind. I just kept adding to it until I decided to end it. Doing this opened me up to making other drawings and to doing some writing that I had been putting off.

Random Sketch

So next time you find yourself stuck for ideas or otherwise unable to do the task at hand, remember to pivot over to another task that you’re not so intent on. Loosen up your brain and you’ll be able to tackle any project.

 

The Fear of Making Nothing

Don’t be afraid of making something bad.

Be afraid of making nothing at all.

Jolie Guillebeau

The above quote really hit me. I’m guilty of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good all the time. I’ll sit down to sketch something or write something and five minutes into it I’m already judging it for not being good enough. It’s not exactly how I’d envisioned it or it doesn’t compare to someone elses work. So I end up quitting or starting over.

Instead I should simply be creating. The editing, the correction and the reworking comes later. It’s a lesson I have to keep teaching myself.

If you have a few minutes, watch Jolie’s TEDx talk below. She’s not only a great artist but an inspiring speaker too.

Can You Force Creative Work?

When I sit down in front of a blank piece of paper, it can become anything. I might sketch a scene, draw a cartoon, write a poem, write a joke or make notes for a book. But more often than not, that blank piece of paper stays a blank piece of paper.

Creative block is not something that happens to me once a month or even once a week. It happens almost every day. It’s almost as if when I wake up I have to make a choice, an analytical day or a creative day. Most days, by default, I have to make the left brain analytical choice. My day job is more important right now than poems or drawings.

In the evening, after work, it’s always a struggle to turn off the programmer and turn on the artist. But if I don’t do it, I’ll never get any of the things I enjoy done.  I’m trying to teach myself to switch between my left and right brain tendencies at will. This is more difficult than it might sound. It’s like your body going from burning carbohydrates to burning fat. There’s a period where you haven’t yet started producing ketones from the fat but you’ve used up all of the glucose stores in your body. You feel miserable and useless and just want to give up.

So to make the transition as quick and painless as possible, I usually try to jumpstart the process. This means reading someone else’s poems, looking through a comic book or watching a stand up show. Anything to spark an idea or give me a prompt.

Another thing that helps jump start the creative battery is photography. You don’t have to use a fancy camera. A phone will do. Just go through your kitchen or neighborhood and try to take a photograph that tells a story.

If the above methods fail, I’ll try freewriting. I’ll just write down whatever comes to my mind without filtering anything. This is often the most effective way to start getting creative ideas quickly because you’re entering into a diffuse mode of thinking where you are letting your subconscious do the thinking.

Whatever you choose, if it isn’t working, try something else from a different angle. Eventually you’ll hit upon something that will open up your mind.

Creativity in Motion

Boredom can eat away at your enjoyment of a day. That’s why when I walked into my son’s room the other day and saw him listening to music and staring blankly at the wall, I knew something had to be done.

Usually when I hear the words “I’m bored” from my kids I take it as an opportunity to remind them of all the chores they have put off doing. But this time I pitied the boy and decided to work with him on some ideas for interesting projects.

Here is the list of things I mentioned he might enjoy:

  1. Create wall art for his bedroom. He enjoys drawing and is actually quite good. I encouraged him to make a large version of a smaller drawing he had already done. Then we could frame it and hang it.

    My son’s hand drawn Hollow Knight fan art.
  2. Make origami. He has dabbled in origami in the past so I thought this could be a good opportunity to get back into it. I recently bought a pack of origami papers to practice with and have on hand for the kids.

  3. Painting miniature figures. He likes fantasy and miniatures games already. He could get a game that comes with figures or buy them separately.

  4. Build PVC weapons or other crafts. PVC is cheap and readily available. There are some really cool things you can do with it.

  5. Build model planes, boats or cars. I had fun building plastic models and painting them when I was a kid. You can find models that can be glued or snapped together. The real fun and creativity is when you custom paint your model. It takes time and a steady hand but can be rewarding.

Basically, I was looking for something that would be a challenge but something he could do mostly on his own. Anything that would be more than just a flash-in-the-pan activity. In the end he choose PVC weapons.

Over the next two days we had a great time building a PVC sword and dagger.  Although I helped buy materials and gave a little instruction on measuring and cutting and painting, this was a project done primarily by my son. I wanted it this way so that he would have something enjoyable that he could do any time and could get his creative juices flowing.

I could tell he was having fun creating something of value to him. As he built his projects he kept telling me about his other ideas for more PVC projects. That’s what I was hoping for; something to spark his creativity and thinking. Something to get the ball rolling and keep his mind busy.  Creativity in motion tends to stay in motion while creativity at rest tends to stay at rest.

Creativity in motion tends to stay in motion while creativity at rest tends to stay at rest. Click To Tweet

 

Speaking Better by Speaking More

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of speaking to a leadership class with three of my colleagues from the GIS world. We were tag team speaking since our two separate GIS systems share data and we work together from time to time on projects.

I’m not the world’s greatest speaker. It’s not that I don’t have great things to say. But when it comes to delivery, I often feel less than adequate. There’s a psychological boost that you get from speaking with a team of people though. When you’re up there by yourself you have to have all the answers but when you have someone with you, you have a fallback.

After my speaking segment I was able to sit and watch the others present. It’s beneficial to watch others speak on your same subject because it shows you that all the stumbling, bumbling and uncomfortable pauses are common among normal people who are called on to speak in public. The key to getting better and reducing those problems is to do it more.