Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Marc Lesser, CEO of SIYLI, Zen priest, and author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself.
For most of my life I did not think of myself as creative at all. Then, many years ago, I started a greeting card company, despite that I had rarely purchased or sent greetings cards. My motivation was combining business with taking care of the environment, by making products from recycled paper. I found myself in a role where I needed to be very creative – in developing new products as well as how to distribute products. I also found that the act of leadership – my perspective about my role and the company’s strategy required tremendous creativity.
Creativity is important for many reasons. It is a path and process for not getting stuck in old habits and ineffective ways of seeing yourself and the world. Creativity can help with problem solving, with creating healthier relationships, and with having a healthier and happier life.
What I learned is that creativity isn’t something that you have or don’t have. It is something that you can nurture and develop. Most importantly, creativity can be a practice. This is especially true for me in my current role (as the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute) of helping business leaders to be both more effective and happy.
Here are the 6 steps that I began using, and find I’m using every day, not only in my work but especially in my relationships and my life outside of work These practices can be used to support the changing of habits and creating new habits. I’d suggest making the practice of creativity a habit that can support other habits. Here are some guidelines:
- Believe in your creativity – This is the first practice and probably most important. You might begin by thinking about or writing down three creative things you’ve done – something you have written or said or completed. Notice an area in which you feel creative; perhaps cooking, drawing, fixing things, gardening. Creativity can show itself in lots of small ways, such as the gifts we give, or the clothes we wear, or how we set the table. Just begin noticing and recognizing your own creativity.
- Know your voice of judgment – Everyone I’ve ever known has an inner judge. It can be difficult to accept that having an inner critic is part of the human condition. The good news is that this inner voice just wants to protect us and keep us safe, and that you don’t need to be stuck with or thrown by these inner voices. Knowing this, try relaxing your inner judge. Give it a name. Be playful. Experiment. Despite your judgments, you have the ability to be creative.
- Pay attention to details – By entering into the practice of creativity, you can begin to notice more of the details of everyday life. By paying more attention to details, you can become more present; your world can become more alive. It is in this presence and aliveness that creativity takes place. When you put your shoes on, which shoe do you put on first? What’s the color of your front door? How many emails do you receive and send each day? Or play with giving things different names. Look at a paper clip or a strawberry, as though seeing them for the first time. What might you call them? These types of details and experiments can open doors to seeing the world differently.
- Ask dumb questions – Our desire to look good and smart can get in the way of creativity. Instead, ask questions, especially those that may seem obvious, or even dumb. Risk looking awkward. Be curious about your feelings and your motivations. Let yourself wonder how things work and why you and others talk and act the way you do. Let go of the need to look good, and allow yourself to be curious and at times awkward. This is another door to creativity. There are no dumb questions.
- Practice Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a fancy word for paying attention and for being in the present moment – not ruminating about the past, nor worrying about the future. Mindfulness is a simple and powerful practice. Of course, reviewing the past and preparing for the future are important. And, being creative, happens in this moment. The practice of mindfulness is to over and over notice when your mind is wandering and to bring your attention back to the present. In this way we build our capacity for presence, and for creativity. Mindfulness can also mean to allow your attention to open, to consciously not focus on any one thing. This space, of intentionally expanding your attention can be a creative process.
- Embrace Paradox – It seems that nearly everything about being a human being is a paradox. In my own life, I’m an introvert and I enjoy speaking in front of groups; I can be indecisive and make decisions quickly; I’m confident and vulnerable. What are some of your paradoxes? Instead of ignoring or pushing these contradictions away, try acknowledging them, and embracing them. An example of a paradox I find myself embracing and practicing with is – fight for change and accept what is. These appear to be completely opposed, yet, the starting point for changing habits is to notice the habits that we actually have.
Being more creative is a practice, a habit, and a process. A good way to begin is to notice how creative babies and young children are. Just the act of crawling, walking, and exploring can be enormously creative. Creativity is easy – just let yourself be more childlike, curious, open, and start by exploring any of the six practices I’ve outlined.
Marc Lesser is author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself: Five Truths To Transform Your Work, Relationships, and Everyday Life. He is the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) and leads a weekly meditation group in Mill Valley.