I'm back after a trip to the US, where it was easy to see the signs of the economic downturn in the form of empty storefronts and ever-more-desperate ads for American-made cars. So far the solution is printing more money and spreading it around so we can all spend more and house prices will go up again, and - wait a minute, isn't that how we got into this mess in the first place? Maybe the solution is more creativity instead of more money? Just a thought
1: The "wrong name" game
If you find yourself stuck in a thinking rut, take five minutes to do a mental warm-up exercise I learned years ago in an improv class. It's a little weird and probably you should do it in private, but it works.
All you do is walk around the room, point at things and name them as anything other than what they are. So, for instance, you'd point at the window and call out, "Chair!" and point at the desk and say, "Walrus!" (or whatever). If you do this for a few minutes, you may find that when you return to your original task new ideas flow more freely.
ACTION: The next time you get stuck, give this a try. It works best if you move around and call the wrong names out loud, but if you absolutely can't do it that way, try it just looking around and doing the calling in your mind.
2: The power of the strange
The Economist reported the results of a study of the connection between creativity and living abroad (or having done so). The result was that people who had lived abroad did better on tests of creativity.
The researchers built in safeguards to avoid the bias that maybe it's just people who are more creative in the first place who are more likely to choose to live abroad. The conclusion is that there is something about spending time living in a different country that results in being more creative (it didn't work for people who just visited).
I've lived in the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom and my guess is that it's the experience of having to adapt to the different cultures and ways of getting things done in another country that makes you exercise your creativity, and be more open to doing things differently.
ACTION: If you want to experiment with this but not to move, the next time you take a vacation in a foreign country, don't go to a resort or on a guided tour. Do a home swap, do your own shopping, find your own way around a new city. You may come out of it more creative - but probably not all that rested!
3: Start with the weakest link
In every project, we probably sense that there is one step or part of it that could cause us the most problems. Sometimes that fear is enough to keep us from moving forward. A good strategy is to start with this weakest link. Depending on where it falls without the project, you could:
1. Do it first. (Obviously this is not always practical, as there may be other steps you must do before this one can be achieved.)
2. Plan how you will achieve it. Gather as much information about it ahead of time, and have a Plan B. Example: If you're stopping yourself from writing a book because you're not sure a publisher will want it, have a plan A for how to submit it to agents and publishers, and a Plan B for how to self-publish.
3. Decide who you can call upon for help if you get stuck on this step. This could be a friend who does such tasks well or a professional.
By planning ahead for the most daunting part of your project you take away its power to intimidate you.
ACTION: Is there a project you've been putting off? If so, what step or aspect of it is responsible? Try approaching it with the three strategies above and see whether that changes your readiness to tackle it.
5: I don't know what you're going through
On a blog called Carrie & Danielle I found a post that I try to remember every day (not that I succeed...). Here's what they say about keeping a phrase at the ready:
"I don't know what you're going through."
This is a mantra that I take to the streets with me... It's an instant dissolver for feeling pissed off and put out - an amazing equalizer of judgment. A magical mind-stretcher that makes me wonder if someone...... is on their way to a chemo treatment...just got off a plane from the red eye from Chicago... is newly pregnant... is heart broken, clinically depressed, or weathering the darkest night of their soul... is on their way to pick up their kid who fell off the monkey bars at school... is wondering how they're going to make the rent or save their business.
To which I would add, of course sometimes they're not going through anything in particular, they're just jerks. But it's probably better to give them the benefit of a doubt.
ACTION: The next time somebody annoys you, try the mantra.
6: And a quote to consider
"All you need in life is ignorance and confidence. Then success is assured." - Mark Twain