There's a superpower that lies within us all. You can't see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, but if you stop for long enough, you may be able to feel it.
That superpower is your creativity. It informs everything you do, from deciding what to wear in the morning to planning life goals. Yet it's commonly ignored or misrepresented as something only 'artists' possess.
There's a danger of losing your connection to your creativity. Lack of attention, distraction, mindless scrolling, multitasking are all kryptonite to your creative powers.
I know this from painful personal experience.
The dementors of distraction
Once upon a time, I was a stop-motion animator and illustrator charged with delivering original, creative content to many global brands and clients. Part of this job involved spending an extraordinary amount of time in front of a screen and on social media.
One morning, I woke up and my creativity had disappeared.
It was gone, as if some Harry Potter-esque dementor had sucked the last drop of imagination, idea and motivation from me – leaving behind a noisy, chattering mind that I just couldn't shut up.
Luckily, they failed to take away my curiosity.
"Creativity is as boundless, spacious and limitless as the sky. We are born with it. It cannot be lost and it cannot be destroyed. It can only be forgotten."
I set about reclaiming my brain in a new quest.
I ditched the digital in favour of pencil and paper. I studied and learnt about the neuroscience of technology and distraction. I also took up a mindfulness practice. This all helped me see I wasn't losing my mind; it had been hijacked by the dementors of distraction.
In my mindfulness practice, I found the antidote to my burnt-out brain. It was such an extraordinary discovery. I was so passionate about its positive effects on my mind and subsequently my life that I retrained as a mindfulness teacher.
(I now help other people reclaim their brains, creativity and focus. Being a Flocks facilitator is part of this mission!)
What mindfulness is and is not
Mindfulness is present-moment awareness. It's accepting whatever you find, with kindness and without judgement. Mindfulness is allowing things to be as they are.
It's not about trying to stop thoughts. That's impossible. But a lovely side effect is that, over time, your thoughts will quieten and you'll learn not to take them so seriously. After all, one of the first mindful lessons you learn is that thoughts aren't facts anyway.
Let me stress, you do not have to sit on a cushion with your eyes closed, watching your breath, to practise mindfulness. If that's not your thing, you can be equally mindful when walking, washing dishes, running, skydiving, dancing, painting, or even putting on or taking off makeup (I have a fellow mindfulness teacher who has made her makeup routine part of her mindfulness practice!)
As an artist, I took my mindfulness practice into my sketchbook. And wow, I haven't looked back from those dementor days. I can honestly say I've never been so creative, so satisfied with who I am, and so focused.
”Creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
Practising everyday mindfulness
One easy way to practise mindfulness is through the body – particularly our senses, which are the gateway to our immediate present-moment experience.
Tune in to the sounds around you, as you sip your morning coffee.
Notice the colours in the view outside your window.
Become aware of the smells around you when you commute to work or do the school run.
Notice the feeling of clothes on your skin for a few moments when you're sitting at your desk.
With my clients, we practise creative mindfulness using pens and pencils, by giving form to what we hear, see, smell, taste and feel. Like synesthetes, we explore hearing in shapes or tasting in colour.
We all have it in us to experience this everyday magic; we simply have to pay attention. Noticing like this opens up a whole new sensory world we never knew existed. Subsequently, we open ourselves up to new ideas and innovations that we can take into other parts of our life and work.
Importantly, taking time like this gives our brains a well-earned break.
My clients often report back, saying they notice how much more creative they are in their work and other areas of their lives. They can make connections in new ways, making them better able to problem-solve or develop innovative ideas at work.
They begin to truly SEE. Because being mindful makes you appreciate the small things in life – like savouring a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate, the robin serenading us in the garden or spring bulbs poking through the earth with the promise of spring.
When doing this, people mostly find that they come off autopilot and realise they can choose where their attention and focus go. It's a waking-up.
Three mindful steps to more creativity, in work and life
According to neuroscientist Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, we miss around 50% of our lives because we are on autopilot and not paying attention. That's a whole lot of life to be missing, my friends!
"Attention is your superpower," Jha says. "Attention regulates how you perceive your life, think your thoughts, feel your feelings, enjoy your memories, and daydream about the future."
By practising mindfulness, we are training our brains to pay attention.
We need our attention to consolidate ideas and experiences in order to use them later, for example, to create a master business plan, write the next great symphony or figure out how we might bake a gluten-free choco-mocha-Frappuccino cheesecake for Aunt Sally, who is coming for tea on Saturday.
Here's how to bring mindfulness into your everyday experiences and welcome more creativity to your life.
Have a piece of paper and pencil to hand, if possible, to write or draw your observations.
Choose an everyday activity in which you will focus your attention on one aspect of your experience. This activity could be your walk to work or your commute, or your mid-morning cup of coffee.
Twenty minutes would be ideal, but five minutes is plenty.
Optional step: change your perspective
Walk a different route to work.
Drink tea for your morning break instead of coffee.
Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth or comb your hair.
Now focus your attention on one of your senses during your chosen activity.
If you're out walking, what can you smell?
If you're sipping your coffee, identify the subtle tastes and texture of the liquid, and how its journey to your stomach feels.
If you're using your non-dominant hand, focus on the physical sensation from the skin of your hand or arm.
Allow any thoughts, sensations and feelings to bubble up as you focus and notice.
What's happening in the moment?
Does it feel uncomfortable?
How does this experience compare to your regular routine?
Write or draw what you notice.
7 Creative mindfulness exercises for teams and individuals to spark creativity and joy!
If you're inspired to delve deeper, try these fun mindfulness exercises to spark creativity and work out those thinking muscles. They are perfect for individuals or as a team activity. Many, I've tried and tested with willing participants in my Flocks. They never fail to raise a smile, too!
Draw a familiar object with your eyes closed.
Draw a familiar object with your eyes closed and without taking your hand off the paper.
Draw a familiar object with your eyes closed, without taking your hand off the paper and with your non-dominant hand!
Alternative uses: take an everyday object such as a paperclip and think of as many uses as you can in 1 minute.
Nice circles: draw three rows of three circles on a piece of paper. In 1 minute, turn each circle into something different, e.g. a sun, a tyre, a smiley face etc.
Random Inventions: take two random objects and see how you can combine them to make a whole new invention.
Impossible Inventions: take a well-known idiom, "pigs might fly". For 1 minute, list all the ways you could make a pig fly. Then, take one of those ideas and draw a detailed version of your impossible invention to make a pig fly.
Above all else, have fun!