Ways You Are Hurting Your Own Creativity

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Whenever I hear someone say, “I’m not creative,” I call BS.

“But I don’t [draw, write, play a musical instrument, make red-carpet clothes out of used water bottles].”

The word “creative” isn’t limited to the arts. Everyone is creative. The medium of expressing it is just different. Some use pigment and textile. Others use food. Some use code and strategy.

Creativity does not discriminate. But you can hinder it with habits you may not have thought about before.

You’re Not Making Restful Sleep Your BFF

Working too much and not getting enough sleep? You’re only doing yourself harm, as sleep deprivation can lead to a host of health problems.

You may think you’re hustling it by riding the adrenaline of a caffeine boost or sheer force of will. But just like all living (and even non-living) systems, continued and heightened activity without rest will only lead to a system failure. Your body is a system of systems that need time to rest and reboot to operate well.

A couple years ago, I attended a writing workshop led by Delacorte Press’ Krista Marino, who has edited such books as The Maze Runner series. She mentioned that when she ran into a challenge and couldn’t figure a way around it, she noticed it helped if she stepped away from the problem for a day and slept on it. More often then not, when she came back to the same problem the next day, the answer would just suddenly “click.”

“So, I’m a big believer in naps,” she said.

Sometimes the best thing to boost your creativity is to do—wait for it—nothing. Take a short rest instead.

You Are Not Eating Enough Nourishing Food

You know the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out”? Researchers have suggested a correlation between junk food and kids’ lower scores in math, science, and reading.

It logically follows that the same goes for adults. If you’re taking in food that is void of the nutrients that your body needs to work, then (surprise) your body—including your brain—won’t function optimally. Your creativity will suffer as the lack of nutrients makes your body go into survival mode.

So, the solution is to eat better, right? But how?

Everyone has different requirements. You can check with a trusted nutritional counselor, but solutions don’t have to be drastic or huge, depending on your current state of health.

A pretty common sense start can be to cut out a serving of junk food (like a dessert or chips) each day and replace it with a serving of a healthier alternative (like a piece of fruit or some lightly salted nuts). Do it for a week, and if you like how you feel, swap out something else.

Small and manageable victories are better than going all out and risking withdrawal symptoms that would just lead back to problematic habits.

Your Space Is Sucking the Inspiration Out of the Air

Research has suggested that bland architecture can have a negative affect on the health of humans, including increased stress levels.

Is it any wonder why some of the best companies to work for have really interesting office designs? Headquarters like Google’s and Intuit‘s popularly sport unique and inspiring spaces designed for cultivating creative thinking.

Take a look at your space. Is it boring to you? Maybe something as simple as adding an interesting piece of wall art, opening a window, or cleaning out clutter will help make your space more welcoming to creative thought.

You Are Working in a Bubble

I do a lot of writing, so I understand needing quiet (or the white nose at a café or hotel lounge) to concentrate on the physical work of getting the words onto the page. But as I mentioned before, creativity does not turn off. It’s always on, gathering experiences and working out problems in the back of my mind as I go about doing non-writing things.

Last year, I spent five weeks in the UK, France, and Italy. I did a few touristy things, but most days I spent simply walking around and watching people. I snapped a lot of pictures and jotted down some notes of what I thought about the things I saw and how they made me feel.

Everything I absorbed in those five weeks may not materialize into any future projects. But some of it might. One thing that’s for sure is that I wouldn’t have had those experiences at all if I’d stayed locked up in my house with just the Internet as my window to the outer world.

You don’t have to fly across the ocean to get out of a bubble. Even just going for a jog in the park or having coffee with a friend can be enough. If you’re under deadline, then yes, shutting the door and turning off the phone until the task is done is effective. But the inspiration that builds creativity muscles lives out in the wild, and you have to be willing to get off your duff and find it.

You Are Being Too Harsh on Yourself and Your Work

“Art is never finished, only abandoned” is a popular quote of unclear origin (sometimes it’s attributed to Pablo Picasso and sometimes to Leonardo Da Vinci). Regardless of who said it, it’s a good one to remember.

If you do any type of creative work, then you know that your work is never actually finished. You can tweak and edit and redo a piece to death and it will never be exactly perfect.

And that’s okay.

At some point, you’ll either hit a deadline or a dead end, and you will have to let that project go. No, it will never be perfect. Nothing you ever do will be perfect. But if it gets the message across clearly and it does it with flair, then you’ve done your job. Time to turn your creative energy to something new.

Ten Things I Would Tell My Graduating Self

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Graduation season is underway, and a new crop of former college seniors are about to learn that being an adult is a lot harder than it looks.

Just over a decade has passed since I made it out of my university with a newly minted diploma in hand. Since hindsight is 20/20, here are ten things I’d tell my graduating self if I could:

1. “Ditch the ten-year plan.”

You were an ambitious little snot with the best of intentions. But you expended too much energy in working hard, rather than being more strategic by working well. It’s great to have goals and some direction. But just go in understanding that if things don’t work out how you expect, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. It just means the beginning of a new one.

2. “Take a gap year to go abroad.”

I know, you had just graduated with college debt up to your ears. You were anxious about taking any job so that you could start paying those bills. You did what you had to do.

But if it had been possible, I would’ve recommended a gap year abroad. I don’t know if it would’ve made you more hirable, but it definitely would’ve cured some of that wanderlust. Maybe getting a glimpse at how much bigger the world was would’ve helped with some of that anxiety as well.

3. “Have faith in people, but don’t be surprised if they disappoint you.”

People are human, so their capacity for doing stupid things is limitless. Don’t hold it against them. It’s not worth it. There will be times you’ll need to find some grace, too.

4. “Don’t buy the first iPhone.”

5. “Or the first 3-D printer.”

6. “Beware of the entitlement ladder.”

In his book Start. author Jon Acuff warns of the entitlement ladder. It’s a short cut that you think will get you to where you want to go, but it only leads to disappointment. Surer foundations for your career (and life in general) only come with experience and are tempered by time.

7. “Be patient.”

Especially with yourself. Things are not going to work out as planned, and you’re going to make some mistakes. It’s okay. Learn, grow, and roll with it. You’ll have a much better time than beating yourself up over what could have been.

8. “Sleep well.”

Unlike what others may say, losing sleep is not sexy. It’s unhealthy, and your body was not designed to go without restful sleep for long. The deadlines aren’t going anywhere. Get the rest you need, and your work will not suffer for it.

9. “In 2015, Dad will find out he has cancer.”

In 2016, he’ll get the official report that he’s cancer-free.

10. “Go through the fear.”

Acuff called it “awesome.” C.S. Lewis called it “joy.” Whatever it is to you, there’s usually a nasty chunk of fear standing between you and it. Don’t be afraid to go through the fear and get what belongs to you.