Do you feel like your creativity has taken a nosedive in the last year? Are you struggling to focus or getting ‘brain fog?’ Do you struggle to find inspiration or motivation?
I was thinking about this. If you’ve nodded to the above, it’s no wonder really. And don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Here’s why.
For the majority of people, we’re in the flow with our creative thinking when we’re relaxed. For example, I’ve asked 1,000s of people to tell me where they do their best creative thinking. They answer that it’s when they’re relaxed and not thinking about work, when they’re walking the dog, running, driving or in the shower. Whilst a deadline might help some people focus, the majority of people think more creatively when stress and anxiety are low and when they’re doing something non work related.
Now lets think about our stress and anxiety levels over the last year. Broadly speaking would it be fair to say that they have been heightened these last few pandemic months?
Many of us are feeling isolated, and at the same time finding it difficult to disconnect work time from home time. Many employees and managers are fighting feelings of presenteeism as they adjust to flexible working. Working flexibly doesn’t mean being available from 9-5 yet many people feel they should be at their desk and available that whole time which can cause a huge amount of stress.
In addition to this, human beings crave certainty. It’s a basic survival instinct. When we don’t feel safe (like when we’re under stress) it triggers a threat response and our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and we get ready to fight, flight or freeze. Our blood thickens and moves away from our prefrontal cortex (where we do our thinking which explains brain fog) to our vital organs. This was helpful when survival looked like running away from or fighting a wild animal, but less helpful in today’s working environment. It’s also exhausting.
It’s no wonder that our creativity is impacted by living in a higher than ‘normal’ state of stress and anxiety.
Where do good ideas come from?
According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore, to be creative, we must expand our portfolio of knowledge so we have more old ideas that we can put together when needed.
In order to have concepts to bring together we need a portfolio of resource, we need experiences, we need inspiration. Over the last year of lockdown and social distancing we’ve become increasingly more isolated more insular and as a result lacking new experiences and inspiration.
Consider the difference between working from home and working from an office. At home we get up we’re in the same space and we’ve got the same things around us. We might doom scroll social media or watch TV or look at the news but the amount of new stimulus for our thinking is massively reduced than if we were leaving the building on a regular basis.
Remember back to the days of commuting. You leave your home and walk down the street, consciously and subconsciously you are taking in information. You notice a new shop window display, read the headlines on the newspaper stand, notice somebody in a colourful hat that reminds you of the time you played ‘Guess Who?’. Your brain is gathering material to turn into connections for creativity.
It’s not just what you see either, you’re experiencing sensory overload, different smells, sounds and textures. Even by the time you arrive at work the amount of stimulus that you’ve opened your brain to is way more than perhaps the stimulus that some of us have had in the last year of working at home. If ideas are connections put together in different ways and the premise is that we need to have a portfolio of ideas and connections to go to for our creative thinking the pandemic has significantly inhibited our creative thinking portfolio.
How to give your creativity a boost
If stress and lack of variety are having an impact on your creativity then test out my tips below.
- Pay more attention to and be more deliberate about lowering your stress levels. Look after yourself, eat healthily, get exercise and take regular breaks. When you are stressed or anxious it’s very difficult to think creatively.
- Start to notice. For example, go for a walk and focus on noticing. I’m a big fan of the fake commute so when you’re going for your walk round the block notice your surroundings. Look for details. Are there plants growing out of cracks in the pavement, what is distinctive about the buildings you pass, or the cars that are parked on the street?
- Decide to be curious. Play and experiment. Take the course that interests you, learn the instrument you’ve always wanted to play, read the book you never have time for. Can you ask more questions and set yourself a challenge to learn one new thing every day?
- Talk to other people. Replace the water cooler chat where ideas are exchanged that’s missing when we work from home. Allocate time at the beginning and end of phone calls or Zoom chats for those random conversations about anything. (That’s one of the reasons we organise random connections over at the Lucidity Network)
If you feel your creativity has taken a nosedive then come and join me on Wednesday 3 November for a free training webinar on creativity with confidence and get your creative mojo back. Here’s your link to sign up.