Self-care supports your brain for idea generation
In the last couple of years I’ve made a concerted effort to treat my creative life the same way that I view physical fitness or health. It’s something to be nurtured, exercised, and trained.
Rather than ascribe to the common view that only a lucky few are bestowed with creativity and that it comes easy to them, I firmly believe and am here to tell you that we are all creative. We just need to bring about the conditions to support our creativity.
This means identifying the self-care tools that keep you well and your brain firing. When our bodies experience stress, our brains begin to narrow their focus and turn to the habitual to protect us by reducing the amount of energy needed for thinking, problem-solving, and idea generation. Calmness begets creativity.
Here are three tools in my toolbox that I consistently turn to and that help me optimize my creativity.
I meditate regularly as a way to separate from my thoughts. There are many styles of meditation, but generally meditation is the act of noticing what’s happening within. When we pause to notice, we see that thoughts come and go without any action from us. It’s just the nature of our minds. This understanding gives us some space from identifying with those thoughts so that we can start to be more selective about what we believe, what thoughts we act on, and what we dismiss. It’s easy to see how this ability to filter through the critical thoughts that deaden creativity can be beneficial.
When I’m in the midst of a particular challenge or trying to make headway on a project, I turn to visualization meditations. At these times, I find that watching my thoughts in a silent mindfulness meditation leads me towards rumination. It’s too easy to get pulled in by my swirling brain currents. By guiding myself to visualize something, like pink light filling and protecting my body or water washing over and cleansing me, I am transported. These meditations calm me, hit pause on my problem-solving, and give much needed space for ideas once I return to my day. Plus, they activate my imagination, which is the key to creation.
There are an abundance of these styles of meditation available to try and find some that resonate with you. Some are on YouTube or apps like Insight Timer or Calm. I also have some free options in my self-care community.
The next tool I use is also aimed at stopping my wheels from spinning in an unproductive way. When I get caught in over-thinking and over-consuming media, opinions, or other people’s ideas, I know it’s time to step away. For me, this can be as simple as leaving my device at home and heading outside for a walk in nature.
My goal is to become present to all the life right in front of me. I walk because the rhythm calms me. I leave my phone at home so that I’m not tempted to check just one more email or the map of where I am or take a picture of the tree. Instead, I look at the tree. Really look at it. My senses become more tuned in to the life around me: the faint swish of a snake slinking away from my footsteps; the infinite variations of green in the leaves; the smell of birch wood and pine needles. What happens is that I sense the wonder of it all and I feel gratitude. I feel less pull, less striving to be anywhere other than where I am. The pressure is off.
Sometimes by the end of my walk an idea has emerged. If not, that’s OK. I’ve changed my perspective and feel refreshed to return to my creative work.
Getting my Zs
Thank goodness the trend to glorify a lack of sleep as productive is on the way out. We no longer endeavour to “burn the midnight oil” on the regular. Rarely have I completed my best work with little or no sleep. It’s a non-negotiable for me.
We need sleep to allow our brains time to process and catalogue events and information that it has taken in. Sleep gives our bodies time to restore their energy. I won’t go into all of the technical details, but sleep is a biological survival mechanism. It’s not wasted time, but necessary recovery.
The one thing that has most supported me to ensure I get the sleep I need is having a consistent sleep routine. That means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. I’m not afraid to leave the party early. I’m no fun when I’m tired anyway, so sleep wins!
I must have at least seven hours of sleep each night, preferably eight. And that doesn’t include the relaxation time that I build in before I turn the bedside lamp off. Sleep is the most basic, the foundational practice to my health.
Each of these three self-care practices support my health – mentally, emotionally, physically. If I’m not healthy, then I’m not creating. Period.
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