Posts Tagged ‘Change’

What is Your Ikigai?

cherryblossomsI first came across this term a couple years ago in a TED talk by Dan Buettner on “Blue Zones”—communities (there are 4 in the world) whose elders live with vim and vigor to record setting ages. Okinawa is one of them. Ikigai proved to be one of the core factors contributing to life expectancy. It’s one of those words, often found in other languages, that sum up an idea requiring much explanation in our own. Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s Ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life—Passion, Purpose, and Fulfillment. It could be as simple as caring for a grandchild. It’s what makes us get out of bed each day.  Here in this country seems everyone’s looking for  their Ikigai. People are in search of themselves—their ‘Mojo’—unlike any previous point in history. Where did it go? Those that know their Ikigai don’t miss a beat when asked what it is—who wouldn’t want that feeling?!  Here’s the good news:  Creativity leads us there by tolerating uncertainty, opening to wonder and joy, becoming fully present, letting go, trusting the process, tuning in to intuition, allowing for the new and unexpected and opening to grace. Have you lost your Ikigai? Do you know where to find it?

Tip #4: More Ideas Create Better Ideas

EW_CJ_dollheadThe difference between Einstein and the rest of us is this: when looking for a needle in a haystack most of us would stop when we find one. Einstein would continue to tear the haystack apart until he found every possible needle. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. Both of these creative geniuses knew that the best way to arrive at the one great idea was to have lots of ideas–many of them perhaps mediocre. I remember being blown away by a series of paintings at MOMA several years ago, not by their obvious beauty but from their title and explanation.  The series was entitled the ‘No’ paintings. The explanation was that with each piece, once the artist got to a place where he thought he was done, he would say ‘No’, and keep pushing to make it somehow better. I absorbed this message in a very powerful way; it changed the way I approached my work from then on.

The first idea we have is seldom the best idea, because it’s reproductive (one we, or someone else has already had) and not necessarily the best solution to whatever problem we’re dealing with, whether personal or professional.  It helps to have a spirit of discovery, a willingness to look at things in new ways, and let go of the need for perfection. Coming up with lots of ideas isn’t always easy, but the likelihood of a more elegant solution, and noticeable change will be the result.

 

 

 

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Happy People Embrace Uncertainty

visualsmileThere’s a theory that true creative genius stems from a certain amount of unhappiness. Certainly there is ample evidence in the lives of many tortured artist-souls to support this. Without a doubt some unhappiness fuels the intense self-solving, searching, questioning, and re-interpreting of reality at the root of some of our great art, and certainly some of our greatest art has been produced by those at the extreme end of the spectrum. Two of my favorites, Mark Rothko and Virginia Woolf come to mind.

The link between creativity and happiness doesn’t end there however. With the relatively recent explosion of research into what makes people happy, given that globally it is ranked as the highest personal goal, new studies have shown that happiness boosts creativity, and vice-versa. Creativity as I refer to it here is not necessarily about producing works of art, rather, the ‘art’ of creating our life each day.

In the upcoming August issue of Psychology Today, well-being experts Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener (known as The Indiana Jones of positive psychology), speak to this and turn some conventional thinking on its’ head. In an article entitled ‘What Happy People Do Differently’ the authors state: “Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counter-intuitive habits that seem well, downright unhappy. Curious people generally accept the notion that while being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not an easy path, it is the most direct route to becoming stronger and wiser….it’s worth seeking out an experience that is novel, complicated, uncertain or even upsetting, whether that means speaking in front of an audience, starting a blog, or engaging in a new sport. The happiest people opt for both activities that are comfortable and familiar as well as those that push them to evolve in new ways.”

How can you push your comfort zone? It’s about finding that sweet spot—just the right amount of challenge that you can build on to expand your possibilities.

Tip# 3: Power Your Creative Thinking with a Walk

walking“If you can’t think, walk. If you’re thinking too much, walk. If you are thinking bad thoughts, keep walking.”  —Pierre Helaine, founder of Arche shoes.

One of the biggest impediments to creative productivity is the mental block, or rut—sometimes brief, sometimes prolonged.  A great and easily-accessible-to-all way to jump-start your thinking and shift your mindset is to get out and go for a walk.  At the very least it’s a mood booster, at best it’s a creative strategy. I generally get my best ideas while walking…I build it in to my day as a tool to fuel my thinking. I now use the voice memo feature on my iphone to record these thoughts, lest they disappear (very important!). I used to have a pen and an index card in my pocket. I also have a ‘two-loop’ practice: I use the first half of the walk to de-clutter, breathe and relax my mind, and the second to forward-focus my thinking around what I want to manifest that day.

There is science to support this. Repetitive physical movements involving major muscle groups (such as walking, swimming, biking, playing tennis, etc.) influence our overall state of mind. Some claim different forms of physical activity suit different sorts of problem solving: you’ve got your ‘walking problems’ and you’ve got your ‘golf problems’. In addition to the endorphin, serotonin, and oxygenation (happy-makers) boosting effect of these activities, they plug in to the framework of creative thinking I’ve referred to here: the interplay between right and left brain activities.

Darwin constructed a sand-covered path , known as the sandwalk, at Down House, where he wrote Origin of the Species and Descent of Man. He called it his ‘thinking path’. Mozart asserted his best ideas came while walking, Einstein loved to sail regularly, scribbling notes the whole time. Many therapists, recognizing the link between exercise and shifted mindsets, are holding their sessions while walking with their clients, and business innovator Nilofer Merchant recently delivered a TED talk sharing her penchant for holding all her meetings while walking–to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week!

So the very good news here is that getting away from our cluttered desks, our monkey-minds and being physically active is one of the most productive and creative things we can do.

 

 

 

 

Have you used up your future?

A few years ago, as I was heading into a period of sabbatical, soul searching and reinvention, I found myself feeling very lost and a little unhinged…..and yet a little excited at the same time.  I realized I had left behind so much that had identified and grounded me to that point—my career, home, friends, lifestyle—in order to create some space to explore new directions.  The words ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ resonated daily in my head. The ‘losing yourself’ part isn’t easy; much of it involves dis-identifying with so much comfort and ease….why would we choose that? In need of some guidance I reached out to an advisor of sorts–a spiritual ‘coach’ more or less. As I was grumbling about my career winding down, my empty nest, my dissatisfaction with just about everything in my life at that point—framing it all as some sort of failure on my part, he laughed. He said “Elizabeth, you haven’t failed at anything. That’s the problem…..you succeeded at all of it. You simply used up your future.”

Wow. That simple shift in perspective, that I had fulfilled my vision for my life up until that point and I simply needed a new script to follow…felt so empowering and relieving somehow. By choosing to operate from a place of abundance rather than lack changed my inner dialogue. It’s simply the ebb and flow of life. To choose to bloom again is not always the easiest choice….but it’s far richer and enlivening than staying tight within the bud.

Synergistic Enterprises

As our workspace is being redefined these days it’s very common for many of us to have more than one title—a network of enterprises. More and more we’re having to stretch and expand ourselves to cover more territory professionally; those of us in mid-life who are re-inventing as well as millenials who are cycling through several jobs early on. I see this as a gift–an opportunity to play in a much bigger sandbox. When people ask me what I do, simply responding ‘I’m a photographer’ doesn’t begin to cover it, especially because it doesn’t speak to the distance I’ve traveled and experience I’ve gained since first calling myself that in my twenties. The fact is I have two seemingly completely separate businesses now—photographer/visual asset developer/creative director on the one hand and blogger, coach/consultant/change agent on the other. And yet they feed into and off of one another more seamlessly with each passing day. I’ve stopped trying to make it an either/or proposition. Each path benefits from the nourishing perspective of the other, and both represent my passions, skill sets and life experience. This new paradigm we’re living in, though not without its challenges, does allow for a more holistic approach to our professional lives—no longer either or, rather— both and all. I don’t think I could have gotten away with it ten years ago.

Although a little overwhelming and uncertain at times—with flexibility replacing security and a paycheck—this new model in the workplace is also a gift, an opportunity to grow and engage with people and ideas in multiple ways. It makes room for a fuller expression of our life experience, our creativity—our humanity.

Creativity = Vulnerability

Creating can be scary. Creating involves risk. A true creative act produces something which never existed before. Whether it be a new relationship, a painting, a poem, a freshly baked cake, the launch of a new business or simply a new direction in our lives there is a tremendous amount of vulnerability involved in putting ourselves out into the world in new ways, with no guarantee of acceptance or approval. It is in fact within this uncertainty that the real magic happens. To lean into this calls for a certain sort of wholeheartedness, and a sense that we are enough, regardless of the outcome. If, as I believe we are all artists in the creation of our lives each day, and ART is all just perfectly imperfect….then we must cut ourselves a lot more slack and be willing to fail, miserably if need be. This involves exposure and taking emotional risks. This is the only way to be truly alive. The opposite, staying safely (we think) within our comfort zones, is stagnation and decline.

Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is the root of all emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” If you’re one of the few who haven’t seen her viral TED talks, I highly recommend both of them. She really gets to the heart of the matter.

 

Mind ‘Pops’

You know the experience—when you’re in the shower, perhaps driving, walking, or emerging from sleep in the morning—a great idea pops into your head, or an answer to some problem you’ve been struggling with. This new insight, this Eureka moment, comes seemingly out of nowhere, without effort—it feels like a gift: some sort of grace given to us. Some would therefore discount the validity of the insight. We all have them, all the time, and if you really start paying attention, you will see a pattern; a relationship between  what you are doing when these moments of illumination occur. These ‘pops’ will generally be the best ideas and insights we have about the issues in our lives. Once you really tune in to the framework outlined a couple posts ago you can actually conjure these little helpers. Illustration courtesy of Clive Jacobson.

A Creative Thinking Framework

So it seems there is a formula, a framework for creative thinking. Creativity is different than intelligence. With intelligence, more is better–more thinking, more information, more knowledge. To foster creativity, from the perspective of how the brain works, less is better–less thinking anyway, in the conventional sense. It’s about allowing freer interplay between different areas of the brain to allow more connectivity, more linking in unexpected ways—the source of fresh ideas and innovation.

We’ve been hearing about the ‘Right Brain Thing’ for years now, beginning with  Betty Edwards of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain fame. She came up with the formula illustrated above to describe this interplay. Her version speaks to the interplay between right and left brain functions when it comes to how we get our best ideas, or ‘mind-pops’—our Eureka” moments. More recent neuroscience speaks to a somewhat more complex formula involving down regulation of the frontal lobe (thinking/conscious aspect) known as transient hypofrontality, a term I first heard from neuropsychologist Rex Jung. We’ve all had the experience of the solution to a problem or a really cool insight coming from seemingly ‘out of the blue’. That would be our right brain, our subconscious, intuitive, spontaneous, pattern seeing brain which we can only access by shutting down our ‘thinking’ brain.  The amazing thing is that, once we really understand how and why this works, we can leverage this awareness in the service of heightened creativity. It’s simply about controlling the conversation in our heads, rather than letting it control us. It’s about allowing the interplay to happen. The really good news is all manners of doing so contribute massively to our overall state of well being and make us……happier!

Fresh Eyes

Marcel Proust wrote: “The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.”

It’s a bit like rebooting your computer. What moving to a new place and/or traveling do offer is a different perspective, a shift in our thinking—new possibilities, happiness! Until….we become again habituated to our daily routines and surroundings, losing that refreshed feeling.  What was once new and exciting inevitably fades. This is why some people are addicted to change…and most of us love to travel. Neuroscience supports this. So how can we have ‘fresh eyes’ without a move or travel?

Most of us walk through our days not even paying attention to our surroundings. We are slaves to the chatter in our heads.We can make a conscious decision to see the beauty we miss, daily—faces, geometry, architecture, colors, clothing, kitsch, nature…it’s simply a choice to pay attention, differently. Have you ever thought of how many shades of green there are, or yellow, or white? Pick one color and use your iphone to record as many variations you see over the course of a couple days. See how this wakes you up and enriches the quality of your day…..or choose any visual theme that speaks to you. Try using  your iphone to tune in rather than tune out.

 

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