This post was sponsored and inspired by Zappos. As always, opinions are my own.
We live in a world of constant stimulation, and at times, we may feel as though we are pressured, more than ever, to be creative.
I don’t mean the: ‘paint for no reason on your front porch because it’s a sunny day’ kind of creative – but an overwhelming pressure to constantly ‘think outside of the box’ and create every single second of the day.
And let me tell you, as a professional, full-time ‘creative’ – it is exhausting.
The truth is, creativity does not come flowing out from an endless source. It is a sought-after, prized and limited resource that is available in limited quantities. I do believe that everyone possesses it, but not everyone has the power to harness it.
It doesn’t matter what job you have, what role you play in a company, or with what medium you choose to express yourself – being creative is necessary to help you break through the clutter, think of new ideas, innovate and create things that could change the world.
We all know its worth, but how do we drown out the noise, get focused and give ourselves room to invite creativity in again?
A few weeks ago, I was asked to partner with Merrell on their ‘I Train So I Can‘ campaign. And everything this campaign was about – was to get outside and explore, in order to prepare you to live your best life. As a full-time creative, I know how hard it is to be ‘creative’ and ‘authentic’ at the same time – especially under a deadline.
So instead of staying inside my room brainstorming on how to be creative about this project and my overall career – I laced up the Merrell Trail Glove shoes I ordered on Zappos.com just the day before (thanks to fast + free shipping plus a 365-day return policy) and decided to get outside my head and out into the city.
My friend Anup and I met up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and headed over to check out a pop-up installation called The Dream Machine. And I’m glad we did because it became the birthplace of the photographs you’ll see in this post.
1. Get outside.
The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration. -Claude Monet
It has always been a struggle for me to figure out how to harness creativity when it was convenient for me and my schedule. But that’s just not how creativity works.
There is nothing harder than trying to be creative when you are told to be creative. And for me, being inside a room in front of my computer just doesn’t help get the creative juices flowing.
I remember when I worked at a PR firm in New York City, our team would sit in a conference room under harsh fluorescent lighting and be asked by our boss to start thinking about creative project ideas. We would throw ideas back and forth, brainstorm innovative ways to pitch those ideas, and it was never quite successful.
Why? Probably because we were stuck in an office – an office that was not creative or inspiring at all.
Your environment can and will influence the way you think. And if it’s not working for you, switch it up.
I’ve found that being outside, whether it’s for a short walk through your favorite park in the city – or for a swim in Mother Ocean – has helped me feel less pressure and allowed me to subsequently be more efficient at being creative.
2. Get moving.
When I compare my present self with who I was four years ago, working in a corporate office – I realize how much physical movement has impacted my self-confidence, my mental strength and my overall career.
I never used to move. I never used to want to move.
I was overwhelmed by all of the tasks that I had, I felt like sh-t 10 hours of the day, I drank way too much coffee thinking it would make me more productive. And I didn’t prioritize physical activity.
When I started making that shift towards living a healthier lifestyle, I started to look at physical exercise as a way of ‘treating myself’ – instead of that concept being attached to eating that cupcake or slice of pizza at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night.
It changed my body, it changed my mind, but more importantly – it changed the way that I worked.
Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, author of “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” wrote in Quartz that in addition to its stress-reducing, mind-focusing, productivity-inducing, and memory-enhancing properties, there may be evidence supporting the idea that exercise could help make us more creative.
Exercise can help people come up with new ideas, according to Suzuki. The exercise-induced brain changes that may be responsible for improving memory might improve the imagination as well.
And she’s not the only one who believes in the connection of physical strength and creating extraordinary work.
Here is an excerpt from a 2004 interview with Murakami in The Paris Review:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit, and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long–six months to a year–requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
Choosing art over health instead of art powered by health will make you less productive, less innovative and kill you faster.
It also makes the process of creative output so much more miserable.
“Exercise isn’t just about physical health and appearance. It also has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, physiology, and neuroplasticity -the ability of the brain to literally rewire itself.” -Dr. John Ratey
For artists, entrepreneurs, and any other creators – exercise is an essential tool in the quest to help transform the uncertainty, fear and anxiety that comes with the journey of creating something powerful from a source of suffering.
So get outside and get sweating. It will only help you become more creative, more productive and stronger in the end.
3. Start embracing the idea of failure.
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. -Scott Adams
If I got stuck on the idea of something going wrong – it gave me enough anxiety to not even pursue it. And this is what happens with so many people. The idea of failure cripples them into trying at all.
How can you expect to do something ‘outside of the box’ and innovative – if you are not willing to accept and embrace the failure that comes with the journey?
When you are too preoccupied with the idea of failing, you play it safe – and that is actually the exact opposite of what you should be doing when trying to do something innovative. The fear of failure will literally kill creativity.
Human beings are the only creatures who are allowed to fail. If an ant fails, it’s dead. -Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I started to change the way that I thought about failing. And that started with embracing the idea of it. I literally stared at my reflection in the mirror and said, “Hey, you’re allowed to fail! It’s not the end of the world, and you’re going to learn so much from it!
Instead of fearing failure and the consequences of doing so (people are going to think I’m stupid, incapable, my parents are going to shame me, I’m going to be embarrassed, I won’t be able to pay my rent anymore, etc.) – I accepted it as part of the process.
I started focusing on lower-risk tasks that I could ‘try out’ or ‘test out’ without too much of the consequences – then held no attachment to any expectation of success.
This way of thinking allowed me to: 1) try/test new ideas without as much anxiety, 2) build self-confidence, and 3. practice healthy risk-taking.
4. Break up your routine.
Having a routine can help you get organized, promote productivity, and help you feel like you’re getting your life and business in order. Yes, sometimes having a routine is absolutely necessary and effective. But sometimes, when you feel like you are getting into a creative rut – breaking up that routine can create the space your brain needs to get inspired again.
Routine kills creative thought. -Scarlett Thomas
This is when I usually go out of my way to do something completely different – like:
Book a flight somewhere new
Take a different route to work/home
Call up a friend I haven’t seen/talked to in a while
Go to an art gallery
Watch a new film/documentary
Try a new class / course
Doing this has forced my mind to adapt to new surroundings and new challenges. I had to figure out new ways of solving problems. It has sparked the desire to search for new ways of expressing myself and approaching projects.
5. Learn to rest.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. -Brené Brown
When you are going a million miles per minute – your thoughts are racing – your to-do list is overflowing and you have no idea how you’re going to get through this week – it is going to be impossible to think creatively.
You must give yourself time to rest. You must create space for creativity to breathe and grow.
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. -Hilary Mantel
You can’t force creativity, but you can allow to come around when it’s ready. It’s got a mind of its own, and it won’t come if you try to force it. And maybe that’s the beauty of it all – learning how to let go and let the universe work the way it was always supposed to.
Big thank you to my friend Anup for exploring The Dream Room with me, getting me out of my comfort zone and capturing the experience with me.
Thank you to Merrell for creating these super-comfortable, purpose-driven, versatile and durable trail-running shoes that are lightweight enough for me to take around the world.
You can pick up a pair here. Also for sparking my creativity with the colors (they inspired me to go to The Dream Room in the first place). 🙂
Thank you to Zappos for shipping these to me so quickly (and for free may I add), for your reliable customer service and for never making me have to worry about paying for returns.
I hope this post inspires you to keep going. I hope it reminds you that just because you manage to hit a creative block – doesn’t mean that creative days aren’t coming. In my experience, your best days will come from your driest. There is always something better around the corner.
So I’ll sign off with this last quote:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it.It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to“. -Jim Jarmusch