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Filtering by Category: Perspectives

Lost Creativity & How to Get It Back

Annmarie Rodriguez

desk-ruler-doing work.jpg

By Matthew Perry [Originally published in deliberateLIFE's Magazine, Issue No. 4]

My creativity crisis struck me one night when I was reading a book to my son, a story I remembered almost by heart. Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World is the tale of a barely educated single father, a pheasant poacher in his spare time, who nonetheless rates as “the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had.”

Why? For one, he’s a handy dad on steroids, fashioning toys, building tree houses, and conjuring bedtime stories on a whim. I’ve known similar men and women, who create all day and yet never claim to be artists. Almost all are people you’d be grateful to have in your life. I can only hope my son grows up to be like them.

As I read about this effortlessly innovative dad, I began to feel about as creative as a wet blanket, my life a patchwork of routines meant to maintain the status quo: make money, feed everyone, get to bed on time. I wasn’t working on the novel I set aside when my son was born. I wasn’t learning a language or picking up a new instrument. I was simply getting things done: admirable, perhaps, but the antithesis of creative. That isn’t how I want to be, at least not all of the time, for my own sake and the sake of my kid.

Yet I believed this was how I had to be. Parenting and providing is serious business. My own dad once said he never really learned how to play, and maybe on some level, I felt I had to be the dad I remembered, all business, bringing home the bacon. It didn’t matter that, in reality, my dad is a funny and good-hearted guy. My life, like many of my memories, had become monochromatic.

A neuroscientist might conclude that my brain, locked in the tired patterns of day-to-day life, had become indolent, focused only on the familiar and predictable. To break out of my rut, I had to surprise myself. But first, I got some help from Eric Maisel, PhD, author of The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression  and many other titles that explore the tricky business of creation. Most blocks, he says, can be traced to performance anxiety, brought on either by fear of what others will think or a sense of meaningless (“What’s the point?”). Both, he says, are often a veil for “What if the thing I create is lousy?”

“Human beings look for reasons not to create because it’s hard,” Maisel says. “It’s hard because it invites anxiety in, and we’re conditioned to avoid anxiety.”

In other words, getting my creative mojo back wasn’t about experiencing a sudden burst of genius—fortunately. Living a creative life is more about overcoming the cold feet that come before a commitment.

“I’m not much on inspiration,” Maisel says. “I’m more about showing up.”

 

I was ready to start showing up myself, using a few of his key strategies:

Welcome the anxiety.

It won’t kill you after all. You will still be alive at the end of the day, even if your creation is lousy. In fact, whatever the outcome, you’ll feel more alive for having attempted it.

Create by morning light.

I realized that my free time usually didn’t come until after 9 p.m., when I was tired and hopelessly unproductive. So now I try to write for an hour in the morning, before my son gets up.

What I’ve discovered: That’s when my mind is as uncluttered and as stress-free as it’s ever going to be. “The problem with trying to do creative work at the end of the day,” says Maisel, “is that it’s hard to make the transition. We spend most of our waking hours trying to get things right. But creativity requires a willingness to experiment and get things wrong. That’s hard to do when you’re exhausted.”

Another benefit of starting early: “You make the day feel meaningful right off,” says Maisel. Suddenly, being creative isn’t simply an addendum to your real life; it’s an enhancement. 

Take advantage of discarded time.

Every day, I have a few unclaimed gaps of 15 to 20 minutes, most of which end up dissolving in the glare of my computer screen as I check my email or Facebook again and again.

Now, I close the computer and pick up a notebook. Yes, a notebook. Twenty minutes is more than enough time to scribble out dialogue or a dense page of notes. Even a snippet of work feels like a little victory, and the little ones count, too.

Revise your internal dialogue.

“Often it’s really unfriendly,” Maisel politely understates. “When you convince yourself that you’re useless or a failure, you don’t create anything, and you certainly won’t feel satisfied.”

Forget about accolades.

This is a tall order in a society as competitive as ours. But focusing on getting a book deal or what your spouse or friends might think can create barriers to getting on with it, even for established artists.

Instead, find an inner motivation that isn’t pegged to an audience. I’ve found inspiration by hoping that one day my son will think the stories I write are cool. Damn right, I also want to publish them. But giving him a little window into his family is enough, too. 

 

 

Expectations and Finding Happiness in the Holidays

Fay Johnson

By Fay Johnson | Editor-in-Chief

For the majority of my life, Ive struggled with realistic expectations. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a hopeless romantic and a dreamer. While these can be beneficial traits, they also have serious down-sides. My struggle to set and manage expectations usually comes to a head around the holidays.

When I was a child, I would pour over Victoria Magazine (what a gem that thing was!) looking at all the vintage dresses – dreaming of walking down the street in full length velvet, with a fur muff to keep my hands warm, as I went caroling in the snow. Mind you, I was born in South Africa where we celebrate Christmas in 85 degree weather, usually poolside. My second home, California, didn't offer anything closer to a white Christmas. But it didn't matter – I was an optimistic old-soul of a child, nostalgic for a world that didn't exist. I wanted to climb into the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Painting and be the family seen through the window in the closing scene of It's a Wonderful Life.

The holidays were a time when I wanted the world to be picture perfect – warm, cozy and safe.

If youre like me, and happen to live in the real world, its easy to see how having these types of expectations can lead to disappointment. I was often in tears by the end of Christmas day, because no matter how lovely the day had been, it lacked the magic of an old-world movie. Oh, how this broke my mother's heart. (It was a bit much to expect her to produce snow-clad roofs, prince charming, and a horse-drawn sleigh). Years of wonderful holidays remained in the shadow of what could have been, instead of appreciated for what they were.

As science continues to make advances (and I continue to mature), a lot has been learned about what affects happiness. A study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigated the relationship between happiness and reward, and the neural processes that lead to feelings that are central to our conscious experience, such as happiness.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Robb Rutledge (UCL Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging and the new Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing), said: “We expected to see that recent rewards would affect moment-to-moment happiness but were surprised to find just how important expectations are in determining happiness. In real-world situations, the rewards associated with life decisions such as starting a new job or getting married are often not realized for a long time, and our results suggest expectations related to these decisions, good and bad, have a big effect on happiness."

“Life is full of expectations - it would be difficult to make good decisions without knowing, for example, which restaurant you like better. It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower. We find that there is some truth to this: lower expectations make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness. However, expectations also affect happiness even before we learn the outcome of a decision. If you have plans to meet a friend at your favorite restaurant, those positive expectations may increase your happiness as soon as you make the plan."

The neuroscience of decision making would not have likely changed the dreamy idealism of my youth, but as I consider it now, it reminds me that we have a fair amount of power over how we feel. I can choose to take a realistic view of the holidays, make peace with the fact that there won't be snow or a picture-perfect family, and then set my expectations based on all the good things in my life. I am allowing myself the happiness that comes with being expectant about seeing family and friends. My expectation is that we will share a meal, be present with one another, and enjoy the beauty that is human interaction. Regardless of how Non-Rockwell it ends up being.

Scribbled on my kitchen chalkboard wall is the saying: Gratitude Makes What You Have Enough. This year, I’m taking my own advice, setting my expectations and choosing gratitude amidst the holiday hubbub.