There are no secrets or formulas or one size that fits all when it comes to success. It’s all known, although for some not yet discovered. Here are 8 knowns (researched and evidence based) to living the creative life, successfully.
1. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. We are habitual, comfort seeking creatures. Unawares, we may lose a myriad of opportunities in our reach because we keep taking the same route home. For too many, remaining in a toxic environment feels easier than to break free because such risk-taking creates anxiety and discomfort. Ask yourself: Are your habits living your life? Is fear or anxiety preventing you from taking risks? Try this simple step: on a daily basis do one edgy thing. Break a simple habit – take a different route to work, sit at the big table for lunch, order something different off the menu.
“They would rather be dependent in a hostile environment and combat it every day than manage their own lives. In this way they avoid having to confront their own anxieties and discomfort about activating and asserting their real selves.”
-James F. Materson, The Search for the Real Self
2. Get Off the Fence (Stop putting your life on hold). Since creativity relies on one’s efforts, you could say everything responds to this effort. In psychological terms the false self has many reasons for putting your life on hold—it’s averse to risk, the unknown, exposure, and the intimacy of the creative life. It seeks to keep you safe in the routine of your life. We put our lives on hold because we have to lose weight first, or get into the right relationship, or have enough time or money to create our masterpiece, or find the perfect land or home that will sustain our creative life. You get this, don’t you? Clutter is often a manifestation of this agreement to put our creative life on hold. As the piles of paper, waste, and “stuff ” accumulate, it gives us more and more things we have to get to before we can get to our lives. Then, the door closes and it is too late. How much of your life is held hostage by a maybe? Maybe I will get to that, maybe I like that, maybe I can do that. “I will think about that” is a maybe too. Maybe later. I consider most of our maybes as another way of saying I don’t know, and another way of putting life on hold.
Of course, at times saying maybe and sitting on the fence is the exact nonaction we need to take. But studies show for example that sitting on the fence too long in a relationship (beyond six months) causes more distress and confusion. Better to just decide and live with the decision of no or yes. How many times have you heard others say, “I just feel so much better having made the decision”? Lingering too long in the maybe realm is detrimental to our creativity. Think of it as a foundational aspect to your creative life: how can you build from a maybe? When we remain in a maybe for a prolonged stint of time, we become uninspired. Our clutter often represents maybes. Our maybes at their best are our future possibilities. But they remain only that—a thought of a possibility—and result in a sort of sleepwalking. An enduring lack of inspiration can lead to giving up, addiction, depression, hopelessness, and helplessness. It can also create a dependency on outside circumstances to make change, mentioned in the research on happiness and the focusing illusion. (See more on focusing illusion at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring
3. Live the Big & Small Yeses. Every success I have experienced has been taken in a big leap of commitment first, followed by a series of close-in steps. Say yes to your big plan, the big idea, then, take the next step, and keep saying yes and then taking the next step close in. Don’t get caught up in what you say no to; your energy and attention go to where you turn your gaze, to your yeses, and to taking the next step close in. Progress and inspiration are guaranteed as you focus on the next step of your creative idea and plan. Each one of my ten books was created line by line.
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
-Wallace Stevens, from “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard”
4. Be the Meaning Maker. Instead of searching for meaning, or relying on outside circumstances to make meaning for you––make meaning for yourself. Open up to the possibilities inherent in each idea and circumstances through the spaciousness of your imagination. This means to further develop your ability to see and reach beyond the habitual self and notice more. Here is a bit of wisdom from Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass:
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a
long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use in trying,” she said. “One can’t believe
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I
was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes
I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
5. Rely on a Mentor or Teacher. We all need that ideal offered in an example of someone who is succeeding at what we are trying to achieve for ourself. A qualified teacher is someone who exemplifies a way of life for you. Find at least one teacher who is both exemplary and accessible. You will find that great teachers are also great students and rely too on others for guidance.
6. Spend time in Nature each day. Nature can remind you how to just be, relax, to be part of something without having to do anything. A bird isn’t always flying. We can’t always be creating. Nature shows us how valuable down time is: winter is an important time where all the energy goes into the dark and underground. Nature allows for us to restore and revitalize mind, body, and soul.
7. Carry A Field Notebook. I recommend people get in the habit of carrying a field notebook. A small pocket notebook. I label some of mine with a theme (I have one for my novel, one for general notes, and one for my blogs). I then transfer what I have jotted down to my larger journals or to my files on my computer. There are ideas, solutions, prompts, and wisdom everywhere. Like a birder who carries their notebook out to record the sights and sounds found in the woods––be prepared to be inspired.
8. Live Your Life In the Open. This for me means two things – Much like artists paint and then display their art for art lovers, the creative process—whether written or painted or composed or sculpted—presupposes an audience for its outcome. In my case, as a writer, my words are in the end created for my readers. You. Create for someone, and then share it. This also means to live with an open posture and live in an undefended manner. When we get into protecting ourselves, we make enemies by our need to keep some people out and let others in. We make them wrong and ourselves right. Our focus is “out there,” rather than on challenging our internal assumptions and mindsets.
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Throughout my whole life, during every minute of it, the world
has been gradually lightening up and blazing before my eyes
until it has come to surround me, entirely lit up from within.
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin