Creativity is not just for those artsy folks: How we use creativity in therapy and in life

I find often in conversations with people, I don’t have much to say. If there is a space for words, I come back blank. I think this is partially ADHD and partially introvert, but I often just stare without blinking, because the words, while going 12432 miles an hour in my brain are kind of just stuck in the purgatory before they come out of my mouth. I get this same sort of feeling sometimes when I am in my own therapy sessions. Or when I am trying to solve a problem at work or home. I just stare blankly, sometimes the ideas are there and out of focus. Sometimes there is nothing, just blank space. Sometimes, I just feel uninspired and flat.  Humans can feel stuck at times. We adapt this learned helplessness sort of mentality, and we just stay stagnant.

What I noticed, in my therapy or when I need to create something, if you give me a topic, the wheels start turning. I can go on a deep dive of information that connects a bunch of dots that I have observed and consumed. When I am feeling particularly stuck, I lean on some resources. I work with a good team of folks that help me spitball ideas and really help bring them into focus.

So, today, when I am planning content for my social media and blog posts, I am staring blankly at my marketing team, slow blinking. I turn to a calendar that has some ideas.  World origami day is November 11 and so the loose theme of the week is "art and therapy".  In what way is art a coping mechanism and how can we use creativity as an outlet? Now the ideas are flowing.

What is creativity?

Creativity is about making connections to things or ideas in new and different ways. We think of people that are creative as folks who just have these ideas that others don’t think of. They make something beautiful and inspiring out of what was seemingly nothing or blank space.  An artist takes materials and molds it into a product by connecting the paint to canvas with a brush. A writer takes words and ideas and puts them together in such a way that the audience consumes it and becomes engaged. We can zoom out to almost every profession or skill. An accountant can look at numbers in such a way that it can become a dependable plan. Think of the person who created the software or system for Turbo Tax. They have such a deep understanding of numbers and how they relate to the tax code, then they presented it to humans who are not accountants and voila!  Regular everyday people are just filing tax returns like it’s easy.

When we approach a problem with creativity we think outside the box and look for solutions that are not so obvious.  We look to connect things in a way that may not seem obvious but when we put them together it makes sense.

As I am going through and thinking about what sort of content to cover this week a whole Rolodex of topics come to mind. I think about Soul Collage, The Persistence of Memory, Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. All these things I have experienced in my life, and I am connecting them with the here and now to create a solution to a problem. Admittedly, I went down a rabbit hole thinking about the Persistence of Memory and time blindness which, I will save for another post. What I settled on was a concept that I got from a book I just finished listening to called Hyperfocus. It talks about entering a zone of productivity so that you can stop feeling so overwhelmed and feel like you are gaining some traction in your life, personally or professionally. So, using these ideas that are fresh in my brain and connecting it with what I know or have experienced in the past I come up with some topics for this week’s content.

How is creativity related to mental health?

Creativity is a way to encourage neuroplasticity in your brain. Neuroplasticity is essentially contradicting the saying, “you can’t teach on old dog new tricks”. Our brain is constantly making new connections and if we can lean into that we have a chance to see some real change in our lives. We are not doomed to repeat the same pattern that makes us so anxious and depressed.

If you want to learn more about neuroplasticity and see if we might be a good fit, schedule a consult here.

Using creativity as therapy and self-care.

If we think of mental health through the lens of creativity. We are making connections with how our brains and bodies feel when they interact with the environment (past, present, or future). Therapy sessions are used to talk about events from the past that are spilling into the present and/or make us apprehensive about the future. I have had countless times in my own work and in working with patients where the connections are just like lightbulbs. There is that AHA! moment when you realize how all this stuff is related.

When we use our creativity outside of the therapy sessions, we can apply what we learned in new ways. On top of the that, if we start spending time and energy on things that spark joy in our lives, we create new connections and new opportunities to solve problems in different ways.

So, how do we strengthen our creativity muscle and increase neuroplasticity when we don’t have one creative bone in our body?  The first thing I tell my patients, and this was also told to me, is try using your non-dominant hand to do some daily tasks like brushing your teeth or writing. Try taking a different route to work, go the long way. You could even do something as simple as sitting in a different chair while watching TV or eating dinner. The more we shake up our brain and take it out of auto pilot the better.

Be intentional with how you use your time.

When we are bored, we tend to reach for our phones almost instantaneously. Think of this, if you are in line at the store, what are you doing?  If you are having coffee with a friend and they go use the bathroom, what do you do? What about when the commercial interrupts your Hulu binge watching? We almost always reach for something quick and easy to engage our brain. It’s a default mode that is ingrained in us.

The next time you go to the store, try leaving your phone in the car, or at least leave it in your pocket while you are in the check-out line. Play peek a boo with the toddler in the grocery cart behind you. Look at the magazine that has an interesting recipe you might try. Have a conversation with the person checking out your groceries.

When we are intentional with our time and energy, we can gain some of that power back, especially when we feel like we are in a situation that feels powerless or hopeless.

If you want to talk more about guarding your unicorn time, schedule a consult here.

Ingest quality content.

Think about the type of content that you are ingesting. When you pick up your phone and look at it while waiting in line at the grocery store, what are you looking at?  Are you scrolling through social media?  Are you clearing out junk emails? What do you do when you are interrupted at work?  Are you browsing the internet for random things on Amazon or reading about the latest celebrity gossip. 

As you review the type of content you are consuming think about the category that it falls into. Is it useful, useful/entertainment, entertainment, or trash?

Useful content might be articles or courses that you do for work. It might be the exam or certification you are studying for. It might be tax documents or emails. This information is actionable, you rely on it, and it might be required. But often it is not entertaining.

Balanced content is both useful and entertaining. It is information that is delivered to us in a way that is easier to digest. This could be books or audiobooks, podcasts, or TED talks (see below for the top 5 plus the one that resonates so much with me). This information is still actionable, we can see how we incorporate it into our lives. We feel inspired by it, and it is just attractive enough that we can listen to it in its entirety.

We have entertaining content which is the TV shows we watch or the fiction novels. And then, we have the trash. That is the content that we consume that is just useless. It can even make us feel depleted and more powerless.

The irony here is that our default mode is to reach for the entertainment and the trash. The trash content is the empty calories of the content world. It might make us feel good in the moment, but we are typically in some sort of gastrointestinal distress a little while later.  

In reading Hyperfocus, the author discusses techniques to eliminate distractions and curate your content. When you do consume entertainment type content, do so with intention. When you decide to binge watch Tiger King, decide on how many episodes you want to watch. Do it at a time when you are feeling tired or want to give your brain a break. If you have intention with your rest and down time you can enjoy it and reap the benefits. If you leave your rest time feeling guilty then it defeats the purpose of rest.

In Summary

Creativity is not always about being artistic. Creative people may not be good artists. Creative people make connections. They draw on what they have experienced and make connections in ways that are new and different. We can use creativity in our therapy sessions and then use creativity to apply what we learned in our lives. When we combine creativity and intelligence, we can feel more productive and inspired.

If you are interested in having some AHA! moments schedule a consult here.

Here is a list of the top five TED Talks, plus one that is near and dear to my heart.

Do schools kill creativity? Sir Ken Robinson

Your body language may shape who you are Amy Cuddy

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator Tim Urban

How great leaders inspire action Simon Sinek

The power of vulnerability Brené Brown

Why You’re Wrong About ADHD Martha Barnard-Rae