I grew up on a small farm with a Dad who was an engineer. He was scientific and mathematical but didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He seemed to be able to build or fix anything.
My favourite building on the farm was his amazing workshop.
His workshop had two massive workbenches, big steel vices, tools- a- plenty, and odds and ends hanging from hooks everywhere.
When I was old enough to wield a hammer, my Dad would often give me some scrap pieces of wood and say, “Here, build something out of these things.”
Looking at the pile I’d say, “What do you want me to build?
He’d say, “I’m not going to tell you what to build! Be creative!”
He'd let me use whatever tools I wanted. (As long they didn’t need power!)
Mostly, I’d come up with useless things like a small chair perfect for a cat, or a tiny car with square wheels. But there was always something at the end. Often they were taken apart for another project down the road.
I realized as an adult what an important lesson that was for me and what an important lesson that is for everyone.
Because being creative is one of the keys to happiness.
Routines are good for us, right?
You see, we all love our routines, yours truly included.
Routines and systems are necessary for us to be efficient, to get things done, to not waste time. I won’t disagree. A great upside is that routines can help us put things on autopilot and free up our mind to think of other things. That is, if we actually make the effort.
But too much routine isn’t so great either. A routine can start out as comfort but morph into boredom depending on how long you use it.
Too much routine and you lose your resilience to change. (Learn how to be more resilient to change in this post.)
Despite our best efforts, a routine can be like a fog preventing us from seeing any other way to do things.
Consider these examples:
Do the same exercise routine too long and your body gets used to it and no longer responds as well.
How do you feel after 3 nights of the same leftovers or the same packed lunch?
Ask any marriage counselor about what kills a marriage – too much routine. Read more about that here.
Once routine takes hold, it can be so powerful that adding in any creativity seems like a chore.
Did you practice your scales?
If you ever spent time learning a musical instrument, then I'm sure you're familiar with learning scales. There is no way around them. Learning scales develops muscle memory and builds up your technical speed. Those scales and arpeggios are the backbone of every musical piece.
Practicing was never my problem. In my formative years as a musician, I spent countless hours in practice routines.
I had to learn them on four different percussion keyboard instruments. The glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone and the marimba.
My routine was to practice them in a rotation. I would practice scales about 1 hour to 2 hours a day. Here's the thing: when you do this, your mind tends to wander.
Then one day I attended a master class. It was with the Great Jazz Vibraphonist Dave Samuels (then of the Spyro Gyra). You might remember their upbeat hit “Morning Dance”.
In 5 minutes, he changed everything I ever thought about scales. Jazz musicians are all about improvising but also about always being creative. Without getting too technical, he suggested a great way to learn scales and be creative at the same time.
He had me set up a 4 beat cycle and use the notes from the scale to make up melodies as I proceeded through the keys. The notes stayed the same but how I used them changed every single time I played. It was a great challenge and it turned the mundane into the creative.
Make an effort to do something different.
And, in essence, that’s what we need, something to wake us up and shake us up, something to get us thinking a little differently once in while.
Sometimes, we need to take the things we do and flip them around. We need to look at them from a different perspective. Move stuff around. Connect new ideas to the stuff we already know.
Other times, it’s about giving your brain something different to do or, just plain giving it a rest.
Things you can do to add creativity to your life.
You might assume I’m going to prod you to start learning a musical instrument. Well, I would - but I know that’s a hard thing to do as an adult. Personally I think that would be great, and I am happy to help if that’s what you’d like to do. (see below). But for now let’s start with some stuff that’s a little less of a commitment.
1) Take something you do regularly and do it in a slightly different way once in a while.
This is a wonderfully easy way to add creativity to your day. Take a look at all the routine things you do every day / every week and see if there is anything you can do differently. Make simple changes:
Try taking differing routes to work once in a while.
Try shopping at a different grocery store.
Add something new to your lunch.
Believe it or not, even these little things can make a difference.
2) Make something.
You might think you’re never going to be the next great sculptor, painter or musician. But making something for the pure joy of it is very worthwhile. And according to this article, it’s good for your brain and mental health.
How about even just painting your own wrapping paper?
I’m not saying write a book. But writing (as I have learned in the last year or so) does a lot for clarity of thought. You could write a short story or write down some events of your life for your children to read.
It gets your imagination going and who knows where it can lead. If you want to write (and to have it amount to something, it has to become a habit, which is the hardest part), you may enjoy reading Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. He tells many stories from his rather interesting childhood, along with great tips on how to write well.
This one does double duty. A common problem these days for many people is too much stuff in our homes. Why not make find a creative way to organize (or purge) it. The trick is to not take on too much at once so you don’t become overwhelmed. It can be pretty creative to figure out the right way to store or hang things. (My garage is a constant project for me).
5) Do stuff alone.
This is hard if you have a busy family life but if you can, carve out the time. It’s so good for you. Go mull about a bookstore, Go to a movie that maybe only you want to see. Go to a concert. Give yourself a break and time to think, even a long walk in a forest. Apparently this is called "Forest Bathing".
6) Make a creative space in your home.
It’s important to make being creative easy otherwise you won’t do it. You don’t want to spend your time setting up a bunch of stuff when the mood hits you to create. You need to be able to get right at it. For you, this could be a workshop area, a craft table, a place to paint, a music listening room.
7) Take pictures.
Not the mile-a-minute pictures we take every day with our phones, but a picture where you really put some thought into the light, the background, the subject, something you'd be proud to hang on your wall.
8) Make a creativity file.
This is just for you. See something on the internet or in a magazine that peaks your creative interest? Don’t let it disappear – print or cut it out and put it in your creativity file for later. This is a fun file for you. It's a file that you go to or pull out to give you ideas for a project or something to add to your bucket list.
Looking in this file should inspire you and give you ideas about adding creative things to your life. These ideas are not about making money or being more productive. They’re about making you feel better.
I use Evernote for stuff like this.
Make time for this. Here’s where routine can work to your advantage. Set some time aside that is your regular creative time. Schedule it! This is important time for you. It could be daily (best) or weekly (at least). btw - I don’t think monthly is enough for you to reap the benefits.
Don’t worry about quality
The quality doesn’t matter. You don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. The activity itself is what your mind needs.
If you’re into music, I’m happy to help.
I am always happy to help out a budding drummer or anyone who wants to bring more music into their life. One thing studying world music has taught me is that music is not only for the supremely talented. Music is for everyone.
If you need some tips on what to buy, how to get started, how not to annoy your family while playing drums, send me a note.
You need to do this for yourself.
You will feel better. It will help at work if you take the time to give your brain something else to do. Don’t wait! Start planning your creative outlet today.
As always, I welcome your comments. Have you found a creative outlet that helps you? Please share your story here so others can benefit.