The Benefits of Being More Creative

Samuel Lehane
Feb 17, 2018 · 15 min read
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Hello! Hope you are having a colourful and creative week.

There is a lot of useful information out there on the benefits of expressing and exploring your creative side, so I’m trying to wrap all of that up into something insightful, useful and actionable. Let’s go!

  • First, I’ll breeze through technology usage and why I think it can be a little stifling if used too much, then define creativity and mindfulness.
  • After that, I’ll run through what can happen if you don’t explore your creative side and go into detail on the benefits of being creative.
  • The finale is some simple suggestions on ways you can be creative.
  • Then, you can decide for yourself whether you’d like to express your creative side a little more often. Everyone has a creative side.

Technology — Good / Bad?

I can’t find the source for this, argh!

I’ve said in previous blogs (Digital detox — necessity or luxury), I think the ease of access to technology (AKA smart phones) has a lot of benefits, but also a lot of drawbacks. Many, including me, find it stifling and that it leads to discontentment. Hours can whizz by over the course of a week from checking Facebook or Twitter feeds, YouTube rabbit holes and experiences can be diluted by having to take a mega selfie to share, rather than being in the moment and enjoying it. I recently started to make a conscious effort to detach from technology -> first hour after I wake is now tech-free and I check social media rarely, especially after unfollowing a bunch of people / influencers who I hadn’t actually been in touch with for years or were no longer relevant, so what is the point? So far, so good. I have actually found that time slows, so can get more done (not just work) and ultimately am beginning to feel more content. Wahey.

In my experience, much of the usage of technology also reduces creativity. It may seem fine to ingest tonnes of images, text and emotion from social media posts. But, at the end of the day, it actually means your brain isn’t really creating anything meaningful (that’s a big word I know, but you know what I mean). So, as a general take away, think about ways in which your non-useful use of technology can be reduced (check out the before-mentioned blog for some tips on that too).

What is creativity?

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It’s important to be clear on this, so let’s start with a definition. The Oxford Dictionary defines creativity as…

“The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.”

That’s lovely. When you read that, I think very few people will genuinely think “Nah, don’t want any of that mate”. You see, creativity can be channelled and honed in tonnes of different ways, not just on a canvas or through arts and crafts. It could be through a board game, party planning, articulating a business problem — but it is often through channelling in colourful and creative ways that we get the full benefit from it as the output is a tangible thing. I had the perception for years that being creative involves painting a masterpiece, like Van Gogh, or writing and performing a song. Both of which I felt I couldn’t do, so my creativity was locked in a box, as it were. I’ve grown to realise, like a lot of things, creativity just needs an outlet that works for you. Sure, practicing can make you more confident and comfortable with your creative output, but just doing it is fun if you embrace it. It took Van Gogh many years before he made the paintings he is remembered for. He led a complicated life, but practice and perseverance gave him the ability to create his masterpieces. It’s funny that even now, when I think of creativity, I am drawn to painters and musicians, rather than architects, interior designers, warehouse managers, mechanics, accountants (budgets!) and all the other people who require creativity regularly and may not realise they are creative. Everyone has creativity in them, but many don’t explore, express or appreciate it when they do it, for a variety of reasons, so the benefits may not be felt. Read on and that perspective may change.

It’s also worth noting that creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative, but not creative.

To paraphrase a Picasso quote (back to the painters!) “Creativity [Art] washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Ahhhh

Ok, one more definition and then into the thick of it!

What is mindfulness?

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No, mindfulness, isn’t just for that guy (above). That’s what I used to think too, until I started meditating using the Headspace app and learned a little more about it. Btw, meditation is just one way to achieve a state of mindfulness — there are lots more.

A very crude / raw definition of mindfulness, again from the Oxford dictionary is..

“the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”

Again, what’s not to like about having more of that? To be clear — meditation, yoga, exercise, walking through a forest of trees, being creative are all ways of helping you get into a state of mindfulness.

Good for divergent AND convergent thinking

Now let’s wrap together creativity and mindfulness. Experiments have shown that mindfulness boosts creativity largely by enhancing divergent thinking — a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. But, many of the qualities associated with convergent thinking are also enhanced by mindfulness. Convergent thinking is basically the opposite of divergent thinking. It generally means the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity. For instance, in most tasks in school and on standardized multiple-choice tests for intelligence. Think quiz.

Other benefits of mindfulness

Such things as working memory, clarity of thought and mental fortitude, resilience and courage are all boosted by mindfulness and are important features of convergent thinking. Happiness also increases both convergent and divergent thinking.

Mindfulness enhances happiness and can help dissolve anxiety, stress, depression and feelings of exhaustion. It is through this additional route that mindfulness also boosts creativity. Voila.

Hopefully, the above has piqued your interest to find out a little more about mindfulness and being creative. Here is a link to some more reasons why mindfulness can be good for you, if you’re interested. There is some overlap which we go into below.

The drawbacks of not ‘being creative’

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Some people are more in touch with their creative side — and how to explore it — than others. When we become adults, some people choose to follow creative career paths. However, for the many that don’t, their opportunity to be creative can massively decline as ‘real life’ and ‘adulting’ take over. That isn’t really a good thing. As Professor Brené Brown puts it:

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame. We are creative beings. We are by nature creative.

Worth noting that it won’t be lost forever, hurray, you’ll just need to exercise those creative muscles to get them back motoring. This isn’t a reason to put off not exploring your creative side, as there are too many current benefits that you will miss out on!

The awareness around people not exploring their creative side enough is increasing (some studies suggest over 64% of people felt they weren’t living up to their creative potential). At M.Y.O we used to do a feedback form after every creative session and well over 90% of people stated they wished they were creative more often. There does appear to be a yearning to be more creative. I firmly believe it will very soon be the new normal. Turning from a lower priority ‘want’ into an actual ‘need’ is a big mindset shift which is only going to grow. “Plans this weekend?” “Yeah, going to brunch, then going to chill out and make a present for my Mam’s birthday.” This change is certainly reflected in the many creative outlets that are popping up all over the place in London now (see my previous blog on that here.) Ok, so, it’s fairly clear that if you’re not creative you may be missing out on something and don’t avail of its benefits. But, tonnes of people who say they aren’t or don’t appreciate their own creativity, are clearly perfectly fine. That’s cool, but let’s dig into the…

Benefits of being creative

I’ve tried to lay a bit of a foundation for this bit to have full impact! This list is not exhaustive, btw.

1. Feeling of pride

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“I did that, yeah, me”. I really enjoy this about being creative. It’s really nice spending an hour or more creating something, and then et voila. It’s done, it’s there, something that reflects your inner creativity and personality. An expression of you. For showing off in your house or storing in your secret treasure chest!

2. Being able to create something special for people

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Every once in a while it’s great to create something unique and special for someone, not just buy it off the shelf. Means a lot to both people. The recipient for knowing that someone has spent the time on it, for them. The creator for knowing that they’ve thought about what the person might like and that this will show how much the person means to them.

So the more sciency benefits…

3. Reduced stress, anxiety and mood disturbance

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In The Connection Between Art, Healing, And Public Health — a Review of Current Literature (2010) it is concluded that

“the studies included in our review appear to indicate that creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances.”

Now, there are some limitations noted in the study and it is from quite a while ago, but more recent research indicates the same thing. Hurray!

In the study Everyday Creative Activity as a Path to Flourishing, it concluded that engaging in a creative activity just once a day lead to a more positive state of mind. A creative activity can be simple, don’t worry. You may be doing it regularly already — go you! It could be doodling in a journal, crafting, playing a guitar, redesigning your kitchen. These are things everyone can do. The sentiment is that if you do a creative activity regularly, you will more than likely benefit from a more positive state of mind — which could have positive outcomes on other aspects of your life.

These results surprised the researcher Conner, who didn’t think the findings would be so definitive. Conner said

“Research often yields complex, murky, or weak findings”.“But, these patterns were strong and straightforward: Doing creative things today predicts improvements in well-being tomorrow. Full stop.

*Drops mike and leaves*

Even more interestingly, they stated that “We were actually pleased that personality made no difference in the link between creativity and well-being” she said.

“This suggests that everyone and anyone can benefit from introducing creativity into their daily lives.”

Like most studies, there are limitations. This did rely on participants’ own reports of their experiences. They don’t really know how creative people actually were, at least not by any outward measure. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that even if you think you’ve been creative (which usually comes from something with an output like a song, piece of work etc), you can experience positive emotion and flourish. So, now, embrace whatever ways you are creative in your job or leisure time! The Huffington Post wrote about this study also, here.

Ok, some more science. The title of this study is worth the admission price alone…

Can Creativity Beat Death? A Review and Evidence on the Existential Anxiety Buffering Functions of Creative Achievement. One day, I hope to write something with a title that powerful! The key quote in this one for me is

“current findings support the notion that creative achievement may be an avenue for symbolic immortality, particularly among individuals who value creativity.”

Breaking that down further, it suggests that those individuals who pursue creative endeavours and produce what they perceive to be significant creative contributions (which in my opinion will happen the more you do it) may experience more internal security in the face of death than those who do not. Part of this may be a kind of legacy effect, that energises people to focus on the present and get things done, so that they leave a legacy / life that is remembered — but also provides contentment during the journey. Parallels have been drawn to studies of the contributions of well-known creative people; for example, according to the researchers artists such as Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan and the late Leonard Cohen are believed to be motivated by a goal of leaving an enduring legacy through their output (music). But for those of us who are not in the same league as Dylan or Cohen, the results of this study may suggest another more universally promising upshot of creative engagement. Sociologist Brene Brown captures this universality, noting

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

Or, as I like to believe, to use our creativity and imagination, even in simple ways, is an affirmation of life. Thanks to Cathy Malchiodi for some of the thoughts on this.

[Updated articles / findings]

The BBC also wrote about a study recently, with the welcome title of Even a small amount of creativity can help you cope with modern life, reveals new research by BBC Arts and UCL, see here.

According to research commissioned by BBC Arts, even the briefest time spent on a creative pastime such as painting, pottery or playing the piano has an impact on our wellbeing and emotions.

The research shows there are three main ways we use creativity as coping mechanisms to control our emotions:

A distraction tool — using creativity to avoid stress.

A contemplation tool — using creativity to give us the mind space to reassess problems in our lives and make plans.

A means of self-development to face challenges by building up self-esteem and confidence.

Trying new creative activities is particularly good for our emotions and wellbeing. The research found that getting hands-on with something new and creative is important regardless of skill level — it is the taking part that counts.

The above really felt like a validation of what we’re trying to do at M.Y.O — provide a creative outlet to the world, so everyone can avail of it’s benefits, have fun, make things and relax.

4. Become a better problem solver

I got 99 problems…! Short and sweet here. You can become a little more resourceful and creative with figuring things out, much like you need to be when creating something.

5. Expanded sense of time

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This can happen in other ways like reading, exercising too, but I often experience feeling closer to time after being creative. Time slows a little as your thoughts slow and I feel I can get way more done as it’s easier to stay focused on the task in hand and feel a little more present or find it easier to soak up the experience around me. This can be referred to as being in the flow. It’s lovely. Ever feel like your weeks just absolutely fly by and you don’t know how and what you’ve done?

6. Self awareness and Expression

Dabbling and being creative produces an output, which is basically an expression of you — even if you don’t think it is! Over time and with a little practice, you can feel a lot more able to express yourself as you become more comfortable in yourself and different techniques.

7. Freedom

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Freedom of expression is a well known saying and rings true too. You gain a certain freedom by tackling a new creative outlet, figuring out how to do it and expressing your inner creativity within it. There is no right or wrong. It feels good.

8. Stress relief

I see this every day. People can come to the studio feeling a little anxious or stressed — due to family, work or whatever. Being absorbed in a creative activity can wash these feelings away for a period. Referring back to the Picasso quote above — “Creativity [Art] washes from the soul the dust of everyday life”, this can feel lovely. It may only last a short while, but you can feel great and a little lighter because of it. It’s my favourite thing to hear these days ‘Sam, I feel so relaxed, could stay here for hours, can I live here?’.

9. Save money

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When I saw this mentioned a few times, I was a bit skeptical. People can spend loads of money on their creative outlets — new guitar, craft supplies etc. But when you bundle it up and consider it with the other benefits, it makes sense. A. being able to make your own things can save money in its own right, but B. feeling happier and content can also reduce the urge to splurge on things that might make you feel better — something which marketers prey on. “Buy this and you’ll feel like a million dollars!” Maybe for a little while, but not in the long run. Being less stressed, more present, more self aware, it makes sense that you will be less likely to impulse buy or binge to make yourself feel better.

Ok, so that’s some of the good stuff. Now, how can I BE more creative and avail of these benefits, I hear you ask? Read on…

How to be more creative

1. DON’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT NOW

….apart from this teeny tiny thing. 10 seconds. Make a note in your calendar for in a weeks time to spend the 10 minutes after you wake doing something creative. Also tell someone close to you that you are going to do it. You’ve got stuff to do right now, so I understand why you can’t do anything right now. Don’t you worry! If that goes well put it in for the following week or month. It’s hard starting a new habit, so…

2. Start small.

If you feel you are never creative, that’s cool. Maybe try it once a week or month and make a mental note how you feel after. Try an adult colouring book, doodle, paint by numbers. Do that for a couple of times, then maybe try more often… you may end up doing it daily — but don’t put pressure on yourself to do that from the outset. Small, incremental changes can become habit.

3. Start with someone else.

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I always find a bit of peer pressure, mentioned above, helps. Keeps you in check. Get a buddy who you think would equally benefit from doing this, explain the reasoning and get them on board — they don’t have to do it with you, it’s cool to do it solo, but at the least they can check in to see how it went -> increasing the chances of you doing it.

4. Try different things

Figure out what you enjoy. You could book yourselves onto a creative class with M.Y.O or the likes of great experiential platforms like Funzing, Obby, Empty Chair or Creoate. Our friends at Pop Up Painting also do regular drink and paint classes — yes! Check out my previous blog here for some ideas on that front too.

So, that’s it folks. Hopefully this blog has helped to show you why it’s important to not use your phone so much, given you an understanding of what ‘creativity’ and ‘mindfulness’ are, highlighted some benefits of being creative and given you some ideas on how you can explore your creative side through arts and crafts (there are tonnes of other ways too). This one was a little but rough and ready, but it’s over to you now…

Sam

I’m co-creater (with Diana) of M.Y.O, a creative space for adults, where you can make things, have fun and enjoy the mindfulness benefits of being creative through arts and crafts. Think of it like an art gym for your creative muscles! If you’re interested to find out more about M.Y.O and our journey, be sure to follow me on Linkedin / Medium, subscribe to the M.Y.O newsletter here and like us on Facebook.

With thanks to Mammy (going to have to get her on the pay roll soon with all her help) and Diana M. for reviewing / editing.

Some M.Y.O guests having fun, relaxing and being creative in our Central London studio

Samuel Lehane

Written by

Co-creater M.Y.O — a creative space for adults, social entrepreneur, startup mentor, qualified accountant

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