New Input is the Key to Creativity and Joy

New Input is the Key to Creativity and Joy

Antsy. Down. Stuck in a rut. Whenever I find myself in these places I seem to also lose the knowledge of how to get myself out of them, a sort of blindness to the tools available all around me.  In this state, new input can’t make its way in. Eventually, something snaps me out of it and through the crack in the barrier between me and joy I remember that doing, seeing, and learning new things will bring me to a better state of being.

As I’ve moved through life and gone through this cycle a few times I’ve attempted to leave prompts for myself to find when I end up back in these down cycles again.  Like a squirrel hiding nuts, I put these prompts all over the place, knowing some will go uncovered but hoping others will be stumbled upon when needed.  Post-it notes on the fridge. Scribblings in my calendar. Notes on my phone, a folder of bookmarks to inspirational videos, essays, classes I want to take, and books I want to read.

There are loads of great TED Talks to inspire but my favorite for being reminded of the need to go out and absorb new experiences is probably Stefan Sagmeister’s talk about the 1-year sabbatical he takes every seven years.

Likely, you’re not in a position to take off for a year right now. But here are things they can do, and they work:

  • Take morning walks along a new route.
  • Spend one day on your weekend flipping through new books and magazines at a library.
  • Go to a local film festival and watch films other people recommend that you wouldn’t normally choose yourself.
  • Watch youtube tutorials on how to do something new with tools/equipment/software you already have.
  • Go to a place where people are doing things you wish you could do and talk to them.

If you can go bigger:

  • Plan a weekend excursion, solo or otherwise. If you’re solo and that’s an experience you’re getting used to, just bring books or a notebook to write in. When feeling awkward eating alone at a restaurant or sitting at a park this is a good retreat until you get more comfortable.
  • Use your vacation time.
  • Take a class.
  • Take a tour, even if it’s in your own city or a museum you’ve been to before. You will likely be surprised with new information.

Plan a real sabbatical:

  • If you’ve worked someplace a long time, talk to them about taking extended time off, a leave of absence, or something similar. Offer a creative solution for how you can work remotely or train your sub. I have worked at many places where I was told that an extended vacation wasn’t possible and then successfully negotiated the time off.
  • Give yourself time between jobs. Save some cash, create a plan. When teaching English I was able to give myself 1-3 months off between jobs, applying for the next gig from the road.

I find my hidden prompts around my house and in my devices and they set me on the path to the activities above. It doesn’t take me long to find my footing once I’m on track and the new input enriches and informs me as I go.

I hope one of these ideas sets you on the right track as well if you’ve been in one of those low places lately.

Photo by Chetan Menaria on Unsplash

What’s your hard choice?

Don’t you love TED Talks?  I just watched Ruth Chang’s TED Talk on making difficult decisions.  She really struck a nerve with me when she started to talk about the difference between floating through life, waiting to see what happens or taking the easiest route, rather than taking agency in your life.  When we make a choice, we also choose reasons to go forward with that choice, and maybe find or create more reasons.

I can certainly identify times in the past where I was afraid to choose and merely went with the flow (I think there’s a difference between choosing to go with the flow, because that’s the best next step for you and doing so out of fear). When I compare these times with other instances where I made a choice and then acted on it, driving myself down that new path, I can see the value of taking agency in my life and in my own choices.

This was a timely reminder for me, as i have been agonizing over some hard choices lately, worried about doing the wrong thing.  The points in her talk gave me some perspective and loosened the knot in my stomach.  I can see now that neither choice is inherently better, but one is better for me and I’ve been waiting around (going with the flow) hoping it would just take care of itself.  Time to get in the driver seat!

Even if things didn’t always go smoothly, it doesn’t necessarily reflect that you have made a bad choice, as there is no such thing as a guaranteed-success life path.

Have you floated along, waiting for the choice to be made for you? Can you compare that feeling with a time you made a more conscious, difficult choice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.