“Look at that beautiful woman,” I said to my friend Brittany, as I nodded toward the elderly yet vibrant server gliding from table to table at the Greek restaurant we were patronizing on day three of our adventure in Greece. The spirited lady danced from table to table, bringing colourful plates to new diners or collecting the used dishes from satisfied patrons. I couldn’t take my eyes off her sturdy hands. She looked as old as my grandmother, yet had the hands of someone half her age.
“Ready for dessert, yes?” she asked, as she floated back toward our table. “And are you young ladies going dancing later? There is a spot just down the street to go.” Both were more directives than questions, as if suggesting that both dessert and dancing were mandatory on the island. I looked at Brittany and then back at the woman, her warm brown eyes hinting at the excitement that awaited me and my friend. However, the sun-filled day had exhausted these two tourists, so we politely suggested neither was in the works.
“What a shame,” she responded. “I will be going dancing after my shift is over. Maybe I will see you. If not, will I see you for breakfast tomorrow?” My eyes widened at the thought of this older woman dancing into the late night and then rising early to serve breakfast the next morning—and wondering where she got the energy to do both. “Do you work breakfast to dinner every day?” I asked. She just smiled, collected our used plates and continued her dance around the restaurant.
This amazing woman I met four years ago, with the joie de vivre in her step, pops into my mind whenever I pick up the pace in life and forget to hit the pause button. She appears to me with her effortless energy in having succumbed to what I like to call “working with stillness.” She lives in my mind as a fiercely hard worker, but one that takes the time to—as we like to say—stop and smell the roses. When my deadlines come up for writing, business or any other creative endeavours, it’s easy to forget the need to stop and smell those roses. I carry my deadlines with me like a trophy: proudly, but noticing the heaviness setting in when holding onto it for too long.
We all have a habit of carrying around our loads every single day. We load ourselves up with extra hours at work, missed lunches and booking our time back-to-back, thinking that if we work harder, longer, faster, that “more” will come out of it. But a test done out of Bar-Ilan University in Israel says otherwise. The test showed that those trying to participate in a creative word association, while simultaneously carrying the mental load of an eight-digit pairing, responded with a common answer, diminishing their originality. Those carrying only two digits gave varied pairings and had the most creative responses. If you don’t leave space in your mind for creative thoughts, how do you expect to grow?
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University, mentions the benefits of following in the footsteps of some of history’s greatest thinkers. They found their best thoughts or ideas while going for walks or playing cards with friends. This ability to pause, to reflect, relax and let the mind wander, he says, is the true sign of time mastery. In other words, the more time you let your mind wander during a break, the less stressed and more receptive your brain will be to creative thinking. Your brain is like an elastic: if stretched out too far, it can snap or be mauled to the point of no return to original form. If allowed the rest, your brain will maintain firm elasticity.
The happiness that radiates when giving your brain this rest is attached to a positive reaction of safety, says Dr. Alice Boyes, a psychologist turned writer. Her study links creativity to specific emotions: feeling upbeat, serene or uneasy. She notes that feeling elated is associated with an increase in creativity, and that contrary to popular belief, sadness doesn’t actually deplete creativity. However, feelings of anxiousness, fearfulness or tension are associated with decreased creativity, which can derive from workplace stress, having too much on our plates or even avoidance tactics (sprung on by taking too much on at once).
Finding the right positive signal to the brain that releases the craving for novelty or exploration is exactly what’s going to get those creative juices flowing. Her book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit: Simple Strategies to Get Out of Your Own Way and Enjoy Life, explores well-researched strategies on how to increase these moments of fulfillment, such as:
1. Developing closer relationships
2. Spending time in nature
3. Reducing avoidance
4. Expressing gratitude
5. Mindfulness meditation
Running, dancing or finding time with friends are just a few ways to step away from a task and to get your creativity boost. Travelling to a new place is what set in motion my own creative inspiration and is my constant reminder to stop and smell the roses. But you don’t need to wait for a vacation to find inspiration; you can begin by diversifying your everyday experiences and giving yourself that daily rest. This is enough to ease a “creatively blocked” mind.
Let go of whatever load you’re carrying and let in the creativity that is locked inside somewhere—maybe you’ve just been too busy to notice it hiding in there. What do you think would happen if you broke through the busyness, let it all go and let your mind wander into spaces reserved for creativity?