In my somewhat non-existent spare time between working, mothering, and spending time with my partner, I occasionally like to paint. I’m by no means a professional, but I’ve sold a few works. It’s hugely satisfying for me creatively and when the mood strikes – I get deep in it. I mean, sit down and not stand up for 8 hours kind of deep. If I had to guess, it’d be somewhere around hour 4 that my landscape starts to look like mush and instead of stopping, I lean in. At hour 8, I have zero perspective over my work and genuinely think it looks like my 19 month old stole my brush.
Anyone who has created anything original: a song; a strategy; a sculpture; a business; will know exactly what I’m talking about. The desire to focus on achieving the best creative result, but then having no idea if you’ve landed it when you’re in the thick of it. Neuroscientists believe it’s the continuous remixing of mental representations that generate creative thinking. And these medical professionals will also likely tell you that by excessively focusing when you’re being creative exhausts the focus circuits in your brain leading to more impulsive, poorly thought out decisions.
You might be relieved to know that there are several psychological terms to describe your creative black spot (exhales no, it’s not ‘just you’). When you read and re-read the same word again and again and it feels like it starts to lose its meaning? Linguists call that “semantic satiation”. Or, when you’re staring at something you’re deeply familiar with and, for a moment, it becomes unrecognisable? Psychologists call that “jamais vu”.
While many of us try and hack our bodies with caffeine, sugar, or drugs, to push through to those greener mental pastures and be able to look at our creative work with a fresh perspective, that’s not good for us. I had a chat with The University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute Associate Professor Hayley Christian who shares six practical tips for you to get to the creative equivalent of a palette cleanser when you need it. These can range from looking for an outside perspective to actually looking after yourself.
1/ Ask someone unexpected
Don’t share your work with a colleague or your mum, share it with someone you respect who will ask you unexpected questions. Christian suggests “hand it to someone else totally outside of your field to have a look. You’ll miss things because you’re looking so much at the details and so many times you miss some really simple things about what you’re trying to communicate.”
2/ Put your runners on
Yes, you need to step away and stretch your legs. A walk, a run, anything that gets your blood pumping. “No matter what else is going on in your life everything else strips away, and a whole lot of biological things are happening physically as well as mentally. Exercise allows the body to focus” says Christian.
3/ Change it up
We all have diurnal rhythms, the biological rhythm synchronised to day and night, and we can get into a rut with our routines. “What if you took your creative work and did it in a different space? Change not just the physical environment, but the people you’re around?” asks Christian. In many ways this is what Emergence Creative Festival does, so it sounds like a great idea to me!
4/ Find blue and green space
Ever heard of the biophilia hypothesis? It suggests that as humans we have an innate need to have contact with nature, and Christian reinforces that, “one of the biggest things for physical and mental health is exposure to green and blue space. Find a way to expose yourself to nature, a forest, a beach – listen to the sounds around you. It removes the clutter.”
5/ Pat a dog, a cat, a horse or any animal
“It relaxes the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure and then people feel more comfortable and confident in their work.” We all get frustrated when we aren’t making progress or getting to where we want to go. “Animals just give you love, and they don’t talk back” laughs Christian, and sometimes it allows us to reset and have that fresh perspective.
6/ Embrace unstructured play
Kids do it well, adults not so much. And research suggests that play is so important for learning, health and wellbeing. “Sometimes the complexity of what you’re trying to solve in your creative project just needs you to step away and do something simple, playful.” Christian has observed that we can over-structure our lives (and those of children), and we’ve forgotten how to play. “Playing and being creative in a different way, or with others that’s not related to what they’re trying to achieve, can be a real opportunity for some people to tap into a different mental space.”
Of course, the easiest way for you to get this all in one hit is to come to Emergence Creative Festival. And I’m not just saying that because it’s my job. This festival literally gives you the space, context, conversations, and insights to water that part of your brain and body that needs a big, creative drink. Plus, what better way can you think of to own 2021 and get a head start on your Easter long weekend?
By Christina Erskine