It’s that time of year when it’s so tempting to want to run away. There are so many pressures: Christmas, the holidays, family, expectations, clients. As creative spirits, we have dreams and visions for it, but they get so easily overwhelmed.
I want to share an escape that hardly anyone every talks about, but since you’re one of us, I’m going to tell you.
We creatives have a magic, flying carpet waiting for us. It’s our private getaway route to calm, joy and freedom.
It’s called curiosity.
With curiosity we can do anything, be anything. We can ask how it would be to live in the desert, or paint with the most vivid blue imaginable. We can be explorers or adventurers, writers or dancers. We can be curious in our minds, our bodies and in our emotions. We can be curious about ourselves and find things that will terrify and astonish us. We can be curious about other people and discover extraordinary allies and fearful enemies. We can look at the world and find art, inspiration, science, nature, planets, atoms, sound and silence.
And yet we forget. We simply forget that curiosity is as necessary to our well-being as breathing.
Meanwhile, the story around is that we should be full of Pinterest-perfect joy and magic, while in fact we’re full of stress and anxiety.
Under stress, our brains become focused on practical solutions, or on simply trying to run away. But that means we stop thinking in the broad, deep, creative way that allows us to be fully human.
Curiosity is as essential as oxygen for us as creatives. But we forget to breathe. We start to become breathless, desperate, fearful, anxious. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time, or space, or money, or that we’ll come back to it when all this is over.
Here are five ways to use right now to find your flying carpet of curiosity in the middle of whatever crazy period you’re in. Use them to escape from pressure and stress, so that when you come back you’re inspired and invigorated.
1. Rediscover some long-lost magic
Take 2 minutes to sit, and look for a magical memory from Christmas as a child. Whether you didn’t have a happy childhood, or whether it was all wonderful, look for one very specific event or time. Take yourself back to being that child again. What’s going on in it? What can you see? What can you hear, feel or taste? What feelings or sensations does it bring back? Try to make it as vivid as possible. Immerse yourself in the wonder or joy of that moment.
Then ask yourself, what could you do for yourself or others to bring some of that wonder in your life now? It can be something tiny: making time to look at Christmas lights, or buying wrapping paper that brings back that memory. When you feel overwhelmed, take yourself back to that place, and remember the sensation you’ve been able to create.
2. Invite George Clooney to dinner
Think about a situation you’re anxious or stressed about – maybe family dinner at Christmas, or spending time with a particular person. Now you’re going to play ‘what if?’ with it. I want you to imagine the same situation, but make a really big change to what’s happening.
If it’s something at home, imagine it happening in the middle of the desert, a Turkish bazaar, or a New York street.
If one or more people are involved, invite another guest in who you know would totally change the dynamic. How would it be having George Clooney at your dining table, or Amy Schumer joining you to transform the mood with your in-laws?
The point of this is to go totally wild in your imagination. I want you to imagine exactly how it would go – you, your father-in-law and Stephen Fry pulling crackers in the desert? Fantastic! I want you to bring it to life in as much detail as possible in your imagination – and it needs to be fun. Keep at it until you notice your energy around it start to become more positive.
You’ve now got a picture you can keep coming back to. Every time you feel that the situation is beginning to get to you, take yourself away for 30 seconds, breathe deeply, and bring your new picture into your mind. If you can keep doing this, you’ll notice that the power it has to create anxiety will start to decrease.
3. Sprinkle creative dust on daily life
The problem with overwhelm is that we get terribly serious. It makes sense, from our brain’s point of view, since when it’s feeling under threat, the last thing it wants to waste energy on is frivolity.
But frivolity is exactly what we need, at times. And when we creatives put our minds to it, hot damn! We can do this brilliantly.
So today I want you to add a layer of fun to something, for no other reason than you can.
- Challenge everyone around the dinner table or at lunch to a game of quick-fire charades with small chocolate prizes (set a timer for 30 seconds each and just do a round or two if you’re short on time)
- Have an impromptu cake sale with your colleagues (or just bring in cake!)
- Put on the most fun, energising (silly?) music you can find, and dance while you do some regular chores
4. Create something fast and fun
If you’re a professional creative, it’s particularly easy to be overwhelmed by the feeling of deadlines, either for customer work or because of the impending break.
But you know you’ll create faster and with more energy if you step back, so your job is to take not more than 30 minutes and create something fast and fun. Use what you have around you – and if you’re not sure where to start, open the nearest book to you, find a word or a sentence, and just respond to it. Improvise or express whatever you feel like. Even 5 minutes is fine – the point is to do something fun and creative with no agenda at all. For extra points, put it out somewhere – on Twitter or Facebook, and see what happens. Here’s what Guy Rabut, a violin maker in New York, does after a long day of woodwork: little tableaux with his virtual (wooden) team.
5. Find joy and creativity outside yourself
It’s so easy to stop looking around us when our focus is narrow and stressed.
When our brain is stressed, it starts focusing just on solutions. It’s a very practical way of helping us get out of a difficult situation. However, in this time of endless to-do lists, it can easily mean we forget to see the joy and beauty around us.
So do this. Take anything from 5-60 minutes to go and find beauty and give yourself permission to fully enjoy it.
- Head outside with a camera or a notebook to find something to record and be inspired by what you find
- Browse round the Google Art Project, and find and share one piece of art you find wonderful. Here’s something to get you started: Dawn, by Japanese painter Ei-Q.
- Seek out poetry at PoetryFoundation, or for something about the promise of the future, here’s a personal favourite of mine, Everything is Waiting For You by poet David Whyte.
- Find something new at Spotify and immerse yourself in it.
Then, to really transform your stress, come and sign up for 15 days of creative inspiration here. Each morning for 15 days I’ll send you an email with a piece of art, music or writing, and some thoughts and questions to help you be more curious and inspired in this frantic season.