If Creativity had a form or a body, she would most likely possess some dear friends and a few surprising foes. She would cuddle up to life’s Dark Space and have lots of lunches with Open Schedule. She’d possibly be besties with the much-overlooked Curiosity. She’d chill into the night playing with Game and Puzzle; she’d slumber party with Laughter and coddle Tears of Sadness. She’d be pretty cool that way. But if her foes approached her, she’d probably fling up her fist like humans do to vampires about to strike. Certain elements aim to suck the life out of Creativity, drain her, and she’d do all she could to keep them at bay.
In movies like “Twilight,” the protagonists know exactly how to stave off the dreaded enemy. It has something to do with the power of the cross held up in the face of the fanged monster. In real life, however, most of us don’t know what to do when these bloodsuckers come at us and deplete us of our Creative juices. We don’t even see them coming most of the time.
These forces of evil come in the form of routine and naysayers.
When it comes to routine, most of us would think Routine is a good friend. He’s stable and consistent and lovingly pats you on the back when it comes to exercise and hard work. But something we may not know about Routine is that he can be possessive and power-hungry. Creativity and Routine have rendezvoused for millennia and when she sees this tendency in him, she packs up and dismisses herself. She knows better than to tango with his mistaken sense of entitlement.
When we team up with Routine, we can be on top of our game, doing life the way we’ve set our intentions. We feel so good that our brain patterns carve out a groove and all is right with the world. We follow a known and expected path of activity, measure our Creative productivity with a smile and then enjoy the rush of dopamine. But every groove starts out as a perfect pathway, much like the wheel had shaped an easier ride for covered wagoneers across the prairie long ago. After too many trips, though, a healthy groove potentially becomes a rut and passengers end up stuck somewhere, wondering where Creativity ran off to. Routine seems to have taken over and left no room for her. He seems to do that with Unpredictability and Imagination, too.
Instead of getting stuck in our relationship with Routine, perhaps we could treat him like a prearranged air B&B guest—welcomed but not permanent. If we make enough changes to our Routine to keep our pathways fresh and less automated, then Creativity still has a chance to join us in our journeys. Maybe Routine is not a bad guy after all; he just needs to be kept in his place.
Metaphors aside, it’s crucial for us to keep the literal, physical pathways open that encourage brain plasticity. Our attentional circuits need variance or they begin to rust. Columbia University’s new study in neurogenesis suggests that we can create new neurons up to age 79. Without challenges, though, our brains get lazy. We can contribute to the making of new cells by breaking routines and employing our five senses whenever possible. Creativity is responsible for these shifts in behavior as well as the resulting new brain cells. By endeavoring novel experiences, (hiking instead of going to the gym, taking a new trajectory on your commute, picking fresh fruit off the tree instead of buying packaged) we can live healthier, longer. Creativity is on our side and she tends to help us do more than paint pictures or sculpt masterpieces or craft a screenplay. She’s pretty cool that way. And as for the next enemy–the naysayers, there are two kinds: Experts and Family Critics. We’ll visit them in the next column. We must pace ourselves as we put these antagonists in their place.