Does stress fuel creativity, or kill it? The answer, unsurprisingly, is both. Focused creativity is the kind of creativity needed to finish the report/presentation/paper/brief before the looming deadline. Stress can actually help foster this kind of creativity. We’ve all experienced that rush of inspiration at just the right (last!) moment. A bit of pressure can keep us at the desk, revising and re-working until we find the spark needed to set the project racing toward the finish.
The other kind of creativity, unfocused creativity, the kind that leads to great insights and new ideas flourishes most when stress is minimized. Again, we’ve all experienced the flash of insight that seems to come from nowhere – the design solution or the product tweak that magically appears while we are walking the dog or washing the dishes.
I’ve experienced both kinds of creativity in the past week. Writing this, for example is definitely a product of focused creativity! “Write the blog” was on the calendar on Tuesday and Wednesday. Nothing happened. I reviewed some articles, sat at the computer, doodled in the notebook…. You know, you’ve been there, too! Nothing. So, I just left it alone. I knew the deadline for posting and assumed something would work out.
I told myself, however, that I couldn’t reward my lack of focus by just wandering off or reading a book. So, I washed the dishes, cleaned up the office, organized the “important papers” file. Then I sat and looked out the window for a while, watered the flowers, thought about the things on the “to do” list, and went down the rabbit hole of daydreaming.
Wouldn’t it be nice to say that was the moment inspiration struck? It wasn’t. But that time daydreaming was the break I needed to release the stress that was keeping the big ideas hidden. When I was a young associate attorney in a busy litigation firm I learned that time spent “just thinking about things” had to be turned into something else to become a billable hour. No client wanted to pay for me to just think about things.
Everything needed to be called something that was readily understood as productive work. In reality, those times spent “just thinking about things” often led to the insights and ideas that became winning motions and new avenues to investigate.
We all know the story about Newton “discovering” gravity when an apple fell on his head. And we can thank Archimedes for giving us a name for those flashes of insight we now call “Eureka moments.” Ever thought about how Post-it notes were developed? The inspiration came while a scientist was daydreaming during a church sermon.
There are so many challenges facing each of us and the world right now. Illness, racial injustice, economic worries, political rubbish, just to name a few. Throw in balancing work and parenting, caring for loved ones, and trying to find a new normal, and it feels overwhelming. These are stressful times. With so much to think about and a sense that we should be doing something, it can feel self-indulgent to spend our time daydreaming. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I feel ashamed and apologetic if I’m “caught” daydreaming or doing something that can’t be easily defined as “productive.”
But why should we feel that way about the minutes or hours we spend letting go of the stress? These moments hold the key to transformative inventions, great books and music, and our own health and well-being. When we let go of the stress of the to-do list, the nagging sense of imperfections and failures that haunt us and let ourselves just be, we make space for the answers we have been seeking.
Don’t apologize for the time you spend in the bath, or the extra long shower, or the time you spend gazing out the window, playing with the new mascara, or baking bread. You are not, in fact, too old to color pictures or play in the sand. Creating one thing can often lead to insights about creating a completely different thing. (Read the story about Post-it notes!) Give yourself the time and space to let your creative ideas float to the top. I promise they will.
My time away from the computer did result in some creative insights that I’m excited to share with you in the coming months – new products and opportunities to nurture mindfulness and creativity.
And yes, a few moments of “focused creativity” on a Sunday afternoon were also critical so I could share this with you!
Wishing you a week of mindful living, happy daydreaming, and creative inspiration.
Creativity can strike any time. I love this story about the creation of Post-It Notes! https://www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/contact-us/about-us/
*Yes, the title of this is intentional. Apologies and thanks to Gabriel García Márquez for writing one of my favorite books.