In the words of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “Everything you create, whether big or small, is a way to make your soul grow,”
And small acts of creativity are just as powerful as the showboat stuff. Especially if you turn them into a regular practice. Ok, so maybe you’re not about to write the next Brahms 4th or paint the next Starry Night. But you are still holding a good hand even if you haven’t played it yet. Being creative is not just turning out the next big in-your-face score or stage play, it is sweating (and relishing) the small stuff, speaking your truth from the deepest, truest maybe silliest part of yourself –to see what comes out. To see what will make your soul grow.
And those small daily acts of creativity (sketching that amazing lily that just popped up in the flower bed, or recording your conversation with that chatty bird outside your bedroom window or picking up your first pair of knitting needles even if you think you are all thumbs) begins to create a practice. Each creative act, however small, weaves the fabric of the universe just as surely as the artist who gets up to work each day on that mile-long mural on the outskirts of Paris or the South Bronx.
Small pays off big. According to Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson, repetitive creative motions like knitting, drawing, or writing (or cooking or playing a musical instrument) help activate flow, (a state in which you are fully immersed in your activity) and when you succeed at creating a result, no matter what it is, the brain is flooded with dopamine, that feel-good chemical that motivates us to do more. Studies show that even the smallest acts of creativity work (like meditation) to calm the brain, prevent dementia, reduce stress, boost immunity, and help the left brain communicate more effectively with the right brain, making you smarter. And no it’s not what you were born with. Studies in the Creativity Research Journal suggest that creativity is 80% learned behavior.
As a bonus, it’s a well that won’t run dry. As the poet Maya Angelou insisted, “The more you use, the more you have.”
What qualifies as creativity? Depends. In the medieval Christian world, creative ideas were considered the result of divine inspiration. With the emergence of the field of psychology, creativity was viewed as an ability, or a personality trait. These days, creativity is seen as the skill of transcending traditional ways of thinking and coming up with new ideas.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, here are a few baby steps in that transcendent direction. Keep a daily log of each day’s adventures for further motivation.
*Make one day today: Make a list of all the subjects, objects, practices, actions you are curious about, things you always thought you might try one day. Put them –one a month–on your calendar over the next year. The goal is not to excel at anything just to try it. Pickleball? Writing Haiku poetry? Going to a hot yoga class? Learning sign language? A one-day fast? Each time you try something new, your brain grows new muscles. Start small: Just brushing your teeth or writing a letter with your non-dominant hand pays dividends.
* Kick the habit. Make a list of all the things you do habitually day in day out. Consider how you might do a few of them a little differently or try switching a few of them out for an activity that is more refreshing, more soul-stretching. For example, it’s great about that daily walk, but are you doing the same two routes over and over? Maybe drive to a nearby park, open space, or trail and get your fresh air with some new views, views that might awaken the artist, poet, or photographer in you.
* Sing out loud. Yes, the shower qualifies. After all, when was the last time you heard your own inner Adele? Singing increases your levels of oxytocin – a hormone in the blood associated with stress reduction. It triggers endorphins and improves circulation. And depending on what you choose to sing (why not improvise your own lyrics to a favorite melody?) it makes you smile and challenges your creative juices.
* Recreate your childhood through a toy or a growing-up activity. When was the last time you did some finger painting, colored in a coloring book or laughed yourself giddy trying to keep a hula hoop in motion?, Or gave that swing at the nearby playground a whirl? See what pleasant memories and nostalgic joy the experience can bring up. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
*Author, author: Write a short story or start a poem. Any topic, any characters, any plot, no plot. no rules. Just keep those creative juices flowing, wherever they lead you!
* Write your memoirs: Our lives are like snowflakes. No two are alike. Tell yours in your own style in your own time. Write it down or read it into a recording device. Studies show that people who write about their experiences daily actually have stronger defense systems. Writing increases your CD4+ lymphocyte count, the key to your immune system. If you’d rather set your story to music, just do it. Listening to music or (even better) playing an instrument both improve memory and forestall cognitive decline as well as relieve emotional distress. Instead of another month of that streaming service you barely watch, why not put the cash into a used ukulele, keyboard, or guitar. Online tutorials will get you started.
*Recreate your outer self: How many clothes in your closet are you wearing over and over? Falling into a dressing rut is a creativity killer. Try to wear something other than jeans or sweatpants for a week. Or sack the black if that’s your go-to color. Switch to livelier get happy colors like red or yellow or a zany pattern. You will see yourself differently and so will others.
* Parent a plant that presents a challenge. One that takes a little watchfulness to nourish and flourish, like the zebra plant, the orchid, or gardenias. According to a study conducted by Texas A&M University, raising plants can boost your creativity by 15% or more.
* Create a new bond: Made any new friends in the last year? Why not to introduce yourself to a neighbor you’ve been only waving at or nodding to for the last six months. You never know where this baby step might lead.
* Play a New Way: Create your own board game with your child, or a young relative. Check out the boards, pieces, and rules of popular games like Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders, checkers, and create your own game your own way with whatever you two have at hand.
* Pick up a salad fork, put down the breakfast spoon: How about a more inspired breakfast to kick start the day? Try a big meal- in- a- bowl salad stuffed with leafy greens. herbs and vegetables or a compote with fruits you’ve never tried before –like Asian pears, guava, passionfruit, or star fruit, instead of usual egg and toast or oatmeal and raisins.
* Java Swap: Are you mindlessly pouring coffee every AM? Switch to an herbal tea, an espresso drink, or a drink you don’t think of as “you”. Try it black if you always add milk and sugar. See what happens.
* Consider the Unthinkable: Do what intimidates you to boost neuroplasticity. Sign up for an audio language course in Mandarin (both the hardest language and the most widely spoken worldwide), Russian or Danish. Or take a free online course in a subject that seems outside your intellectual wheelhouse –like astronomy or Irish literature. You have nothing to lose and some brainpower to gain. Even as little as 15-20 mins a day of language drills increase gray matter and density in the hippocampus, reports a 2012 study in the journal Academia.
*Pen and paper: texting a note to mom and dad as per usual? Why not get out some nice stationery and write an old-fashioned letter. Penmanship was once viewed as a highly coveted art. It uses your brain in a different (and more challenging) way than digital writing.
* Church goer? Grow your spirituality. Visit someone else’s place of worship one weekend. Sample a meditation center or a synagogue service in place of your regular church service. Or vice versa. It will be a creatively spiritual reset.
CREATIVE CHOICES BREAKFAST MOUSSE
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and chopped OR 1 cup non-spicy guacamole
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries OR cherries, OR blueberries OR fresh mango
Maple syrup, OR honey OR another natural sweetener to taste
Sesame seeds, OR coconut flakes, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon lemon OR lime juice
Combine your ingredient choices in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Spoon into cups or parfait glasses. Chill one or more hours.