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Creativity Triggers: “Tea Time”

Have you ever spent the work week anxiously anticipating the weekend so you can get to that personal project you’ve been dying to create? Then, when Saturday morning comes you inexplicably can’t seem to get your head in the game? It’s not a creative block, you know exactly what you WANT to do but your brain just won’t get off the couch. What causes this and, more importantly, how can we change it? It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to deal with in my double life as an artist and designer.

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Neurologists have presented some indications of why. Our brains build “paths” to and from the areas that we use most. Since you’ve spent most of the week, solving different kinds of problems than the problem you’d now like to solve (a painting for example), your brain is now a little stalled when trying to access the less used areas and pathway to those cognitive processes. Imagine over the course of a year, the difference between well paved paths vs. these other paths you’ like to be well paved. The trick is to find ways to strengthen those paths in little ways during the week by creating habits or triggers to get your head in the game when it’s finally time. I have developed a habit trigger of Tea Time to do just that. Your “Tea Time” may be different but it should become a ritual that preempts the desired action. This trigger should have some exclusive features that only connect your brain to the desired result. For example: I drink tea through the week, but my tea pot and Dragon Pearl Jasmine Green Tea are ONLY used on days I have to myself.

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Feed Your Head: Your work week can fill your brain with a lot of stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with the stuff you really want to think about. You have to find little pockets of time to fill your head with bits of stuff you like to think about. I started reading creative related books on my commute to work. This may seem obvious but it wasn’t, I didn’t use to read this often and sometimes I found myself playing with social media the entire way to work. It occurred to me that this activity wasn’t doing anything for my head, in fact, it was blocking creative thinking. So, on my morning and evening commute, I can poke around in social media for a few minutes after the bus starts rolling. After about 10 minutes, I put the phone away and get out my book. I was surprised at how inspired and more connected to my projects this habit set into motion. I even felt more “brave” going in to work with the sense that I have a lot of great stuff going on in my head.

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Friday Night Meditation: with a consistent flow of micro brain food during the week my mind isn’t as stale. As the weekend approaches however, I get a little anxious that I might waste my weekend. This is a HUGE fear of mine. So Friday night comes, I’m usually fried by the workweek and all it’s hurdle jumping. My unwind ritual is a decompressor and a cognitive refresher; it’s finally Wine-o-Clock (or sometimes it’s Beer-thirty). I grab my journaland a glass of wine, put on music and I let my mind float, I’ll write down any aspirations that come to mind, these are broad career goals or travel dreams. I’ll make a list of all the things I want to accomplish this weekend and sometimes I even talk out loud to myself. This may sound insane, but science has proven that regular self check-insrealign your purpose and help you aim at the target you most want to hit in life. Try it!

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Cross Pollination Tea Time: The first few hours of the morning are spent in my “Thinking Corner” drinking tea and flipping through visually inspiring material that informs the project I have planned for the day. This may include books with my favorite paintings and sketch artists, design magazines, fashion magazines or reading material that informs something I’m writing.

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Danger Minute: After I have had two pots of tea, it’s time to go in the studio and get to work. Danger minute is the crucial moment that occurs when you’re now saturated with reference material; if you choose not to act on it at this point, you WILL waste the day. You may still feel a little intimidated by your project but you absolutely must get in the action seat at this point. I often trick myself to the action seat by promising that I can do just a little “doodle” before getting started on the epic project. This may require an additional pot of tea.

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Go Big or Go Home: Ultimately, you just have to do that thing you do. Get to it, “fail often and fail early” a professor of mine once said. Another mantra I like to roll in my head is “Run if you can, walk if you have to but goddammit just keep moving”. It’s OK to be scared, to not know what you’re doing. We all operate with a small flashlight in a huge, very dark room. Do it anyway.

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Developing creative triggers, habits and mantras all help you get to the work you most love to do. Being aware of what causes friction is the first step to figuring out what triggers you need. Think about the pain points. At what place in the process does your brain shut down? How often does “shut down” happen? On those successful days what happened that drove you into the zone? How long did you stay there? Can you recreate some of those elements and make them habits? We all crash and burn from time to time, forgive yourself and move forward with a better strategy.

Some books that have helped me think about how I think are:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Mastery by Robert Greene

Imagine How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

I’d love to hear about your experiences, post in the comments below. For more of my book list, find me onGoodReads.