Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction: Part 25

Leo Babauta – USA 

Creativity and practicing deep focus

 “In order to be open to creativity, one must have

the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must

overcome the fear of being alone.”

by Rollo May (photo 

Medley Focus 2

Creativity is a fragile, elusive thing. If you don’t practice, it become rusty, blunted, something you fear from intimidation. If you let yourself get too distracted, other demands on your attention will make creating difficult. If you put too much pressure on yourself, creativity becomes shy, hides in the awnings as you sit there, stuck. 

And creating, as I envision it, is a broad activity that encompasses many things – writing and drawing and designing and painting and making music and taking photographs, sure, but much more. Creating can be almost anything: coming up with a fun lesson for students, finding ways to keep your kids from getting bored, coming up with new ideas for your small business, thinking of a crafted message that will help you reach new customers, hand-stitching the perfect suit, perfecting a pitch to a new client, preparing a presentation for a small audience, and much more.

Creativity killers  

So how do we nourish this creativity that most of us need on a daily level? It’s important to remember what kills creativity, first:

Distractions. The many things that pull on our attention that we’ve discussed in this book. Each distraction pulls us away from creating, and as we switch between creating and consuming information, and creating and communicating with others, we fragment our focus, we fragment creation itself.

Intimidation. When a task seems to large, daunting, we will shy away from it. It’s difficult to sit down and create when we dread a task. If we think we’re not good at it, we become intimidated as well

and often won’t even start.

Pressure. While you’ll often hear creative professionals say they create best under deadline pressure, the truth is most people have difficulty creating under pressure. Try creating when someone is watching over your shoulder – your mind has a hard time focusing, because you’re thinking of the person watching you. The same is true of other types of pressure – it distracts you, makes it hard to focus. There are a few exceptional people might be good at creating under pressure, but only because they’ve learned to focus despite these pressures. Mostly the pressure becomes motivation for them. For the rest of us, the less pressure, the better, because it allows us to relax and focus.

Lack of use. When we don’t create on a regular basis, it becomes intimidating. When we put off creating, and put it off, we lose some of the key habits (see below) that allow us to create. T

These creativity killers come in many forms, but forming the key creativity habits below will help us to deal with these problems.

The Most Important Creativity Habit 

In a word, the most important creativity habit: solitude. Creativity flourishes in solitude. With quiet, you can hear your thoughts, you can reach deep within yourself, you can focus.

The best art is created in solitude, for good reason: it’s only when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, soul. Some of the most famous philosophers took daily walks, and it was on these walks that they found their deepest thoughts. 

In a word, the most important creativity habit: solitude. Creativity flourishes in solitude. 

With quiet, you can hear your thoughts, you can reach deep within yourself, you can focus.

The best art is created in solitude, for good reason: it’s only when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, soul. Some of the most famous philosophers took daily walks, and it was on these walks that they found their deepest thoughts.

Just a few of the benefits I’ve found from solitude:

  • time for thought
  • in being alone, we get to know ourselves
  • we face our demons, and deal with them
  • space to create
  • space to unwind, and find peace
  • time to reflect on what we’ve done, and learn from it
  • isolation from the influences of other helps us to find our own voice
  • quiet helps us to appreciate the smaller things that get lost in the roar

If you want to nurture creativity, you need to create the proper environment for it: an environment of solitude, free of distractions, full of quiet and a blank canvas. This book is aimed at helping you to create that environment, and once you do, see the other important creativity habits below for what to do in that environment.

The Greats on Solitude  

Of course, many other creative people have believed in the habit of solitude. I’ve collected a small but influential sample here. There are many more examples.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–

it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”

Albert Einstein: “On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going

well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”

Franz Kafka: “You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer

itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

Nikola Tesla: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone -—

that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.”

Pablo Picasso: “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”

Carl Sandburg: “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”

Thomas Mann: “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry.”

Other Important Habits  

Creating an environment of solitude is an important beginning, but there are other habits that help as well. 

1. Deep focus.You’re in isolation, free from distractions. Now it’s important to learn to pour yourself into your creative task. That means losing yourself in the task, so that you forget the world around you and lose track of time. That happens when you love the task, when it’s challenging, when you’re free of distractions or other things that remind you of the outside world. It means stop thinking about deadlines and upcoming meetings and tasks, and focus on this one task, this single moment in time. This deep focus comes only with practice. Start small, with just five minutes, and do it regularly, and soon you’ll become a master at it.

2. Small tasks. If intimidation stops us from creating, we need to make things less intimidating, less overwhelming. We do that by making mini-tasks, as small and non-threatening as possible. Need to write a book? Don’t focus on the entire book, or even a chapter. Focus on a thought, on a page, on half a page, even on a paragraph. If you only need to write a paragraph, that’s not difficult. Any creative task can be made smaller by focusing on less. Do the task, take a quick break, and focus on the next small task.

3. Constant practice. Set aside time for creating each day, even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes a day. Clear away distractions and put yourself in isolation, and just do something small. By practicing, we become good at it, and we keep away the rust. 

4. Enjoyment. If you enjoy the creating, it becomes something you look forward to. Find ways to enjoy the creation, to have fun with it, to do what you love. 

5. Relaxation. If you start to feel pressure, start to become tense, practice relaxation methods: massage your own shoulders, try deep breathing for a few breaths, or do a short meditation where you focus on your breath coming in and going out, for a minute. Having a nice cup of tea also helps – enjoy the tea in silence, without working, and after 5-10 minutes of that, you should be happy and ready to create.

6. Inspiration. While it might seem contradictory, you need to connect with others sometimes in order to find inspiration. That might just mean reading, watching, or listening to others’ work, or it might mean working with others, talking with them, finding ways to collaborate.This means finding a balance between connecting and solitude – split your day into times for connecting and inspiration, and a time for solitude and creating. We need inspiration from without, but we need creation from within. 

7. Shake things up. When things begin to stagnate, get out of your routine. Try new things. Find something exciting to do. Take a new route home. Stir things up, and see what new ideas emerge.

To be continued 

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