Take time to be creative

We often find ourselves making excuses as to why we cannot spend time pursuing something we love, like setting aside 15 minutes to sketch every day, or attending a weekly art class. Do we deprive ourselves of things that would ultimately bring us joy because being creative does not have a tangible end goal in our lives?
Making excuses why I cannot be creative is a habit that I would like to break this year, and invite others to join me! No more excuses.
Why do we put off being creative?
Creativity is at the bottom of the to-do list for many of us (or doesn’t even register).
Here are some of the common ones:

  • ‘When I have time’ (never)
  • ‘I’m not good enough, there’s no point’ (see our previous blog)
  • Feeling guilty for spending time on ourselves and being selfish (especially as a parent)
  • I’m too old to learn
  • One day

However, when we do allow ourselves time to be creative, it leaks into other areas of our lives and can have a very positive impact.
We often focus on a single outcome – for example, you want to learn how to draw realistically. This is a huge goal! The work behind it can put you off before you even pick up a pencil! Or the pressure you place on yourself to create realistic drawings from the get-go can severely inhibit your creative process. The goal-setting theory in The Happiness Trap (Harris) has really helped people with taking the first difficult step by suggesting that they look at the underlying values behind the goal. So you could ask, why do I want to draw realistically? Perhaps it is because you value representing the world on paper in that way. Perhaps because being creative is important to you and you value expressing your view of the world. Or simply because you value relaxing, taking time, and looking after yourself, and being creative is how you achieve this. Looking at these underlying goals may help you be more gentle on yourself and realise that there are many steps to reaching your goal, and that the journey is more important than the result.
By looking at the values behind the goal, sometimes this can help you to overcome the reasons why you are not motivated to create. For example, ‘I don’t have time to sit down and draw for 15 minutes’. What are your underlying values behind your goal of drawing for 15 minutes? You may value me-time, or value the act of being creative, or self-improvement. Surely these three values alone trump the excuse of not having enough time in your day. We just need to realise the importance of the underlying values of our goals, which will hopefully become a source of motivation.

There are many steps to reaching your goal, and the journey is more important than the result.

Let your intrinsic motivation take over this year
If you are lucky enough to have your passion as your work, you will most likely know that the act of creating a commissioned piece (extrinsic motivation) is different when creating for its own sake, which often has no monetary goal or reward (intrinsic motivation). When creating something with an end goal or reward in sight, you may feel under pressure to perform, anxious about deadlines or other feelings that can stifle creativity. This can happen during the smallest of creative activities; a child trying to draw better than her peers around her, or creating something just to get more likes on Instagram. When driven primarily by this form of extrinsic motivation, we risk missing out on the journey that is ‘creating’ because we are so focused on external factors, and the end goal.
“People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures.” (Amabile, ‘How to Kill Creativity’)
Creating something for the sake of it is where the magic really happens. Time stops, or ceases to exist; you get lost in your work and can enter into a flow state. You feel an immense amount of satisfaction – even if you didn’t produce the work you set out to. The flow state is what most artists aim for, because it is when we feel most connected with their work, and often what they create seems to just come into existence, with minimal effort (or sometimes no memory of it even happening). This occurs because they are allowing themselves to do what they love and are not thinking about any external factors.
A creative new you
This year I challenge you to set more time for yourself to be creative. Even if, in the beginning you sit there with a blank canvas for a week. Take a new class. Just start creating for you.
I created one of my favourite pieces in Marco’s Studio Art Class when I had no intentions, expectations and most importantly, no fear. I went to class on Tuesdays just for me, and those two-and-a-half-hour sessions every week felt like an eternity and the blink of an eye all at once. And one Tuesday I walked out of class with my favourite painting, below. It is an example of work I produced when I was intrinsically motivated, and my underlying value was to be creative every week. And it doesn’t bother me at all if nobody likes it!
Here’s to an inspiring and productive 2017!

Lauren Ottaway, Red Kitchen, acrylic on canvas, 2015.
Lauren Ottaway, Red Kitchen, acrylic on canvas, 2015.

Written by Lauren Ottaway