Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Creative Self

God is creative. He created the heavens and the earth. He created every human being uniquely.

To be created in the image of God means to be creative. Acting upon that creativity is a challenging and often scary process but we must not be unwilling to take risks. The following article from Psychology Today illustrates how we might develop our creative self.

The Creative Self
By Hara Estroff Marano

A flash of insight. A solution to a longstanding problem. We all long to express ourselves creatively, admire the capacity to be original. It seems to be part of human nature.

Immersion in creative enterprises is hugely rewarding by itself. And often during that immersion we experience that special state called "flow," a feeling outside of time, of effortlessness that is so extraordinarily satisfying it bestows on us the sense that life is worth living.

How do we develop and nurture creativity within? Many people see creativity as a capacity far beyond them. But it is not.

In a lovely little book entitled Creative Authenticity, artist Ian Roberts argues that at some point you just have to jump in, fears and all. There is something courageous about it.

It's finding what you want to say that's the really tricky part. Usually, it lies just beneath the grip of the conscious mind. It springs from hard-won personal inner synthesis, experience and insight acquired firsthand. In our mind it is not logically structured, but it may take logic to get it expressed.

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter to the world whether you paint or dance or write," says Roberts. "The world will probably get by without the product of your efforts. But that is not the point. The point is what the inner process of following your creative impulses will do to you. It is clearly about process. Love the work, love the process. Our fascination will pull our attention forward. That, also, will fascinate the viewer."

Roberts enunciates a number of principles essential for creative authenticity.

  • Searching for beauty. Beauty is something that seizes your attention, stops you in your tracks, silences you. It can be the way light filters through the trees in your backyard or the magnificence of a fifteenth century Italian painting. The subject is irrelevant; it is only a vehicle for your attention, to engage the intensity of your feelings. That intensity is what viewers ultimately respond to.
  • Communication. Creativity fundamentally involves expressive power; it is the catching of the "gleams of light" that flash across our mind and forming that vision into something.
  • Your home turf. It could be a garden. Or a studio. But you need a creative home base that always stays open for your arrival and bestows on you a readiness to begin your work.
  • The Van Gogh syndrome. Don't buy into the myth that creativity is the province of tortured geniuses.
  • Your craft, your voice. Practice, practice, practice your craft. It gives you fluency in the creative process and in technique. It's technique that gives life to your creative ideas. Learning your craft opens the channel for your voice to flow.
  • Showing up. "Nothing determines your creative life more than doing it," says Roberts.
  • The dance of avoidance. Starting is always a psychologically messy process, because there are no rules surrounding what you want to do. Setting up a dedicated space for the practice of your craft helps you shift gears directly into your creative process.
  • Full-time or part-time. You can't expect to fly consistently at a high level of inspiration.
  • Follow something along. If you are going to say something authentic, you need to stick with an idea for a while, an idea that has personal resonance.
  • Wagon train and scout. Creativity involves the interplay between where you are and where you see yourself going to keep your expression growing. Always be on the lookout for new paths, and observe how others solve the problems you face.
  • Working method. Creativity is in the process, not in the finished results.
  • Limits yield intensity. Unrestrained freedom is a myth, and it's not productive.
  • Being ready to show. Don't spend your time marketing your creations. If you spend it creating, you are investing your work with the authenticity that will draw others to your efforts..
  • You are more than creative enough. The question is not whether you are creative enough but whether you will free yourself to express it.
  • Finding poetry in the everyday. Develop the power to see the ordinary as poetic.
  • Holding the big picture. Always keep a sense of the whole. That commits you to making the moves that will ultimately represent what you see.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brain Wired for Improv, Not Perfection

Brain Wired for Improv, Not Perfection

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD, Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dec. 20, 2006 -- Practicing your golf swing may make it better, but it'll never make it perfect, because the brain is wired for inconsistency.

That's according to new brain-based research that suggests the reason humans have a hard time doing the same task exactly the same way is that the brain starts planning each movement from scratch.

The study found variations in monkeys' brain activity in the planning stages before they performed the same task over and over again -- and that those variations were associated with inconsistencies in their performance.

"The main reason you can't move the same way each and every time, such as swinging a golf club, is that your brain can't plan the swing the same way each time," says researcher Krishna Shenoy, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, in a news release.

Inconsistency Explained

In the study, published in Neuron, researchers trained monkeys two simple reaching tasks: to reach and touch a green spot slowly, and to reach and touch a red spot quickly.

After monitoring thousands of attempts, they found the monkeys rarely reached with the exact same speed for either spot, and that about half the inconsistencies in the monkeys' performance was in their heads rather than their muscles.

Specifically, the study showed changes in neural activity for planning a movement was predictive of the variations in reach speed.

The researchers say inconsistencies in how the brain plans for each movement may have an evolutionary reason.

"The nervous system was not designed to do the same thing over and over again," says researcher Mark Churchland, a postdoctoral student at Stanford, in the release.

"The nervous system was designed to be flexible," Churchland says. "You typically find yourself doing things you've never done before."

Of course practice can reduce the variation in the mind's and body's ability.

But, researchers say, it can't change the variable way the mind plans motion.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Perfectionist

Over the last few days I have been reflecting on the fact that I can have a tendency to be a perfectionist in quite a few areas. I try to get A's in all my classes. I hate doing anything half hearted. I'm just an "all out" kind of guy. Of course, in many areas I am far off from perfection and how I deal with those areas is actually kind of interesting. I can sometimes devalue that part of my life (it's not that big of a deal to keep your room clean) or pretend like it's impossible to get any better with that (acting like it's impossible for me to remember names any better). Now perfectionism is useful in driving us to perform well but it can become a problem when life becomes unbalanced or when we are crippled by the perfectionism in some way.

Now I had been thinking that I would like to be more helpful around the house. But the problem was I had only been thinking about it. I started to think about committing to a drastic change but something was holding me back. At first I didn't have a clue what was wrong. I wanted to be a nicer, more caring person but I didn't want to commit to it. The problem was, as a perfectionist, I was afraid that I was going to fail. If I committed to change then I would be raising the bar for my own standards of how I should act.

My perfectionism couldn't handle this. I could deal with being disappointed with my behavior from time to time. But raising the standard would likely mean that I would fail more, at least at first. So deep down I resisted the change because I was afraid to fail. Once someone pointed this out to me everything suddenly clicked. I realized that I couldn't accept that I am a work in progress. I should applaud myself for wanting to change and not be deterred by initial setbacks. I was glad because once this perfectionism was brought to the light, the truth suddenly made it seem silly.

Perhaps my case is not unique. Could there be ways in which you resist change simply because you fear failure? Maybe you tried before and failed. No matter how many times we fail, it is always important to try to live up to a greater standard. Sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves that our goals are worth the pain of a few setbacks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I've been learning a new way of thinking that I have found very useful. I now see my desires and wishes as feelings of entitlement. In other words, I am recognizing that I feel entitled to whatever it is I desire: food, sex, laziness, money, ease of living, freedom from challenge, or whatever. The reason I feel entitled is because those things, apart from everything else in the world, are very good. And there is no reason why I should not do those things apart from the consequences they bring. Since I believe I am entitled to a joyful and happy life, I would thus have every right to enjoy every pleasure. Yet, I refrain from these actions for one reason: they have consequences. And it is the consequences, not the actions themselves, that bear on whether or not I should do something.

Recognizing that has been helpful because I no longer need to tell myself: "Doing that is BAD!" Instead, I simply review my past experiences and make a decision whether or not would be wise.
From that perspective I no longer need to make a judgment on whether or not any individual action is good or bad but rather whether or not good or bad will come of it for me. The best life for me is therefore nuanced and idiographic because each circumstance must be weighed by my own knowledge of how that experience will effect me. This takes a great amount of self-knowledge, which I may not always have, but it also prepares me to watch my future reactions so that I learn about myself.

As I see it, God made all things and, therefore, all things are good in themselves. But by the very nature of our decision to do evil with what is good, we corrupt what is good (I will spare you Genesis 3 and other Biblical accounts). The fact is that I have tendencies to do evil. By realizing what those tendencies are I can adjust my behavior so that love and goodness becomes the new rule of how I live, rather than any judgment on particular actions.

For example, I can make the decision not to eat a certain comfort food when I feel like I desperately need something to make me feel better. While at other times I know I can eat this food, I realize that refraining at that time is necessary because I know that eating to satisfy desires other than hunger can turn a snowball into an avalanche. In that very moment, I feel entitled to feel better by eating that food but I surrender my entitlement for my own good.

So what does entitlement have to do with all of this? Well, the truth is that I need to recognize my inner world in order to understand how to best meet my own needs. By labeling my desires as feelings of entitlement, I am accepting my desires, thereby preparing myself to explore my feelings and discover my true needs. The concept of entitlement may not be the best way of thinking about desires for everyone but it seems to work for me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Role of Wisdom in Psychotherapy

One danger for psychologists is that they can become so power hungry that they will assume that they know what is best for the clients. That therapist can begin to tell the client how to live and stifle or oversimplify the client's own experience. Such an attitude is dangerous for two reasons: the therapist can certainly be wrong AND the client needs to make their own decisions. Yet I want to talk about how this second problem is not so clear cut and why giving advice can at times be a part of a healthy therapeutic experience.

Therapy works in a myriad of ways. From simple empathy to complex interpretations to assigning homework, therapists use a variety of techniques to help a person grow. Yet the sharing of wisdom is often frowned upon unless it is backed by research. Such an attitude does not need to be held if the therapist thinks of wisdom as brainstorming rather than providing solutions.

Some consider that the time to quit therapy is when one can "hear" the therapist in your mind throughout your day. If the client is merely blindly obeying the therapist that is unhealthy. But if the therapist has not simply provided a clear cut answer to each situation but rather a way of thinking that discerns and weighs alternatives, then that voice can help remind the client how to think in tough situations.

Psychologists can be trained in making interpretations and being empathic but wisdom is a bit more elusive. But with the hope that we will be more mature than many of our clients we can assume that we have at least some tidbits of wisdom to share that will teach the client how to live and be in relationship with others. If we stay humble then the psychologist can give some very meaningful and helpful advice that is perhaps outside of their professional training.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Oblivious: When We Don't Get It Right

I read an article in Psychology Today that humbles me greatly. I often think that I have a good idea when a woman likes me (except when I like her then I seem to be clueless). But according to the article men overestimate women's sexual interest while women underestimate men's willingness to commit. I now feel embarrassed that perhaps I have assumed women liked me when in fact it was all in my mind. I guess sometimes a smile may only be a smile - still, you never know...