In this month’s solo episode, we look at what it means to live a creative life. You don’t need to pick up a paint brush or start a new hobby to live a creative life, so what does it mean to live life as a creative process? We think it as something to do with adopting a creative rather and reactive response, being a hopeful realist, having a Growth Mindset, taking responsibility and expanding your consciousness.
Katie Annice Carr delves into the mindset needed to take life with a pinch of creativity, connecting ideas from The Leadership Circle, Carol Dweck, Gestalt Therapy and more. This is far from a definitive guide and it’s design to make you think about what a creative approach to life might look like for you.
“Scaling Leadership” Robert Anderson and William Adams (2019 Wiley)
“Designing Your life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2018 Ramdom House)
“Mindset: the new psychology of success” Carol Dweck (2006 Random House)
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Follow my art at www.katieannicecarr.com an on Instagram at @katieannice
Original music written and performed by Jonathan D. Mellor licensed to Step Up Create S.L.
Hi, everybody, welcome to this week’s podcast and we are back with a solo episode. So today we’re going to be talking about how to live creatively without necessarily creating. I know for me, it’s like, I can’t do that I love to create I love to create things but what I mean by this is that I want to get away from the idea that in order to live a creative life you need to be developing new hobbies and, you know, learning to paint or macro may or doing improvisation classes. Those are really great things to do. They will bring you a lot, but that’s not what I’m referring to when I’m talking about leading a creative life. For me in leading a creative life. The life itself is the creative process. So how can you lead your life as if that is the creative process? And one of the most important things in any creative process is the mindset that you go into that process. With we think about what kind of mindset do you need in order to live your life in the most creative way? So that’s kind of what I’ve been looking into this week. I have some points of view on this, that of what I believe is what makes this up the first thing was a little bit about creativity and reactivity. So there’s an attitude that we can have there’s an attitude we can have to sort of build forward to say what if this could happen what if the other thing could happen? Just this, this kind of wanting to move something forward in a proactive way, rather than kind of reacting to something. And I think that’s an important part of it. For me, there was always something about being hopeful. And I use the word hopeful carefully and we’ll come back to this because I want to avoid thinking about positivity as something we must have at all times. Because I think that’s pretty dangerous. And even talking about being optimistic, can be something that can be a little bit misleading. So let’s think about hopefulness. Having some hope. Curiosity is something that is essential in a mindset for creativity, this idea that you can learn that you can move forward that could also be called a growth mindset. And we’ll come back to that there’s something about responsibility and ownership, taking ownership for your life, taking ownership for your actions, and understanding that you can’t really make someone else do something so you’re really really responsible for yourself. And then also something about self knowledge and consciousness kind of observing yourself and seeing what’s going on and pushing yourself a little bit further outside of what you might have defined as your fixed identity.
So let’s talk about this idea of having a creative versus reactive approach. Now I’ve come across this idea from two different areas. One is neuroscience and the other is some leadership training I did in terms of neuroscience. I’m obviously not an expert in this, but it is something that comes up again and again and again. When I’m looking at storytelling, creativity, communication, basically all of the stuff I do, I have to now know a little bit about the functioning of the brain. Luckily, there are lots of very good people who talk about this and whose research I can rely on. But one of the really basic things in neuroscience is the idea that the amygdala is the area of the brain, which processes threat, and it’s also one of the oldest areas of the brain part of the limbic system, which is also known as our reptilian processing centre. What this means is that when we feel threatened this kind of automatically kicks in. And our basic response is fight, flight or freeze. One of those or an interpretation of one of those will automatically come up if we don’t step in consciously and stop that from happening. And you may recognise this in some defensive behaviour or just something that is kind of making it more difficult for the other person. It doesn’t have to be literally that you are running away. You may be more figuratively running away and the type of threats that we come across on a daily basis. So first came across the idea of creative versus reactive approaches in leadership. At a training weekend that I went to in London a few years ago, I did the CO active leadership experience, which is a highly interactive leadership experience with not a lot of theory given and I remember that this was something that was put up on a big sheet of paper and stuck to the wall. This idea that you could have a creative approach to leadership or you could have a reactive approach to leadership. It turns out that this is not a co active leadership idea at all. It doesn’t form part of their model that actually comes from the leadership circle, which is run by Robert Anderson and Robert Anderson. He’s a practitioner more than a researcher but he’s written a book along with his colleague, William Adams, called Scaling leadership. And in that book he talks about this idea of reactive leadership and creative leadership. And this goes into a lot more depth and this idea of the of the brain doing its own thing and us trying to control what it’s thinking to give you an idea they say that reactive is problem focused, where creative is desire focused. So it’s kind of creative leadership is coming from a more intrinsic desire to change something whereas reactive leadership is coming from an outside perception of a problem. Reactive leadership is thought to remove the problem the main aim is to remove the problem and to be able to continue as normal or to continue forward. Whereas creative leadership is designed for change that is specifically trying to instigate change, reactive leadership will reduce it in a conflict whereas creative leadership, is it more about creating a vision that we care about and that might be something that is conflicted. For some people. Reactive leadership means that you often stop reacting when the conflict recedes when there’s no more issue. These new ideas, these changes stop happening because the thing that instigated them has gone away, whereas creative leadership is more energy driven reactivity to ship is generated by beliefs and assumptions that almost run on autopilot. So we’ve talked before with Carol we talked a little bit about limiting beliefs. And this is something we will certainly come back to assumptions and beliefs and myths that you might have from your past. All of this is there, rather than this idea that we live in a complex world and we’re designing for that complex world which is more of a creative approach, in reactive approach. And again, this is talking about leadership. The idea is to play not to lose, whereas in creative leadership, it’s more about playing to fulfil a purpose. It’s inside out, outside in or the other way around outside. In, inside out. So really having something that starts from inside you, rather than having something that is coming from the outside. This is in a leadership context, but if you think about it in a personal context, really focusing on what you want, how you might design that change, how you might create a vision, sustain the energy that you need for that and play towards a purpose, would be more of a creative approach to life. There’s a few things that are important about this which are assessed basically on the leadership circle assessment that you can do and by the way, you can do a free one of these online to see how creative and how reactive your leadership style would be. And it is a really interesting thing to do. There’s there’s some more information so for example, we talk about service. A creative mindset aligns to something that is larger than an individual self. It’s based around a service to something flexibility is also something that’s important, that sort of component that forms part of the idea that the creative mindset is flexible, it’s able to pivot in a new direction. If the signs are telling you that something isn’t working, we need to change and that means also that lateral thinking is a part of this. So lateral thinking is a way of problem solving. Lateral thinking as a way of solving a problem by thinking about it in a different and original way, and not using traditional or expected methods. That’s a definition from the Cambridge dictionary. So having that approach also forms part of this definition of creative versus reactive. So I think a really interesting important point that the authors make in this book is that it’s not the idea is not that you are constantly in a creative state. It would be absolutely exhausting, and it would be impossible to constantly be in that state. So it’s really about being conscious about what state you are in and how you are reacting. And you can work on it. You can try and become more creative or more able to react in that way. But it’s not always necessary. So sometimes we need to be reactive. Sometimes we need to be quick, we need to resolve a problem and move forward. So you can develop a way of getting out of a reactive state faster and getting into a creative state. But what we’re not looking to do is to be constantly in a creative state. And a reactive state doesn’t mean being nasty or mean. And in creative state doesn’t mean necessarily being nice. The authors are really kind of insistent on this. So that’s a little bit about a model that is used that already talks about creativity and reactivity. And I think it’s quite helpful to be aware of and also to delve deeper into if you’re if you’re into leadership and you want to know more about that. Go to the leadership circle and you can do the test and you can find out a lot more information. The next area that I think is interesting to include, and we haven’t talked about it yet because it doesn’t really form part of what they talked about when talking about the creative state
is about being hopeful. And there’s actually a nice way of referring to this called hopeful realist. So being a hopeful realist, and this is a concept that I’ve taken from a book called Designing your life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, who are a couple of Stanford professors who teach design thinking for careers basically and for people who want to be able to take responsibility and a conscious deliberate approach to design in their life. Using a design thinking framework is a really interesting book. But anyway, that’s beside the point. This idea of hopeful realist really resonates with me, because I absolutely hate what’s become known as toxic positivity. It’s that really sweet, sickly, sweet kind of false approach to life that somehow tries to ignore or diminish some of the other emotions. The ones that are seen as difficult or undesirable frustration, sadness, anger, all of these are in our lives and they’re necessary and we we need to be able to feel them so this kind of positivity that’s sickly sweet can be really, really hard to deal with, especially when you’re going through hard times. This is when people say things like, don’t think about it, stay positive. Everything will work out in the end. Look for the silver lining. Everything happens for a reason. Yeah. Okay, great. So nothing really shit has happened in your life and you’re going to give me that kind of crap. Sorry, that is just how it comes across to me. I’ve gone through some tough times like many people have, and I can’t stand this kind of lecturing from a superficial standpoint of positivity and we have to be positive we have to always take the positive approach. Yes, it is nice to be around positive people. Yes, it is something that adds things to your life. But no, you do not have to feel positive all the time. And you certainly don’t have to mask your feelings your real feelings in order to pretend to be positive. So this is something that is you can tell it kind of really annoys me. And it really annoys me because I make a real effort when I’m going through tough things and I’m going through some tough things at the moment to continue to move on with things, but also not to ignore my emotions and not to kind of paper over the cracks with this toxic positivity. And I feel like that’s something important to do, especially when you’re dealing with people who are going through a tough time and we never know who is going through a tough time. It’s not just the way that other people speak to you or you could be speaking to other people. It’s also when we internalise these ideas and we’re actually saying them to ourselves. For me, this has led to feelings of shame. And isolation. If I can’t live up to the need to put a positive shine on something which is causing me pain, then maybe I shouldn’t go out at all. And I don’t go out. I’m not saying that happens all the time. This is something that we need to be aware of. And we need to find a way to talk about being positive, being optimistic, having that hope that ability to think of a better future, while not forcing ourselves to play down negative emotions or what we might call negative emotions, and ignore what’s really happening to us. And actually, there was a study done which is quite interesting about what happens when we suppress our emotions instead of actually feeling them. The research participants were divided into two groups and shown disturbing medical procedure films. While their stress responses were measured. That’s heart rates, pupil dilation, sweat, production, etc. And one group was asked to watch the videos while letting their emotions show. Whereas the second group was asked to watch the films and act as if nothing had happened to them. They were nothing nothing bothering them. And then participants who suppress their emotions and acted as if nothing was bothering them had significantly more physiological arousal. So significantly higher heart rates, pupil dilation, sweat production. This is some research done by grossen Levinson in 1997. So basically, it’s showing that the emotional suppresses, may have appeared to be cool and calm, but on the inside, the stress was coming out. And that’s also something that we can see from somatization when our body starts to tell us things that we’ve kind of ignored. And that’s particularly true of stress, but it’s true of many different emotions. So it is actually kind of dangerous, this idea of positive toxicity, this idea that we have to be positive. That doesn’t mean that positive people are bad. Now I can think of at least two people who I know who are positive and that’s just how they are we met Neider on the podcast in our second episode, she is someone who is consistently positive about things, but that does not mean that she’s not feeling her emotions or not showing her emotions. So
there’s there’s this kind of idea that it’s about authentic positivity and what is authentic positivity or authentic optimism for you. It’s going to be very different from what it is for me, allowing that kind of range that range between something which is hopefulness and positivity, authentic hopefulness and positivity all the way to something which would be despondence on the other side, and developing that grey area to see that there is somewhere a belief that a better future has to exist. A scientist, for example, who doesn’t believe that his or her hypothesis could be true, will not go on? To find ways to test it. An artist that doesn’t ask what if I try to reflect my reality like this will not create great paintings, whether they’re abstract or representational? So the idea is that we need to bridge this gap between toxic positivity on one side and the despondence on the other. Unlike anything polar, there are lots of shades of grey, and each will be slightly different for each of us. I find some positive psychology exercises useful for myself and for my clients, but not all of them. And I’m always very careful when I propose these to clients to see you know how are they taking them? Is there a fear that’s stopping them from doing this? Or is it just that they really are not going to do it because they see it as false positivity? So one that I really like of these just while we’re talking about I’ve gone slightly off topic, but anyway, this does help develop creativity is something very simple like a gratitude journal. And this is really just reflecting on what you’re grateful for today, before you go to bed or even in the morning, if you forget the night before, like how do you quite often. This kind of puts issues into context and helps you to focus on a positive thing no matter how small as I’ve said in other episodes, another thing that I think is really important for creativity is identifying what you enjoy doing and making time to do it and that is obviously helping to develop my creativity through optimism. For me, the idea of hopeful realist, it describes something like feeling the pain of difficult situations, understanding and dealing with it in a sustainable way and getting on with things with hope, no matter how small that hope is. Other people will have a different interpretation and they may be much more positive than I am. However, that’s other people. And that’s something we’ll come back to in a minute when we’re talking about this. It’s all about this idea that the possibility that something could be different and that you could have a hand in creating that difference. And that for me is part of what is contributing a creative mindset. And when we’re talking about mindsets, one of the big areas of research that’s been done is around a growth mindset. And this is done by Carol Dweck who’s at Stanford, and she wrote the book mindset the new psychology of success and the basic premise for this is that you can thrive on challenge. And if you can not see failure as a way to describe yourself, but rather as a springboard for growth and developing your abilities, your intelligence and your talents are all susceptible for growth. No matter what age we know a little bit more now about neuroplasticity, and the fact that adults can learn right into to old age so we’ve got lots of space for learning. Carol Dweck sums up these findings in the in an HBR article which was published in 2016. And she says individuals who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset, who believe that their talents are innate gifts. This is because they worry less about looking smart, and they put more energy into learning. So this has had a huge impact in education and on the corporate world, particularly in how we give praise or feedback. The idea is basically that you’re on a learning journey, that we never really arrive at mastery. So we’re never going to sit back and go, Hey, you know, I’m
the best person there is this, that it’s all about expanding your knowledge and enjoying the process, as well as getting things done along the way. So I love this idea. I love the idea of the growth mindset because learning is one of my values, I really enjoy it. And that probably plugs into the idea of curiosity as well. In fact, this year, I’ve had to say to myself, no courses. Last year I did three painting courses. I was finishing Gestalt therapy, and obviously teaching a lot of courses as well. So I really had to stop myself from doing it. But does that mean that I consistently have a growth mindset? No, it doesn’t. Again, this is not about being 100% in a growth mindset, and never in a fixed mindset. It’s very difficult to not be in a fixed mindset. And there are triggers that can push you into a fixed mindset. And being aware of those, identifying those and kind of just be ready for them is something that is very helpful. When you’re thinking about developing this more creative approach to life. So in recent articles, and in the latest edition of the book, Carol Dweck has taken a lot of care to make it clear that it’s not that unproductive effort is a good thing because a lot of people started focusing on effort giving, giving kids an A for effort, even when they fail the test or whatever else. So she’s clarified this she says it’s critical to reward not just effort, but learning and progress and to emphasise the processes that yield these things. Such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies and capitalising on setbacks to move forward effectively. So the question is for you, when you’re trying to live your creative life, how can you do this for yourself? So yes, it’s nice that someone else externally praises you for effort or the praises you’re learning in your progress. But how can you be aware of your learning and progress and this is something that I find really hard, really kind of giving myself the stars and saying, Oh, well done me. Look what I’ve done, but it’s something that’s important in order to move forward and keep sustaining this growth mindset. When you are not trying to become something you’re just trying to add these different skills and keep this mindset alive. One thing that helps me with this is curiosity. And for me, Curiosity has to be part of a creative approach to life. I think it fits into the growth mindset. I think it’s part of that it’s part of learning. It’s something that we talk about in design thinking so when we are setting up a design thinking class and we’re preparing people to get into the right mindset for that we talk about the need to have the curiosity of an innocent child. And we work through sometimes an exercise called the Five why’s, which is literally just asking why why why why why. Now I’ve got a son who’s now four and a half and he’s just grown out of the why why why phase which now it’s gone I kind of miss it because it was really entertaining. You would get to some depths on things. So why is the bus in this lane because this is the bus lane. Why is this the bus lane because the city has reserved this lane for the bus. Why? Is the city reserved this lane for the bus? Because the city gives priority to the bus because it’s more sustainable? Why is it more sustainable because it runs on gas. You get to the point where you’re creating this story, and you’re going into a lot more depth and that can lead to lots of different ideas. So having a curiosity for life in general, having a curious approach this kind of discovering what’s behind something, how does something work can really, really help for this creative mindset. Again, I think it forms part of the idea of a growth mindset. So moving on from creativity and growth mindset. One of the other ideas that I had was that there’s an element of ownership and responsibility to living your creative life. And particularly for me, this is about owning your story and becoming the protagonist of your story. And really starting to control that in a way thinking of yourself as a character with choices who can influence the story who can lead their own future. It’s something quite essential to creating
a life for oneself rather than letting life happen to you. And it’s also so empowering. I’ve seen this with myself and I see this with my clients. There’s a moment when they realise that they can do lots of different things, and they can make that happen. That doesn’t mean that it’s some kind of magical thing that just happens and everybody can do everything. It means that you can make decisions for yourself and also, you’ve been doing that your whole life even if you think you haven’t. For me an interesting way of looking at this is through gestellt psychotherapy and this is an existential and experiential form of psychotherapy. emphasises personal responsibility. It allows the clients the opportunity to own and accept their experiences. Now, that’s kind of a standard thing that you can read about it. But I can tell you it’s true. So in three years of gestellt training, one of the massive things that came out of it is all about responsibility. And Fritz Perls, the founder of gestellt, said, the more a person recognise himself as the creator of what he does, the more he will see as responsibility for the effect he has on others. And this is something that is transformational. So it’s amazing at evoking this sense of responsibility in your student or your client. Just to give you an idea of this favourite question in gestellt is and what does this say about you? What did you learn about yourself from that? So this is typically used when someone complains about something like maybe a badly run class or a poor service, and you’re really putting it out there and complaining it putting it on someone else? And yet the questions then come back and put it on you. Does that resolve the problem? No, but complaining about it doesn’t resolve the problem, either. So let’s use this as a learning experience to learn about how I reacted to it. What does it tell me about myself, taking responsibility for how I reacted rather than pushing off the responsibility onto something else? The idea is that we can only work on ourselves, and then everything that happens is an opportunity to do this. If we are the creators of our world, and the source of our actions. We are our own personal responsibility keepers, if that makes sense. So there’s one thing known as the gestellt prayer, which was also written by Fritz Perls. And sometimes it’s something you use within a gestellt session, but it can also just be used in life and I think it’s quite nice to think about, it just says, I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I amI. And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped. So each person taking responsibility for themselves, and just seeing how things work together. For me, responsibility is a part of creativity, responsibility for oneself, responsibility for one’s life. And we could go into a lot more detail on that, but I’m going to save that for another episode. So the last area that I thought about concerning having this creative approach to life is to do with consciousness to know oneself better. And this is not just a sort of quick look at who am I what am i values, whatever. That is obviously important that you’ve done that but to really think of and be aware of, what is your concept of yourself, and really kind of move beyond what’s me. What’s other and what’s that kind of space in between if you can get into that space in between which is this space of possibility, the space of fantasy, the state of play, and in some ways it can be also a space for what is known as the fertile void which is a concept in Gestalt therapy where you are essentially at a moment where there is not one figure coming up one obvious route one thing that you need to move forward with. In fact, everything is possible from there, so that everything is possible from there moment is something that you can capture occasionally and can be the root of new creative ideas. or new creative roots, but inhabiting that space, that weird space between who I am definitely that’s definitely me. That’s definitely other. There’s a big bit in between this kind of transitional space is the creative space. And that’s where creative ideas are born. And that’s where creative life can come from. You don’t have to live in that space the whole time. Of course, you need to get on with your proper job and you know, develop a personal brand where you are selecting different things that you want people to see you for or whatever else so a clear identity. But for you, you know your identity is somewhat fluid and developing and living a little bit in that other kind of World can help you to develop this creative approach to life. So I hope that this has been interesting. I find it really interesting kind of doing the research in preparation for this. I had some clear ideas of what I wanted to say and then needed to go back and look at what the details were on this and what did I actually mean And has anyone else said something? Of course,
everybody else has said things about this. And so the idea of this podcast is just to hopefully inspire you a little bit to know that if you’re not painting, drawing, seeing, acting, dancing, doing stuff that is obviously creative, you probably are anyway, doing something creative in your life, which is around living your life as a creative process. And if you’re doing that you’ve got some beginnings of a creative mindset towards life of a creative approach. So I’m going to leave you with your creative approach. I’m going to observe mine over the next few weeks and we’ll see if, if there’s anything else that comes up that I think oh, I should have included that in all of this. And we will be back next week with a razor voice episode with Vishal and I and we’ll be talking a little bit about the healing power of narratives. And we’ll also be seeing how we get on with our prom night. See you next time.
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