People thrive when they have projects to engage in, activities that are stimulating and serve as the means for self-expression. We see examples of it all around us and we know it to be true. Yet it’s easy to get caught up in building the career and earning money that is going to give us, depending upon our situation and thus motivation, the security or status that gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps us off the sofa at night.
Some of us are slowly trundling toward lives that can at times seem, if we may be melodramatic for a second, devoid of meaning and destitute of feeling due to the absence of those two keystones of humanity which we have been cultivating for millennia: passion and play.
The modern-day “winners’” are those who have elevated their passions into a fruitful career—those for whom the so-called “work-life balance” has just become “life.” But we know that this isn’t easy. In the meantime, we just keep on trucking.
The sage advice from Steve Jobs on finding your inner yogi and Arriana Huffington on the importance of “unplugging to recharge” is all well and good, but no one ever claims that you don’t need dedication, grit, perseverance, and sacrifice to turn your passion into your purpose (and “magical” income-generating money pump).
Yet work without play is a sure way to stifle motivation and make you despise what you could have learned to love. Finally, the work-life balance debate has shifted gears from how many hours to dedicate to each onto how our play can enrich and drive forward our impact at work. And if you generate enough passion, play can become your jumping off point into creating the career (and life) you really desire.
Since focus and creativity are slowly but surely displacing hard work and sacrifice on the nine-to-five-plus-overtime battlefield, we present five activities to build into your weekly schedule that can help you get centered and cultivate your creative ammunition.
1. Read: Stimulate Your Grey Matter
Few things in life are as evocative, emotional, and transporting as great literature. The magic of tapping into another person’s creative mind as they take you along on a journey is unforgettable. Besides, reading builds up your vocabulary with which you can express yourself and widens the scope of your thinking.
Good literature teaches you the ability to empathize, as your emotional reactions transport you along with the protagonists’ experiences, making you laugh, cry, scream and fall in love. Unlike the spoon-feeding of television or film, reading exercises your imaginative muscles, forcing you to visualize with your mind’s eye.
Most importantly, reading teaches you things you’d never even imagined to consider before, arming you with a rich tapestry of information in all fields of life which ultimately helps you to form that unique lens through which you view the world.
Scientists have closely examined the effects of reading on the brain, and found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Furthermore, avid readers are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimers in old age—proof that keeping your brain supple and engaged has long-term health benefits. Reading is also a wonderful antidote to the ever-shortening attention spans we find ourselves with, reversing the effects of task-switching between tabs on the computer and flicking through news feeds on social media. If you need to retrain your focus, then start off with shorter reading sessions and slowly work your way up, leaving your smartphone out of arm’s reach.
Insider Tip: Stick to paperbacks—our reading retention of information is greatly diminished when we read from a screen or listen to audiobooks, whereas on paper we are more likely to engage in deep reading where we digest every sentence.
No time like present: Book Mooch (bookmooch.com). Swap old books you don’t need any more, the more you post off, the more points you get and the more books you can ask for in exchange from other users! All you need to pay for is the postage of your old books, and if you have extra points you don’t need, you can donate them to a charity of your choice.
Take it to the next level: Write. About a cause you are passionate about. About what it means to be human. About why you do what you do. Write about whatever you like and follow these tips to try and get it published!
2. Meditate: Connect with your Inner Nature
One of the biggest myths of relaxation is that we should do absolutely nothing, yet this is the way to relax the body and not the mind. Asking the mind to stop thinking is like asking the heart to stop beating: it’s almost out of our control. So to give the mind a rest, we need find that perfect balance to stop it from cranking, free it of judgement: theorizing, evaluating, and critically analyzing, and yet keep it engaged and focused—to reach that elevated state in which creativity comes into full flow.
In the long-term, meditation can help you to set your intentions, become more diligent and focused in your manner of running your live your life, more mindful of how you spend your time, and more in tune with your inner self.
Meditation shares in common with reading that seemingly contradictory duality of being simultaneously stimulating and relaxing. Typical barriers people put up against meditation are that they have an overactive mind, think too much, and can’t slow down. These are exactly the kind of people who will benefit most from meditation. Meditation expands your awareness, enabling you to tap into what David Lynch calls that “ocean of pure vibrant consciousness inside each one of us” by synchronizing and harmonizing remote regions of your brain to give you that slow-burning focus which is critical for the creative process.
Scientists are still scratching their heads over some of the neurological phenomena relating to meditation and mindfulness practices. For example, they’re trying to figure out why monks who have been practicing for many years emitoff-the-scale volumes of high amplitude synchronized gamma waves from their brains when they enter transcendental meditative states (source). But while the empirically-minded scientists are busy attempting to validate meditative practices with statistical data, others are happy settling back and accepting that much of the wisdom of ancient Eastern sages is being proven true.
Meditation is a perfect opportunity to practice gratitude and build up strong reserves of compassion and positivity to get you through the harder days. The more you practice, the more you’ll notice that your negativity starts to recede—reflex reactions of anger, anxiety and fear will become weaker, while your intuition and enjoyment of things will grow, inspiration will begin to flow and your interactions with other people will become more joyful and gratifying as you unlock to keys to kindness and connectivity. Meditation is nectar for the creative soul.
Insider Tip: It’s all about carving out a peaceful slot of time in a quiet space where you can be uninterrupted. Try setting the alarm twenty minutes earlier and sitting in your bedroom or lounge while the kettle is boiling—it’s an unbeatably energizing way to start your day.
No time like the present: Try out Headspace, described as the “gym membership for the mind,” the first ten sessions are absolutely free and it’s as simple as downloading the app onto your smartphone and devoting a quiet ten minutes.
Take it to the next level: Now you have gone through the trials and tribulations of removing all negative judgments, take some positive action (an ancient habit that was practiced by the stoics and is championed by modern happiness researchers everywhere): make a list of 10 things that you are grateful for and what brings your joy to the fore, make it fun and do it often.
3. Yoga: Stretch and Breathe
There is a huge overlap between the tribes that celebrate yoga and meditation, and that is no passing coincidence. To bluntly categorize, meditation takes care of your spiritual and mental health, and yoga helps your physical health, but in reality the two feed into and enhance one another.
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Photo by Neil Gandhi
Originally posted on Holstee’s Mindful Matter, the best place to read stories and tips on how to live life fully.
Saskia Kerkvliet is the Community Building Director at Dachi Tea Co., the most nuanced and informative tea subscription company out there, using the ritual of tea drinking as the starting point to explore the wholeness of humanity, and helping people to get centered through reminding us of our intimate connection to nature.