It’s no secret that nutrition, exercise, and sleep affect our overall wellness. Throughout our lives and particularly as we age, these variables, along with meaningful social connections and intellectual stimulation, help us live longer and better. But there’s another piece of the puzzle that merits more attention than it gets. Creativity. The benefits of creativity on our wellbeing are extensive and often underrated.

Creativity is personal expression. It can be doodling, drawing or painting, playing an instrument, dancing, writing, knitting, cooking, singing, exploring, or really anything that has your spin on it. Creativity can be simply trying something new. It can be solving a problem.

In an earlier post on connection, I shared my experience as a member of 12-in-12, a year-long Twisting the Plot workshop with 12 women over 50 in which each had to commit to a creative project throughout the year. The women in this group (and the two who brought us together) were all sorts of creative. They wrote, they acted, they directed, they made clothing, they created new professions for themselves, and they set interesting goals. For the first few months, I felt stuck, intimidated, and pitifully uncreative. I appreciate the irony that I’m now writing weekly blog posts and I’ve embarked on a new professional pursuit but, at the time, I was in a very different headspace. I couldn’t choose a project and I was sure I didn’t have it in me to create much of anything worthwhile.

What’s worthwhile is re-reading that last sentence. It’s amazing how frequently and unrelentingly judgment stops us in our tracks or banishes us to the “waiting.”

The Shitty First Draft

I could have spent forever talking myself out of options or in the thinking stage of the project I ultimately selected but the 12-in-12 crew internalized the power of the shitty first draft. The doctrine of the shitty first draft, credited to bestselling author Anne Lamott, encourages aspiring writers to get an entire first draft down in writing, without worrying if it’s good or right. It was coined in connection with writing but applies across the creativity spectrum. If you want to draw or paint, don’t hold back because you think you aren’t very good or you don’t like what you’ve put on a canvas. And if you want to host dinner parties (the project I ended up pursuing), don’t wait until you perfect your plan, guest list, or recipes. Lamott also says perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. So there. Just get started. As author and writing mentor Leigh Shulman puts it, “the Shitty First Draft is a necessary step in translating the electric impulses of your nervous system as they stream from your brain through your hand and onto the paper in front of you. Don’t worry too much about your end product or you’ll miss out on enjoying the process.”

The Benefits of Creativity

The power of creativity lies in the process and the transformation that’s possible when those electric impulses stream. It’s not about creating masterpieces. Having said that, one of my closest friends since childhood is actually painting masterpieces and it’s beyond exciting. But the benefits are derived from the flexing of the creativity muscles rather than the assessment of the quality of the finished product.

Retirement Coach Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and the Rewire My Retirement Program suggests the mere definition of creativity includes thinking in new ways. In other words, you’re literally creating new neural pathways in your brain as you find different patterns and ways of looking at life. Stimulating your brain is essential for good brain health, which is, well, good. Cyn shares the finding from a study of 163 Australians that while you’re engaging in creative tasks your brain engages multiple brain networks and undergoes divergent thinking.

Creative and divergent thinking also reduces stress and anxiety. Creativity leads to creative problem solving and also gives you an outlet when stress takes over. There’s a mindfulness aspect to creativity that can help you power through during hard times. In addition, creativity gives you a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and opens you up to new ideas, experiences, and even people.

As we get older, some of us start to feel less or entirely uninteresting. Exploring and unleashing creativity in any way that works for you is a good way to become more interested in yourself. And becoming more interested in yourself is a key to making the changes you want to make and living your best life.

Get Creative About Getting Creative

If you want to be creative but don’t even know where to start, you’re not alone. This Washington Post article suggests ways to stay inspired and is a great place to start. A quick search of free online drawing classes is another. Remember that creativity is limitless. It can involve mapping out new routes for long walks, building something with a Lego set, taking photos on your phone, storytelling, arranging flowers in your home, biking around the world as a way to experience new sites, cultures, food, and people (I have friends that do this!), taking an online class, taking an in-person class, or giving yourself permission to daydream. Get started by allowing yourself to get creative about getting creative. Harness the unfettered creativity you had as a child and have fun.

Something to think about: “Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.” – Maya Angelou

Something to try: Choose a project and jump in. Don’t get hung up on what “creativity” means. Rather, be creative about it. One woman in my 12-in-12 group set a cycling goal for herself, another started writing a screenplay, and another conceptualized a new career path. Creativity is all about doing something new for you. If you love this idea in theory but can’t imagine how to get started and feel stuck, consider contacting me for coaching.

Feel free to share what you’ve decided to do in the comments below!

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