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Thingification

I had a few conversations with colleagues this week who (coincidentally) wanted to make a change in their professional practice by doing more work in advocacy and social justice. They clearly felt this was the direction they wanted to pursue, but they weren’t quite sure how to proceed.

This is the way a creative impulse feels. It often begins as a yearning - the feeling of longing coupled with a general sense of direction, but without the clarity.

Yet.

I have a suggestion:  gain clarity by taking the ideas that accompany those feelings and “thingify” them. How? Give them form. You can begin with something as simple and straightforward as a list. But I suggest you go a little further and create an array of Post-Its. Or you can go even further (if you’re inclined toward playful risk-taking) and sculpt your ideas free-form with clay to see what comes out the other end.

(I suspect most of you feel comfortable with the first 2 suggestions, but a little...

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Putting Yourself Out There

Whenever you create something, you risk the vulnerability of exposure. What will they think? Do I look foolish? Who will they think I am? Who do I think I am? A flurry of self-doubt and anxiety arise with the prospect of sharing your creation.

This can be enough to stop us in our tracks. Better to remain safe than sorry.

I’m feeling this way right now. In building my new online business, The More Creative Therapist, I just created a free online mini-course to share with whoever might be interested. It's called More Creative in 5 Days (how's that for audacious?). I’m announcing sign-ups this week, and you know what? I feel scared! You know all those self-doubt questions I mentioned above? They’re running through my head right now!

Something about self-exposure makes you (among many things) a magnet for the strong feelings of others. We can never fully anticipate what our own creations will bring up. I got some negative feedback a while ago about a free offering on...

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It's in the Making

For some, imagination remains a mental exercise. Our minds are capable of conjuring vivid sights and sounds that can activate a range of emotions, including excitement and yearning. Remember a moment when you were engrossed in something you imagined? Perhaps you got so carried away in a daydream that only a rude interruption could bring you back to your everyday. That’s the power of imagination.

But as long as what we imagine remains a thought or an idea, it doesn’t really come to life. Creators give form to thoughts and ideas in order to make them real. That takes doing. And the doing usually involves making. That’s where we’re faced with the challenges of form and material. That’s where our commitment to our vision is tested. And that’s where most of the learning happens: finding out what we do and don’t know; the false starts and failures; the new tools, materials, and methods.

Everything comes together in the doing, in...

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The Imperfectionist

creative doing obstacles May 28, 2018

I used to be a perfectionist, and it was much harder to be creative then. I struggled then as an art student and as a fledgling designer. I lived in a constant state of anxiety and fear, always afraid of being harshly judged by others, while being my own worst critic. I thought if I could out-criticize everyone else, I’d somehow be protected. It just made me uptight, and often my creative impulses got stuck, or worse, frozen. Paralysis was my way out. And while it let me off the hook, it also kept me from finishing what I started. Or even getting started at all.

Has this been true for you?

I think perfectionism gave me a way to justify my sense of failure. By telling myself that my high standards were a testament to excellence and integrity, I was able to moralize my insecurity. It just made me more defensive.

I’m not sure how or when things changed. Gradually I think, but there were some key shifts.

I stopped taking myself so seriously. I took the work seriously, but...

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Creative Problem Solving

Usually we think of problem solving as a mental activity, as figuring things out. And while this can work, it can also lead to rumination and anxiety. As long as we’re in our heads, we run the risk of getting stuck there. The power of imagination can help dislodge us, but when we’re overly “problem-focused,” imagination can scarcely find its way in.

When I worked as a designer, I learned that the antidote to being in my head (as a mental problem solver) was to make something. This could be as simple as a sketch, doodle, or collection of sticky notes, or as complex as a mock-up, model, or prototype. This helped physicalize the problem by externalizing it and making it tangible, no longer just an abstract idea. And as something real in the world, it became something else altogether, available to others for further exploration, feedback, and play.

Now, as I work to develop a new online business including online courses, I’m constantly prototyping my...

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Bring a Creative Self to Your Sessions

creative practice Apr 23, 2018

A concept I found most compelling while studying for my MSW was “use of self.” The term described the intersection between acquired knowledge and skills on the one hand, and the personal characteristics of the social worker on the other.

Maybe it goes without saying that helping professionals use themselves to do the work, but for me the idea of “use of self” got at something subtle and easily overlooked: that the helper is a kind of instrument or tool with unique qualities. I think it’s more common to think of ourselves as using tools rather than being them. It was eye opening to consider myself a tool - as a self with characteristic features that are instrumental in the client work.

When I tell people of the new business I’m creating to help therapists and other helping professionals be more creative, they usually assume that I’m teaching art therapy techniques - interventions therapists can use in their client sessions. Doing...

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Permission to Create

I’d always been a maker as a kid, and I loved teaching myself by reading books and magazines. By the time I was a teen, I was designing and sewing many of my own clothes, and crafting stylish macrame bags and vests. I was confident in the stylish space I created for myself. But all that changed as I grew older, left home, went to college, and entered the world of young adulthood far from the life I’d known.

Making became a big deal, filled with anxiety. While I can now appreciate the earnestness of my artistic and literary aspirations, it came at a cost. Creative paralysis became common the more serious my hopes and dreams. College was a whole new world, one for which I was unprepared, filled with smart aspiring peers. I felt small, and I grew increasingly ashamed of my creative efforts. They seemed clumsy and awkward, as if I was trying to speak a language I barely understood. It was tough.

The thing that helped was being taken seriously by someone else. I had a...

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Beautifully Broken

Many years ago I found a striking photograph in a book, of a broken Japanese teacup mended with gold. It communicated so much: about a culture, mindset, and values. I was used to the western way of repair that tried hard to make things look “as good as new,” as though nothing had ever happened. The Japanese teacup conveyed the opposite. The brokenness wasn’t something to hide or disguise, but something precious to be honored.

I was delighted to find that someone had just posted a video in a Facebook group I’m a member of, documenting this mending process: kintsugi.

I’ve talked about the teacup I discovered in that book often. And when I’ve described it to clients, their faces light up. They get the metaphor and the larger message. They reconsider their own brokenness, now recognizing the underlying cultural values that have reinforced their sense of shame. A new possibility opens: beauty.

We’re able to talk about therapy as a kind of...

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The Creative Season

It’s funny how much the weather affect our moods and expectations. Saturday was sunny, Sunday overcast, and today snow! A few days ago I heard the sounds of spring clearly outside as birds returned to the neighborhood. And I noticed the usual array of spring flowers peering out of the ground and bursting into bloom.

It’s easy to think of spring as an especially creative season, since so much is perking up after a long winter and fall. The images of spring (eggs hatching, blossoming flowers) signal birth, new beginnings.

Are you hatching something new this season? A new focus for your private practice? A new approach with your clients? Maybe you’ve weathered the winter and come out the other side, realizing you need to reduce your daily wear and tear. Maybe ease is in order this season.

Let yourself daydream and see what drifts into your thoughts and feelings. Let yourself be led by what appears - by what draws you forth. Put one foot in front of the other and...

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Cultivating a Creative Mindset

Yesterday, I gave my first online workshop, Cultivating a Creative Mindset. I talked about 2 states of mind that typically help AND hinder us when we try to create.

At one extreme is that state of mind that loves to plan and organize. It’s filled with ideas, opinions, and anticipation, ready to make things happen, usually as predictably as possible. Some people call that our left brain. It’s great for executing ideas, but often preoccupied with control. It gets anxious easily when things don’t go as planned. This is the mind of checklists, blueprints, clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and tasks. This is the mind that’s comfortable with the kind of success that comes with well-executed strategies.

Is this you?

At the other extreme is that state of mind that’s dreamy and imaginative. It's also filled with ideas, but maybe a little too comfortable with beginnings that never quite come into fruition. Some people call this our right brain....

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