Creativity

The problem with creative shoulds

Completing the 30 Life Lessons last month was full-on. It took a lot out of me, and while I didn’t plan on taking the following month off from blogging, I found myself delighted to have some time free just for me again.

I dove headfirst into multiple creative projects. So many that I started to get overwhelmed and disoriented. Before long, my free time started to feel a little crowded.

During July, I was involved in or contemplating these projects:

Not to mention I’ve been doing my own written journaling, thinking about the blog and newsletter, brainstorming ideas for creating my own online courses, thinking about making a bucket list journal, and mulling over novel ideas. Oh yes, and working and building a house too.

This is not the first time this has happened to me.

In an attempt to combat this next stepsoverwhelm, I made a list of all the things on my creative radar. I divided this list up into three categories:

  • Groups/courses
  • Blog
  • Personal

This way I could clearly make sense of all the directions I was feeling pulled.

Then I prioritised each item on the list in terms of what was urgent (for example, a live course that was running now only, or a membership that was about to expire) and what could wait.

Great, I thought. Now I know what to focus on and what to put aside for later.

I had created a sense of creative direction for myself. It was foolproof. If only I could have ignored the fact that the priorities I had selected were of no interest to me at that time, then it would have been perfect.

It was my own fault, really. I took a totally left-brain, logical, rational approach to an entirely creative and intuitive problem.

You see, the issue wasn’t that I had too much going on. The issue was that I felt like I should be doing something else, rather than listening to my creative intuition.

I felt like I should be making the most of a course I had signed up for.

I felt like I should be finishing off a set of prompts I had already begun.

I felt like I should complete one journal before beginning another.

I felt like I should try to get the most out of a course before it was over.

I felt like I should finish one course before doing another.

If I had just stopped to ask myself, inner compasswhat do I really really want to do? then I would have had my answer: paint. I want to paint, in journals. I want to fill journals with paint.

I see creativity like this: it is all over the place. Some days I want to write in my journal for hours, others I want to carve stamps. Some days I want to watch YouTube videos of my favourite painters at work, others I want to read about journal writing. Some days I want to play with paper and glue, others I want to write. Some days I want to do a bunch of prompts from a course, others I want to play with watercolours.

Each and every creative activity nourishes us as we need it to, when we need it to. The act of listening to our creative intuition in each moment allows us to do what is most important to us in that moment.

I have learnt that sometimes I am incredibly focused on one thing to the point of obsession. But it is these short bursts of creative focus that allow me to get things done.

Other times, I am a creative butterfly, hopping from one project to the next, not really finishing much but loving the variety.

Accepting this and allowing myself to follow my creative intuition has been incredibly freeing. Trusting that I will find the focus I need when I need it, I can enjoy the pull to new things for now.

The problem only really comes about when we insist that things be done a certain way – when we let our shoulds interfere.

I invite you to consider the following prompts in your journal:

What are your creative shoulds?

How do they limit you?

How can you give yourself more creative freedom?

What would happen if you followed your creative intuition and released the shoulds?

How can you put more trust in your creative process?

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Nurture close relationships

I’ve talked a lot about saying no, and taking care of yourself. I guess these are things I’ve come to learn quite recently. But I also want to talk about our relationships with others.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten busier and my time has felt more precious. It’s made me more careful with how I spend my time and who I spend that time with.

This has meant spending less time with acquaintances, or people that I don’t have a lot in common with, and focusing my time on those that really matter to me.

I’ve come to realise that I wouldlesson 29 rather have a few close friends – people I trust deeply, share my secrets and stories with, really connect with – rather than a big circle of people that I don’t feel so close with.

This means that my time and energy is free to really connect and be present with close friends when I do see them. It means that I really enjoy my time with these people, and I always leave our catch-ups feeling happy, grateful and refreshed.

But it takes effort to make a relationship, of any kind, stay great. Don’t assume that a relationship will take care of itself – it requires ongoing care. This means scheduling time with that person, showing up ready to enjoy their company and being present during your time together. It also means being aware of yourself and what kind of friend you are being.

Sometimes the busyness of life stops me from spending time with friends. I often find that when I do have a moment free, I want to rest and look after myself. And while I do think that’s important, I also think that nurturing close relationships is equally important. It is about finding a balance between the two.

>>> Prompts:

Who are you closest with? Why?

Are there people that you find yourself spending time with, but not really enjoying it? How might your life be different if you spent less time with these people?

What does a good friendship look like to you?

Do you think you are you a good friend? Why or why not?

How could you nurture close relationships more?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Make the most of today

When I was 21, my dad said something to me that has stuck with me ever since:

This is it. This is not a dress rehearsal. There are no do-overs.

We only have this one life. Make it count. All those cliches that say to ‘do one thing each day that scares you’ and ‘live each day like it is your last’ and so on – well, they have a point really.

this is itWhat is it you really ache for? What sets your soul on fire? What do you think about more than anything else? What moves you? What makes you feel alive?

Do the things that matter to you, don’t worry about the opinions of others, find your own happiness. You won’t get another chance to live this day again, ever.

Life is short and it will pass faster than you know. Don’t put things off. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances.

I don’t have much more to add except this line from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

>>> Prompts:

Write the Mary Oliver quote above in your journal. Now, list all the things you want to do. Create a bucket list full of items big and small. Start checking the items off.

Answer these questions: What is it you really ache for? What sets your soul on fire? What do you think about more than anything else? What moves you? What makes you feel alive? Now consider, how can you do more of this, every day?

Obituary exercise: write your obituary if you were to continue living your life the way you are now. Then, write your obituary if you chose to live your life as fully as possible, doing all the things you dream of.

If you were to win the lottery and never had to work again, what would your ideal life look like? How can you start to make your life more like this ideal version, now?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Accepting the actions of others

I can’t control anyone but myself. This has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt.

The thing is, we want to be able to control those around us. It might not seem that way – you may even feel a little disgusted at the thought – but really, we want other people to behave in ways that please us.

This can come in many forms. It might be as simple as other people being polite to us, or it might be more complex, like having the people we love, love us back.

But I have learnt one thing when it lesson 27comes to others: people are pretty much going to do what they want.

Even if you really want someone to do something for you, to act a certain way, or feel a certain way – and you may even convince them to, for a little while – at the end of the day, people will do what they want. They might do what you want for a while, then resent you for it, then do what they want. But ultimately, you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do.

I have found so much more peace in my life by letting go of the need to control others, of wanting things to go a certain way. I put my trust in those closest to me and know that they won’t let me down and if they choose to do something that I disagree with or that upsets me, well, I can’t stop them. I can be upset for a while or annoyed, but I have to let go. Then I have a choice of whether or not I keep those people in my life.

We can’t change others – they can only change themselves. I certainly think it can be helpful to offer advice when appropriate but unless the other person agrees or chooses to take on board what you say (and it is really up to them whether they do or not) then that is all you can do.

What you can control are your own thoughts, words and actions. You can control who you spend your time around and what you do with your time. If you spend time around people who you wish were different, but you know they won’t change, then you can either choose to accept the way things are, or you can spend less time with them.

It is your choice, but all you can control is yourself.

>>> Prompts:

In what ways (subtle or obvious) do you want to have some control over others, or want to change others?

How do you think your life might be different if  you chose to accept others as they are without trying to change or control them?

Since you can only control you – what changes could you make to help you feel better about other people or relationships that aren’t as good as you’d like?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: The opinions of others

What other people think of me is none of my business – Wayne Dyer.

This is a phrase he has used often and it is so true.

Another way that Dyer phrased it was when he was paraphrasing Abraham Maslow, and stated that a self-actualized person is ‘independent of the good opinion of others.’

none of my businessI spent years trying to fit in and get approval from others. I used to worry about saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong thing, liking the wrong thing… so much so that I forgot who I was, what I liked.

Maybe it comes with age, I don’t know. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realised that what other people think of me really doesn’t matter.

So what if they don’t like what I’m wearing? I like it.

So what if they think I’m strange or weird? I like me. I’m happy with myself the way I am. That’s all that really matters.

There’s a line in one of my favourite India Arie songs that goes,

No matter what anybody says, what matters the most is what you think of yourself.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time trying to please others or win their approval, it might be worth considering why this is.

I know that when I used to feel worse about myself and have lower levels of self esteem, it was certainly worse. Since I’ve spent time and effort learning to love myself, I’ve cared less and less what others think. I guess it’s because my self worth no longer relies on their approval, because I give it to myself.

The way I see it, I’ll never be able to please everyone anyway. There will always be someone who disagrees with my decisions. So I may as well please myself.

Provided I’m not harming myself or others, it is totally up to me how I live my life. All that matters is that I am happy with myself and my life. Those who disapprove, well, they don’t need to be around me. They can take their disapproval elsewhere.

>>> Prompts:

Do you worry about what others think of you? In what ways?

Why do you think you worry about the opinions of others?

How would your life be different if you could live independent of the good opinion of others?

What is your opinion of yourself? Be as brutally honest as you can. What do you judge yourself for?

If it is negative, how can you work to change this – to be kinder and more accepting of yourself? One way is to write a letter to yourself as if you were your own best friend. It is very unlikely that they would say the kinds of things you tend to say to yourself.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Forgive yourself

I doubt not one of us can say we don’t have a single regret.

I spent many of the later years in my 20s feeling full of regret – for the things I hadn’t done (finished a novel, traveled the world, built a business, figured it all out) and the things I had done (studied the ‘wrong’ thing at university, lost friendships, hurt people, spent too much money, continually lost and gained weight).

forgive yourselfIt wasn’t a conscious choice to feel regretful about decisions I’d made, but if I let myself think about it for too long, I noticed an undercurrent of unease.

But the truth is, we don’t have it all figured out (newsflash: nobody really does), so we will make mistakes. We will do dumb things, miss opportunities and basically wish things could have gone differently. That’s life.

What matters is what you do with this. You can let these regrets continue to pile up as you go through life, creating a laundry list of reasons to feel bad, or you can shift your perspective.

Recognise that at any given point in life, you are only doing the best you can.

When I look back at my 20 year old self making foolish mistakes, instead of letting that familiar feeling of regret well up inside me, I look at her with compassion. Sure, she drank too much, didn’t try all that hard at university, couldn’t quite keep the weight off, and never finished writing her novel, but she was having a hard time. Being young and out in the world for the first time is hard. She was doing her best.

It took a long journaling session to unpack these feelings, but slowly I came to see myself this way – not some idiot who had made a string of mistakes and missed a bunch of opportunities, but a young person finding her way in the world.

If you look back on your past and feel you’ve made a lot of mistakes, try to be as compassionate as possible. Recognise that you were doing your best, and that it is never too late for what might have been.

>>> Prompts:

What are some of your regrets, mistakes, missed opportunities? What do you need to forgive yourself for?

How is not forgiving yourself serving you? How might you feel different if you forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made?

Complete this sentence: If I was to look at my mistakes through the eyes of compassion, I would…

Write a letter to your younger self. Offer wisdom, compassion and gentleness from your older self. Forgive your younger self.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Being different is a good thing

We spend most of our youth trying to fit in, to find our place with others.

And if we feel we are perceived as different in some way, often that’s cause for concern. We don’t want to be different – we want to be the same as everyone else.

I know I spent a lot of my youth this way – trying to fit in with my peers. As I’ve mentioned before I always felt a little bit different, and this lead me to think that there was actually something wrong with me.

being differentIt wasn’t until I became an adult (and by this I mean, around age 29) that I actually realised that being different is ok. Not just ok, but good.

Instead of seeing all my strange quirks as imperfections or flaws, I started to see them as characteristics of who I am. These are the things that make me, me.

It helps to be surrounded by people who love you unconditionally. And if you find that you are not surrounded by these kinds of people, then you need to be that person to yourself.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are awesome just as you are – even (especially) if that means you are different from others. You only get one life on this planet, why would you want to spend it being like someone else?

I love this Oscar Wilde quote, even if it is over-used:

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

If you struggle to accept your differences, the sooner you can make peace with them, the sooner you will feel a million times better about yourself.

>>> Prompt:

What are the things that make you different from others?

Which of these things do you already celebrate? Why?

Which of these are you unhappy about? How can you change your perspective about them?

Pick a person you admire. List all the things that make them different, and write about why you admire these things about them.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Move your body

I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t like to exercise.

I’m not exactly the fittest person in the world. I don’t enjoy running and I loathe going to the gym (I can’t think of anything more absurd than driving to the gym to walk on the treadmill).

But that doesn’t mean that I hate moving my body. I’ve found ways to do so that I enjoy.

move your bodyIt took me a while to get to this place, though. Because I used to be so focused on losing weight, I exercising solely for this purpose. It was all about burning the most calories, regardless of how much I might have hated every second of it. Exercise was simply a chore that needed to be ticked off the list to remove a little more guilt for being bigger.

Funnily enough, I’ve never really managed to maintain a regular exercise routine. I guess that’s because I kept forcing myself to do things I didn’t enjoy.

At around the same time I quit dieting, I also quit forcing myself to do exercise I didn’t enjoy. Now, I move my body only in ways that bring me joy.

Does that mean I’m not burning the most possible calories? Yep.

Does that mean I’m not the slimmest, fittest person ever? Uh, yeah.

But does that mean I enjoy the exercise I do? You bet!

So instead of pushing myself to go to the gym and run on the treadmill, I now go walking outside, in nature – with my pup. I do yoga using an app on my phone/computer. And when I have the time, I go cycling – outdoors. (Note – I have nothing against the gym. If you love the gym then that’s awesome. I just have something against forcing yourself to do exercise you don’t enjoy, which, for me, is the gym.)

How nice to finally give myself permission to enjoy exercise.

>>> Prompt:

What ways do you choose to move your body?

How do you exercise for pleasure, and how for other reasons?

Is exercise an enjoyable thing for you, or is it associated with negative feelings such as guilt or punishment?

What are some forms of exercise that you actually enjoy? What ways can you move your body that bring pleasure rather than pain? What would you like to do more of?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Sensitivity is a gift

I don’t really know how to say this without sounding dramatic, but it is the truth: all my life I have felt different from others. Even though I’ve always had friends and been part of a group of some sort, I’ve never fully felt the same as everyone else.

I noticed in high school that other people just seemed to ‘get on with life’ while I struggled with some of the most basic things – I would feel easily depressed after watching a movie, on a high and inspired for days from the words of a song, or I would take a comment or a joke to heart.

While other friends seemed to easily bounce back from breakups and bad grades, I would retreat to my room to let feelings of misery sweep over me. Not to mention I was easily overwhelmed and exhausted by life in general and spent a lot of time sleeping to recover. When I wasn’t sleeping I was writing, drawing or playing guitar.

I was told I took things too seriously and needed to lighten up. I was told I was too sensitive.

While I certainly knew that sensitivityadolescence is supposed to be a tumultuous time, I was also aware that I seemed to be having some issues that others around me weren’t. For years, I just assumed I was somehow defective. I learned to try and hide my sensitivity around certain people.

It wasn’t until recently, in the past couple of years, that I came across the term ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP). This opened up an entirely new world for me. I wasn’t defective, I was just one of the 20% of the population who was easily overwhelmed and more aware of the subtleties of my environment than others.

For HSPs, the brain works a little differently: they are more likely to observe before acting. It is an innate trait that is often found in other species too – such as birds, fish, dogs, cats, horses and other animals.

Learning more about this trait also gave me answers in other areas of my life – why I am more likely to feel the cold, struggle to pay attention with a lot of loud noise around me, get easily overwhelmed when I have a lot to do in a short period of time, why I am easily moved by films, books, music etc. This trait also explains why I can’t watch really violent or upsetting films, and this also includes watching the news. Yes, I deliberately avoid the news because it upsets me too much.

But aside from these difficulties, I’ve learnt how wonderful it is, for me at least, to be a highly sensitive person.

  • I easily feel love, empathy and compassion other human beings, not to mention animals. While this can be draining at times, I think it is one of the best ways for us to function on this planet. Of course I get mad and impatient, I get bitchy at times. But for the most part, I feel a strong sense of compassion towards others.
  • I have a rich inner life. I experience emotions strongly, which again has its downside, but it means that I get to experience the most intense and fulfilling positive emotions. I get to be overcome with gratitude and joy, struck by awe or filled with inspiration. I get to look at my loved ones and feel myself full-to-bursting with love. And when I do have to deal with the intensity of negative emotions, they always lead to personal growth, and often give birth to new creative ideas.
  • I am a very creative person. Not only do I experience strong emotions, but I have a vivid imagination and big hopes and dreams. I allow myself to spend time in my own inner dream worlds and I often turn them into art or writing. Having a rich inner life allows me to be the creative person that I am, creating and expressing myself in ways that I can hopefully use to inspire others.
  • I can’t hide who I am. I am an open book and don’t do well at covering up how I am really feeling (I could never play a serious game of poker!). While this may seem like a bad thing, I’ve found it helps me to remain authentic. It helps me to stay ‘me’; to be honest. I don’t find myself playing lots of different roles or putting on different masks. It also means that I can’t stay in situations that make me unhappy for very long, which can only be a good thing.
  • I’m very observant. I often notice details and specifics about my environment, other people or situations. I remember things clearly and this has been very helpful in many situations. As well as getting easily overwhelmed by the environment, I am also easily inspired.

These are just a few of the things that make me feel blessed to be HSP. It certainly comes with challenges, but I wouldn’t be anyone else but me.

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘sensitivity’ mean to you? Does it have negative associations? Why?

In what ways do you see being sensitive as problematic? How can you reframe this view?

List as many ways you can think of that being more sensitive than others is a gift.

In what ways can you honour your sensitivity more?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Making yourself happy

This has taken me years to learn, and even now I need to keep reminding myself of this truth:

It is my job, and mine alone, to make myself happy.

lesson 16It is not my partner’s job to make me happy. It is not up to my friends to make me happy. It is not my family’s job to make me happy.

Of course, that’s not to say that these things can’t make me happy – they certainly do!

But ultimately, it is up to me to make myself happy – it is my job to fill myself up.

That means, when I’m feeling crappy, the first thing I need to do is check in with myself. I need to know what my core needs are, and I need to check that they are being filled – and here’s the hard part – by me.

Some of my core needs are:

  • Love
  • Security
  • Solitude
  • Freedom
  • Creativity
  • Self-expression
  • Inspiration
  • Contribution

How do I know my core needs? Because I’ve taken the time out to think about these things, to work out what really fills me up. If I’m not aware of the things I need in my life to be happy, then I can’t make sure I’m happy.

If I’m feeling crappy in my life, most of the time it’s because I’m not meeting my own core needs. It’s not fair for me to pass the expectation onto my partner or friends to make me feel better, when I’m not doing that for myself.

There’s something really empowering about being able to fill yourself up. It doesn’t mean you can’t accept help or anything from others, but it means you don’t need it. It totally changes the nature of a relationship when you come to it already satisfied with your life. You have a lot more to offer others.

>>> Prompts:

What are your core needs? Start by making a list of all the things you like to do, the things that fill you up, big or small. Then, try to identify the core needs underneath. Usually it will be stated as an abstract noun.

In what ways do you rely on others to make you happy?

How can you do more to fill yourself up and meet your core needs?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.