Is being creative on a regular basis part of your job description? Yes?
Sucks to be you.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no greater joy — to me, anyway — than creating something today that wasn’t there yesterday, whether it’s a song, a story, a book, or whatever. It results in a huge rush of endorphins, kind of a runner’s high. If you happen to find yourself in the immediate vicinity of me when this happens, you may end up trapped for hours while I breathlessly describe my new idea to you as you attempt to inch away to safety.
Sorry about that in advance.
But being creative on demand and for a living is a tough row to hoe. Once you have been successful with a few creations — let’s say ad copy, for example — you are henceforth expected to churn out equally successful ad campaigns, like Don Draper in the show “Madmen.” However, his methods of generating creativity usually involved cigarettes, liquor, and adultery, none of which I recommend unless you look like Jon Hamm and can therefore get away with it.
Real creativity is an elusive little bugger, and hard to grasp, like that time Mickey made Rocky Balboa try to catch a chicken. Great ideas are notoriously skittish and only let you approach them and carefully slip a halter over their noses every once in a blue moon, it seems. The rest of the time, you’re only flailing around and grabbing hold of well-worn, easy-to-capture, boring retreads, rather than exciting and original ideas.
This is when even the best of us creative professionals need a boost of inspiration.
Time to get moving
“OK, Johnson,” you’re probably saying right now. “What do you suggest I do?”
Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have an answer.
Take a saunter.
The renowned naturalist, John Muir, once said, “I don’t like the word ‘hike.’ People ought to saunter in the mountains, not hike through them.”
I like that. Hiking is too hard sometimes and often involves blisters, insects, and spider webs. Sauntering, however, sounds pleasant and easy.
You don’t have to be a big-time outdoors-person or athlete to saunter. Just toss an energy bar and a bottle of water into a simple backpack and go to a local state park or something. Find a trail that carries you a fair distance away from road noise. LEAVE THE EARBUDS IN THE CAR. Hike … er … saunter a mile or two and immerse yourself in the sounds of the forest and your own feet on the trail. Keep your eyes open for cool birds, deer, copulating teenagers, and other wildlife.
When you start getting tired or your knees start aching a little, sit down and take a rest. Then, turn around and go back.
“But what the hey does this have to do with generating creativity?” you ask, now clearly agitated.
If you’ll relax, I’ll tell you! Here’s the deal: A short saunter through the woods will clear your mind, get your blood flowing, and physically make you more creative. According to a 2014 Stanford University study, the act of walking stimulates creativity when compared to sitting. There are a lot of physiological reasons why that I won’t bore you with here, mainly because I’m not smart enough to explain them. Or understand them. Or pronounce the big words.
Outside is best
This study doesn’t take into account the benefits of walking outdoors, though, so let me fill in those blanks for you. Another study by the University of Utah found that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent. The authors of the study also point out that the results may have as much to do with unplugging from technology as they do spending time outside.
In other words, having a variety of electronic devices constantly beeping at you like an upset R2D2 isn’t conducive to creativity.
Here’s what I think. As humans, we need to reconnect with the physical, natural world every so often just to remind ourselves that we are carbon-based, flesh-and-blood entities, not cyborgs. We were created with legs and feet, which means we are supposed to move around, not plop ourselves in a chair or across a couch all day long, day after day, month after month. (Unless we’re binging the entire series of “The Office” on Netflix, in which case, it’s okay.) Whether you believe in a higher power, evolution, or some combination of both, the end result is the same: We were designed to move about within the natural world. I don’t mean all the time, or even most of the time. I just mean sometime.
Personally, I think God likes to see us outdoors, enjoying His handiwork. Since He can’t easily give us a Starbucks gift card as a reward, I think He sometimes pops great ideas into our heads instead.
My experience with sauntering, especially by myself, is that I get a lot of thinking quality done and usually come off the trail with at least one good idea. In fact, the concept of Hobnail Trekking Company came to me that very way.
So make it a goal to get outside and take a saunter when you feel your creativity beginning to wane. If you then come back home and write a bestselling novel, I’ll expect a cut of the royalties.
Saunter on, Wayne! Saunter on, Garth!
Previously Published on Doofus Dad